248355: The Bollywood-Hollywood partnership

Only specific categories of Hollywood films have far-reaching appeal in India. They have to be action-oriented, dubbed in Hindi and other local languages, and visually impressive.

April 22, 2011 01:08 am | Updated November 17, 2021 02:54 am IST




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1. (U) Summary: Hollywood film studios, amongst the world's highest revenue earners, are increasingly beginning to stake their claim in Bollywood, touted as the world's largest maker of movies. Though not without challenges, major U.S. studios have started to try to capture a piece of this potentially lucrative market, in the world's second fastest growing economy. U.S. studios ranging from Sony, Disney, and Warner Brothers have co-produced Hindi movies attracted by the growth potential and opportunities in Indian cinema. While big budget Hollywood action films - dubbed in vernacular languages - have done relatively well in India, success has eluded Hollywood-Bollywood co-production partnerships so far. The unpredictability and low success rate of Bollywood films makes the industry risky even for veteran industry stakeholders. Instead, Indian industry representatives pointed to the potential of Hollywood-Bollywood collaborations in film marketing and distribution to widen overseas reach, outsourcing of sound editing to India, and sourcing production talent from the U.S. These winning collaborations, although lacking in visibility and offering only a small piece of the Bollywood pie, will nonetheless enable Hollywood studios to achieve both topline and bottomline growth, at least until their understanding of Indian cinema and its audience grows. End Summary.

Bollywood's Allure Beckons Hollywood


2. (U) The Indian film industry - popularized by its Hindi-language center in Mumbai, known as Bollywood, as well as films shot in dozens of regional languages -- is touted as world's largest, with over 3 billion viewers and 1,000 movies made annually (see septel). Sanjeev Lamba, the CEO of Reliance Big Pictures which runs Anil Ambani's Reliance ADA group's movie business, noted that comparatively, revenues from Indian cinema, although growing, are still just a fraction of Hollywood's movie revenues. However, he dubbed India cinema as "fiercely domestic" and explained that Hollywood films account for just three to six percent of the Indian film industry's total revenues. Lamba admitted that Hollywood blockbuster releases -- like "2012" and "Avatar" -- which are dubbed in local Indian languages are rising in popularity in India, at times even competing with Bollywood films releases. Many Indian producers now reschedule the release date for their films to avoid competing for market share with Hollywood films. However, he noted that only specific categories of Hollywood films have far-reaching appeal in India. They have to be action-oriented, dubbed in Hindi and other local languages, and visually impressive, he explained. For example, the English and Hindi-dubbed versions of Hollywood's second highest box office earner "Avatar" garnered around USD 7 million at the Indian box office, while Bollywood's biggest all-time hit "3 Idiots" has thus far earned USD 42 million at the domestic box office.

Hollywood's Entry Into Mainstream Hindi Cinema Challenging

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3. (U) Recognizing the limited potential of Hollywood movies in India, major Hollywood studios, including Warner Brothers, Sony and Disney, have joined hands with established Indian directors and production houses to co-produce Bollywood films. Sony Pictures Entertainment signed a co-production agreement with Pritish Nandy Communications for three films, and another production and distribution agreement with Eros International for Hindi movies. Warner Brothers has tied up with People Tree Films for the production and distribution of three movies. Walt Disney co-produced an animation film with Yash Raj Films and acquired a majority holding in UTV Motion Pictures, one of newer but fast-emerging production houses in India. International celebrities from Snoop Dog and Kylie Minogue have already made an appearance in Indian movies, and Slyvester Stallone will appear with Bollywood stars in an Indian production which will be shot at Hollywood's Universal Studios. Unfortunately, all of the joint Hollywood-Bollywood productions released thus far have been unsuccessful at the box office, signaling that a successful entry into Bollywood is not easy.

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4. (U) Blaise Fernandes, the Managing Director of Warner Brothers India, noted that it is difficult to convince the larger Indian film production houses to partner with Hollywood. Siddharth Kapur, the CEO of UTV's motion pictures business, one of the newer but rapidly growing Indian film production studios, agreed, and noted that Bollywood production studios view Hollywood as a competitor. The only reason they would seek a joint collaboration would be to de-risk the film project by jointly investing in its production, or to re-make Hollywood movies in Hindi. Jawahar Sharma, the COO of Reliance Big Pictures, concurred, and added that greatest asset of U.S. studios are their script libraries, which they should use to attract the best available Indian talent to re-make movies in Hindi. Sharma believes that U.S. studios need to re-orient their strategies, rescind control and empower local people if they want to succeed in India. The Indian film-making process is not organized, and, unlike the professionalism in Hollywood, dealing with creative talent (directors and actors) in India requires tact and flexibility, he explained.

