Indian film has gone global

2013-08-21 00:00

SOME years ago, Indian cinema legend Amitabh Bachchan told me how the industry was on the verge of global growth amid the growing popularity of Bollywood films abroad.

“It would be lovely to have Indian cinema recognised worldwide as an important entity, almost as important as Hollywood,” Bachchan said. He was telling me how he had always believed that the Indian film industry had to be corporatised rather than being run by family dynasties, as had been done for decades by a few family-run groups that dominated the industry.

“I would like to believe that I initiated the concept of corporatisation by starting my own company, Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL), by getting financial institutions and professionals into the business because of the vast potential that Indian cinema has, and its uniqueness, really,” Bachchan said.

Unfortunately, his initiative failed in its grand plans because of reported mismanagement by trusted figures within the company, which almost drove him to bankruptcy.

“It is no longer film only, as shown on screens. Film now also forms 80% to 90% of software content for television in India. There is music, there are events, making it a wonderful umbrella that needs to be exploited to the fullest.

“The only way it can happen is for the industry to have a better managed, disciplined and professional outlook, and that is exactly what is happening.”

That was about 17 years ago, and Bachchan’s prophetic words have proved to be true. Bollywood abounds in every corner of the globe. His daughter-in-law and former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan, is a regular feature at the Cannes Film Festival, and Slumdog Millionaire’s Oscar win a few years ago put Bollywood firmly in the international spotlight.

The advent of satellite television also extended the demand for Indian film for television from networks that stretch from Mongolia to Melbourne. These days, some producers make more money from the satellite rights for their films than they do from conventional cinema screenings.

But accountability and transparency in the industry still remain largely a problem. In an industry where the fate and future of not just the stars in a film, but that of the producers who invest millions of rupees, are decided by often fickle viewers at the box office every Friday when the films are released, there is often a great reluctance to divulge earnings.

Companies that are now tying up partnerships with major, long-established Hollywood movie companies such as 20th Century Fox and Disney, have seen that reluctance change though, as shareholders and corporate-governance laws make new demands for accountability.

Pritish Nandy Communications became one of India’s first film-production companies to list on the stock exchange in 2000, heralding a new era in Indian film production.

Reliance Entertainment followed quickly by establishing partnerships with Hollywood giants DreamWorks and Paramount.

By January last year, Reliance DreamWorks movies had secured no fewer than 11 Oscar nominations.

The prediction made almost two decades ago by Bachchan, of global acclaim for Bollywood, has come to fruition, and the internationalisation of Bollywood continues unabated.

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