Sunday, February 8, 2009
Bollywood and Hollywood Create Combos
Bollywood and Hollywood are joining forces to produce a whole slew of hybrid movies with money, stars and scripts flowing in both directions. The motivation is clear: Both purveyors of entertainment are looking to expand their audiences. "It's the right time for these two giants to shake hands," Mr. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Indian writer and director, told the Wall Street Journal, adding that Hollywood stands to benefit from India's large movie audiences. "We have stars like Aamir Khan, who has more eyeballs than Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, anybody."
Though it is dwarfed by Hollywood's $10b in sales last year, India's domestic film industry is growing much faster at 15% annually and is projected to hit $4 billion by 2012, up from $1.9 billion in 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Wall Street Journal is reporting a number of joint projects currently in development: Screenwriter Paul Schrader, famous for such films as "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull," is working on a thriller with an Indian producer. Sylvester Stallone will appear in "Kambakkht Ishq," or "Incredible Love," an action-filled comedy shot in Los Angeles and starring Akshay Kumar. Indian film mega star Shahrukh Khan is producing and starring in a superhero film that will be co-written by American and Indian screenwriters and digitally souped up by American special-effects technicians.
The critical or commercial success of such projects, however, remains a big question mark based on the reception of the recent releases of Slumdog Millionaire and Chandni Chowk. While Slumdog Millionaire grossed about $70m in America and received nominations for many of the most prestigious Hollywood awards, it was greeted by howls of protests in India. Bollywood's biggest superstar of all time, Amitabh Bachchan, scolded Slumdog producers on his blog for showing India as "a third world dirty under belly developing nation (sic)" when poverty can be found in rich countries as well. Contrast that with Chandni Chowk's miserable performance, with less than a million dollars gross in spite of being released on 125 screens, the biggest ever Bollywood release in America. Chandni Chowk was considered an average draw at the Indian box office, with Rs. 400 million in ticket sales.
American audiences may not warm to Indian-style kitschy, song-and-dance sequences and melodramatic staples. In 2007, Columbia Tri-Star funded and produced "Saawariya," which failed to capture a wide audience in India and flopped in its limited U.S. release, earning $885,574 in American theaters. Executives at Sony Pictures, which owns Columbia, declined to say how much the film made in India but noted that they more than recovered their investment.
In spite the huge gap in taste between the South Asian and American audiences, it would be hard to dismiss the new Indo-American hybrid film genre, given the amount of talent, money and serious interest by the big studios and investors in Los Angeles and Mumbai going in to make it a success. It will be very interesting to see how such a wide gap is bridged by the undeniable talent on both sides.
Here's the title track for Chandni Chowk to China:
India's Bid to Extend Cultural Dominance
Harry Potter Versus Hari Puttar
Amitabh Bachan Slams Slumdog
Highest Grossing Bollywood Films
Highest Grossing Hollywood Films