5. (U) Aashish Singh, Vice President of Yash Raj Studios which is the one of the oldest production houses in India, believes Hollywood studios have little to offer besides finance. Since 2000, when the Indian government made the film industry eligible for mainstream credit, established Indian directors and production houses are able to access credit from banks, venture and equity capital, and investment from high networth individuals who are ready and willing to fund Bollywood movies despite the low guarantee for success. Fernandes pointed out that due to high industry salaries for stars, there is no price differential -- and therefore no incentive -- for an Indian actor to work for a foreign, rather than a local, studio. Sharma proposed that U.S. studios showcase themselves as the "gateway to Hollywood" in order to entice Indian directors and actors to participate in productions.

Riskier Partnerships with New Entrants Could Pay Off

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6. (U) Singh admitted that U.S. studios would have an easier time partnering with the smaller, independent film producers making small-budget art films and crossover movies who still have difficulty finding financiers to back their movies. Sujata Nag of the India-based Motion Pictures Distribution Association (MPDA) concurred, and pointed out that these non-commercial films may earn less than big budget films at the box office, but, if successful, can earn a significantly higher return on investment. UTV Motion Pictures was successful last year, as it backed several smaller and relatively unknown Indian producers whose films were successful. However, the big Hollywood studios have concentrated on making their mark in Indian cinema through tie-ups with established producers and directors, and have not been willing to "risk" investing in production from new talent without big stars in its cast, she complained.

Thrust Areas for a Winning Hollywood-Bollywood Partnership

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7. (U) Interlocutors noted that other less risky and profitable opportunities for Hollywood-Bollywood partnerships include shooting and editing movies in India to reduce production costs. However, the numerous clearances (and bribes) needed for shooting a scene in India makes even Indian producers reluctant to shoot in the country. Many of the key outdoor scenes in Bollywood movies are shot overseas, in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and the U.S. Editing is also much cheaper in India, and editing technicians are as skilled as those working in Hollywood, industry representatives claim. However, Warner Brothers' Fernandes pointed out that Hollywood directors prefer to outsource the editing of only small chunks of the movie for fear of losing control of the editing process.

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8. (U) Kapur noted that Hollywood offers valuable production talent, especially for special effects, make-up and improving the overall quality of Indian film production. Recognizing this, UTV is sourcing the entire production crew from the U.S. for one of its movies. He hopes that the pre-production techniques used by the U.S. technicians would drive down production costs. However, he acknowledged that sourcing U.S. talent is feasible due to the economic recession; otherwise their fees would be too expensive.

9. (U) International marketing and distribution is another key area where Hollywood studios can provide their own resources, expertise and knowledge of international markets to establish a wider reach for Bollywood films. Fox Searchlight will secure the widest international release of a Bollywood movie "My Name Is Khan" after buying the global marketing and distribution rights for the film. Kapur acknowledged that increasing the overseas reach of Bollywood films would greatly drive up the industry's revenues. However, he noted that mainstream multiplexes in the U.S. are not willing to exhibit Indian movies due to the differences between Western and Indian film genre and audience appeal.


10. (U) Partnering with established Indian production houses has been Hollywood's main investment strategy to create visibility and gain a foothold in Indian cinema. However, U.S. studios have to still find a good working model for partnering with Bollywood. Western and Indian audiences have huge divergences in tastes, when it comes to films. Diversifying the production pipeline to include a mix of small, medium and big-budget films by renowned and new talent for mainstream and world cinema audiences may help them achieve success in this unpredictable market where even the best Bollywood studios and stars have been known to falter. Alongside Hollywood's Indian aspirations, some of the modern and more ambitious Indian film companies are also beginning to test the Hollywood waters (reftel). A successful Bollywood-Hollywood debut in Hollywood films could provide answers for successfully marrying the two industries in Indian cinema as well. Until then, Hollywood will have to be content with a small but steadily rising share of the Indian market through their Hollywood film releases, and the selective introduce of technical and production skills where needed. End Comment.


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