Wow! India has more money than Spielberg!

August 02, 2009

Washington, South Asian filmmakers, media watchers and viewers in the US are all agog about the mega-million deal between Indian business tycoon Anil Ambani and American filmmaking icon Steven Spielberg that they hope would one day bridge Hollywood and Bollywood.

Under the deal inked last month, Ambani’s Reliance Big Entertainment would provide $825-million funding for Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks Studios to make six films a year for global audiences.

“It can only help bridge the gap between the world’s two biggest film industries,” said indie filmmaker Anurag Mehta, best known for writing and directing “American Chai” about an Indian-American college boy who pursues his rock n’ roll dreams.

“I think anytime you have two powerhouses of media from both sides of the globe joining forces, you have to anticipate that the impact will be great,” the Los Angeles based filmmaker told IANS in an e-mail interview.

“Directly, their pledge to make pictures together will produce new films aimed at satisfying both audiences, but indirectly I think the impact will be greater.”

Gitesh Pandya, head of Box Office Guru and Indian media consultant to several Hollywood studios agreed saying, the “deal helps ensure that one of the world’s greatest filmmakers can continue to produce films and entertain audiences around the world.”

“It also shows Hollywood that there are other sources of capital besides Wall Street and Europe.”

New York-based film producer, Rohi Pandya too believes the joint venture “opens up doors and puts focus on a region that has been making films as long as Hollywood and makes people realise that India is a major player in this industry.”

Mehta hoped it would help “to bring into light that elusive ‘crossover’ market…because that will finally help greenlight a lot of interesting movies that typically encounter heavy headwinds from the powers that be.”

“There are many of us that have been trying for some years to find common ground between Hollywood and Bollywood, often left with a movie that is neither here nor there, in terms of finding audiences,” he said.

“And if the venture does indeed succeed, then I think we’ll start seeing many types of films that we have not yet seen, and that is truly something to look forward to.”

Mehta also believes that the venture could lead to better Indian films more geared to global audiences. “I think that the elements of Bollywood film — the song and dance, the melodrama, the heightened emotions and dialled up colours-those are all elements that can appeal universally.”

“A little bit of expertise from Hollywood, both technical and artistic, particularly from a legend like Steven Spielberg, if, in fact, he does have some input, could help Bollywood transcend into global mainstream media,” he said.

But Pandya was a little sceptical. “I don’t think Bollywood will be affected much since nobody has the kind of deep pockets needed to be in business with someone like Steven Spielberg,” he said.

“Bollywood has already been trying to make films that appeal more globally anyway so I think producers in India will only continue down that path,” Pandya said.

Rohi Pandya too thought “perhaps – it will lead to more Indian films geared to global audiences – but Bollywood can sustain on its own so I don’t think the current way of making movies will change.”

“They might just add a few more different films to the slate to see what will work for global audiences.”

But whatever they may think about the impact of the deal on the industry, the South Asian community in the US is agog with excitement.

“Even though Bollywood is the largest producer of films quantity-wise, it’s second fiddle to Hollywood when it comes to box-office and global appeal,” said Mehta.

“This deal further helps to legitimise Indian cinema and Indian media in the eyes of the West, and I think South Asian viewers in America will have a sense of pride about that,” Mehta told IANS.

South Asians would indeed be “proud that a company in India can play such an important role in the Hollywood film industry,” said Pandya.

“The day this deal was finalised,” he recalled, “I got an email from a desi friend in New York saying he never thought he’d see the day that someone like Steven Spielberg would be getting his funding from India.”

But Rohi Pandya had the last word. In her opinion, “South Asian viewers in America look at this deal and may think to themselves ‘Wow, India has more money than Spielberg! That’s amazing'”.

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