By Vidya Pradhan
After being sneered at, looked down upon, and generally treated as the shameless tramp of the global movie making industry, Bollywood is being given more than a modicum of respect these days. Even the venerable Economist gave it a block, pointing to the increasing interest from producers and financiers from Hollywood in the now-legitimized, mafia-free industry.
Hollywood is courting Indian film producers: Disney, Viacom, News Corporation and Sony Pictures have all done deals with Bollywood companies in the past few years, and within the next month Disney plans to increase its stake in UTV Software, the parent of an ambitious young film studio in Mumbai, from 14.9% to as much as 30%.
UTV's symbol of a tri-colored rangoli may be quite familiar to movie-goers even in the US. Lately the company,which is now the second largest studio in the country, has produced movies like Parineeta and Taare Zameen Par. Ronnie Screwvalla, who runs UTV, pledges to make movies with more depth and less song and dance, a development for which we surely have the multiplex phenomenon to thank. The economics of multiplexes makes financing low-budget movies with lesser known stars possible and loyal audiences in the immigrant heavy areas of UK and USA allow for lavish spending in special-effects heavy mainstream masala.
Suddenly movie-making in Bollywood has become less like a lottery and more like a casino, where the house always wins. If that strains credibility a little here's more proof in an article in Variety.
Iconic financier George Soros has paid $100 million for a stake in Indian movies, gaming and Internet conglom Reliance Entertainment.
He is picking up a 3% stake in the privately held operation controlled by the billionaire industrialist Anil Dirubhai Ambani's Reliance ADAG. Deal values Reliance Entertainment at some $3.3 billion, making it the most valuable entertainment company in the fast-developing territory.
Reliance Entertainment controls the Adlabs group, which is India's biggest film processor, and in recent years has diversified to become a front-running movie production and theater operation.
If UTV is the second largest studio in India, Adlabs labels itself the largest entertainment conglomerate in the country. Originally a processing studio, it now produces, markets and distributes movies and television serials and owns over 150 theaters all over the country. It also recently became a majority stakeholder of Siddhartha Basu's Synergy Communications, a leading player in quizzes and game shows in India for almost two decades.
Synergy is probably the right term to describe what is happening in Bollywood today. There has never been a shortage of talent, only the constraints of a perhaps regressive audience. With globalization comes an unfettering of the creative process and it is not surprising that given the right kind of money and connections, Indian producers and directors are making a foray into Hollywood. UTV has co-produced two movies with News Corporation's Fox Filmed Entertainment, and this year the two studios will release “The Happening”, a thriller directed by M. Night Shyamalan which is costing them about $28m each.
Indian directors have already crossed over. Mira Nair had her heroine Becky Sharp( played by Reese Witherspoon) dance to a Bollywood number in Thackeray's ultra-British Vanity Fair. Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth had more than a little bit in common with Shashikala and Lalita Pawar, two scheming 'villy's' from the golden years of Bollywood. Can Mission Impossible 4 with Hrithik Roshan be far behind?