Sunday, June 22, 2008

NM & Bollywood in the News

Bollywood goes to Hollywood with some Tinsel of its Own
NEW DELHI — Hollywood loves to show outside investors just how the movie business really works. But some of the people behind Bollywood in India believe they have something to teach Hollywood about making movies.

Reliance Entertainment, part of an Indian conglomerate controlled by the telecommunications and finance mogul Anil Ambani, is in talks to finance Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in a new venture. The company has also recently signed production deals with several Hollywood directors like Jay Roach and Chris Columbus and stars like Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Jim Carrey.

Unlike other foreign investors who have stepped toward Hollywood — and taken some grief for their efforts — Reliance has deep experience in the film business. Mr. Ambani is a relative newcomer to the movie game, but his wife, Tina Munim, is a former Bollywood star.

Reliance Entertainment’s chairman, Amit Khanna, a Bollywood director and producer, and the company president, Rajesh Sawhney, a former newspaper group executive, have laid out ambitious plans that include creating a $10 billion entertainment company that would be one of the world’s largest. They envision nothing short of remaking Hollywood.

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Whether the company can change the inward-focused culture of the American movie business is an open question. Directors that have worked in both Hollywood and Bollywood say that the Indian emphasis on autonomy and innovation could have a strong impact on Hollywood.

“I have complete and total creative freedom to do what I’m doing,” said Vidhu Vinod Chopra, director of “Eklavya,” an Indian entry in the best foreign-language film category at this year’s Academy Awards. Mr. Chopra recently signed a two-movie deal with Reliance Entertainment for close to $100 million. (Mr. Chopra’s wife, Anupama Chopra, writes occasionally about film and Bollywood for the Arts section of The New York Times.)

“Could you think of a studio in the United States that would give me $100 million and give me creative freedom?” he asked. “Even if they wanted to, I don’t think they could. I don’t think the system would permit them to do it.”

For one of the Reliance projects, “Broken Horses,” an English-language film set in New Mexico, Mr. Chopra has written the script and is directing, and may even pick out the poster, he said. “This kind of thing is a director’s heaven,” he said.

But the flip side is that the recipient of this type of hands-off funding is expected to be more aware of risk than one might be with Hollywood studio money. “I’ll be far more responsible than I would with five suits telling me what to do,” he said.

Reliance Entertainment executives have promised to cut through the “bureaucracy” of Hollywood — in some ways a remarkable goal, coming from a country known for the bureaucracy of its government.

The fast-growing entertainment and media industries in India and other developing countries are attracting capital and building audiences in ways their Western counterparts have not. Revenue from India’s movie industry hit $2.2 billion in 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, less than a 10th that of Hollywood. But Bollywood is expected to double in size by 2012, thanks to 13 percent annual growth, versus less than 3 percent in Hollywood.

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