Bollywood – the new Hollywood?

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It all started with the Cannes Film Festival. Whilst most people were looking at Aishwarya Rai’s gorgeous frocks, the big players were reeling from the sudden news that Anil Ambani, one of the world’s ten richest people, and a big player in the Reliance Corporation which includes Reliance Entertainment, had decided to invest heavily in Hollywood – $500m worth of investment in fact – and that’s just the first move.

As the days ticked by, more meat was added to the bones and it became clear that Ambani was in close discussions with Steven Spielberg and the investment would involve a refinancing of the Dreamworks production house.

But this is only the first step, the total investment may come to $10bn and could lead to the Indian group becoming the biggest player in Hollywood – that should make Anil’s wife, former Bollywood star Tina Munim very happy indeed. The truth is that after several good years, Bollywood is cash-rich – but is already producing at full capacity so its investors are having to look elsewhere to maximise returns. “Although the Indian film industry is having one of its best runs ever as far as cash inflow is concerned, the fact is that the top-bracket talent is booked up for the next couple of years,” says Hetal Adesara of Business in Cinema.

Some top Indian directors, however, are worried about a possible culture clash between the legendary producer-control culture of Hollywood and the more free-and-easy approach of Bollywood. Vidhu Vinod Chopra is one of these: “Could you think of a studio in the United States that would give me $100 million and give me creative freedom?” he asked. “Even if they wanted to, I don’t think they could. I don’t think the system would permit them to do it.”

Before we get too carried away, we should remember that Bollywood is still small in terms of revenue compared to Hollywood – it measures up at about 10% – but this is expected to be 20% within the next 7 years and about 40% by 2020. The growth is predicted on the back of the booming Indian economy and the greater flexibility of Indian producers in using alternative channels such as the Internet in order to distribute their product.

It seems likely that Bollywood and Hollywood will continue to merge as time passes. Hollywood companies such as Sony and Warner Bros have started making Bollywood movies in India to gain market share in the growing markets of South Asia. The sniff of money has begun to attract stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, both of whom are rumoured to be lined up for Kambakht Ishq with Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor. Denise Richards is also being sought for this. Will Smith is also looking at Bollywood productions. Will recently said, “I’ve made a couple of speculative deals in India. We’ve got some Bolly-Will movies going on!”

But the biggest impact may come on the technical side. It seems like Hollywood has only just discovered that English is almost ubiquitously spoken throughout India – and that it has first-class film, special effects and animations studios. Best of all, labour costs in India are about 20% of what they are in the US for technical staff – where better then to do filming, editing, post-dubbing and all the other work currently done in the suburbs of LA?

What we can expect to see over the next 20 years is Bollywood money investing in Hollywood to create jobs in Bollywood, with only the actors on screen likely to be old Hollywood – the engine for growth in both industries will be Bollywood.

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