Hollywood is marrying Bollywood, with a vengeance. First, in 2005 it was Sony Pictures that ventured into a co-production with Sanjay Leela Bhansali to make Saawariya, a mainstream Bollywood film. Now it is the turn of Warner Brothers, a part of the $43.6-billion Time Warner Empire, to announce a co-production partnership with Ramesh Sippy Productions and Orion Pictures, a film production house co-founded by Mukesh Talreja and Nikhil Advani. The three partners are getting together to make a mainstream Bollywood film titled Made in China, starring Akshay Kumar and Deepika Padukone, and to be directed by Nikhil Advani.
The estimated $12-million (Rs 49 crore) action film, to be entirely financed by Warner, will be the first Indian production to be shot on location in China and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. Says Blaise Fernandes, Country Manager, Warner Bros Entertainment: "We will count on our partners' expertise and will do everything in our power to make a well-crafted, popular and successful Indian film." Adds Sippy, one of the co-producers: "What we hope to achieve at the least is a greater knowledge and understanding of the workings and systems of Hollywood. And I am sure we both stand to gain a lot from each other."
The Indian film entertainment sector is expected to grow from the current Rs 8,400 crore to Rs 17,500 crore by 2011, implying a 16 per cent cumulative annual growth over the next five years, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). Small wonder then that Hollywood studios are eager to jump into bed with domestic counterparts.
Clearly, the Hollywood studios are taking the next step after distribution and dubbing their films in regional languages. A co-production is a logical progression. Sony Pictures was the first off the blocks with Bhansali, and Saawariya is due for release in November. Says Uday Singh, Managing Director, Sony Pictures: "It marks the dawn of a new and exciting chapter in the life of Sony Pictures in India." Apart from financing the project, Sony Pictures is also going to be distributing the film worldwide. And Saawariya isn't going to be a one-off project. "We are looking to build a slate of films," Singh adds. The challenge, he points out, largely lie in the working culture. Hollywood studios are used to working in a certain global style and Indian productions have to adapt to that.
The other studios that have followed in Sony's footsteps include Walt Disney, News Corp. and the Los Angeles-based Hyde Park Entertainment. The former recently announced a co-production agreement with Bollywood banner Yash Raj Films for animated features. Roadside Romeo is their first venture and slated for a 2008 release. UTV also has a co-production deal with News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight for films and a $30-million, two-film co-production deal with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment. And Adlabs Films has a joint venture with Hyde Park Entertainment. Last year, senior officials of Viacom (which a few months ago announced a joint venture with Raghav Behl's TV18 to launch a new joint venture company Viacom 18), revealed that Paramount Motion Picture Group would be restructured into a global model. "This will include an entry into Bollywood for co-production projects with Indian film makers," Tom Freston, President & CEO, Viacom, had said. Clearly, he wasn't the only one harboring such a game plan.