Bollywood to Hollywood

Within days of the Mumbai rags-to-riches tale winning eight Academy Awards, news emerged of related deals.

For the talent behind Slumdog Millionaire, the impact of the film's Oscar victory could be felt almost immediately. Within days of the Mumbai rags-to-riches tale winning eight Academy Awards, news emerged of related deals. Word had it that AR Rahman, the film's composer, who took home two Oscars, was fielding half a dozen offers. The win didn't go unnoticed stateside, either. The American broadcaster IFC signed Take One Productions, part of the team behind Slumdog, to help film a Mumbai-set mini-series, Bollywood Hero, starring Chris Kattan. A former Miss India model, Neha Dhupia, was also hired for the show, which follows a frustrated Hollywood actor (Kattan) who tries his luck in Bollywood.

But as Mumbai rolls out the red carpet for Kattan, some are wondering if Hollywood will be returning the favour for his Bollywood counterparts. The Slumdog actress Freida Pinto has been cast in the new Woody Allen film, Skinny, but will the so-called Slumdog effect stop there? Bollywood is not entirely unknown in Hollywood. Film aficionados could probably name the odd Indian celebrity such as Aishwarya Rai, while some might be familiar with Indian hits such as Monsoon Wedding, which brought home the beauty of India to international audiences through its portrayal of a colourful wedding ceremony.

"Are people going to rush out and start making films in Hindi here? I don't think so," said the Hollywood veteran Samuel Goldwyn Jr, who has produced the Oscar ceremony several times and runs the independent film company Samuel Goldwyn Films. "We have been watching French films for years, but is everyone here rushing out to make a French film? No." But the Hollywood studios want in on the Bollywood action. Warner Bros recently co-financed its first Hindi film, Chandni Chowk to China. Walt Disney Pictures also collaborated with Bollywood for the animated feature Roadside Romeo in 2008, as did Sony for the features Saawariya and Om Shanti Om.

India is perhaps making the biggest inroads into Hollywood behind the scenes. The Mumbai-based Reliance Big Entertainment currently bankrolls half of the town's A-list production ventures. Reliance has deals with Nicolas Cage's Saturn Productions; Jim Carrey's JC 23 Entertainment; George Clooney's Smoke House Productions; Chris Columbus's 1492 Pictures; Tom Hanks' Playtone Productions; Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment; Jay Roach's Everyman Pictures; Julia Roberts' Red Om Films, and Brett Ratner's Rat Entertainment.

The company is currently working on an Indian film intended for the international marketplace called Kites, which stars the Spanish actress Bárbara Mori. The film was shot in English, Hindi and Spanish, and was filmed in South America and India. The company is not planning to change direction over Slumdog. The Romans, it seems, think differently. Word came from the Italian capital within hours of the Oscar ceremony that the book Banker to the Poor, based on the autobiography of the Nobel Prize-winner Muhammad Yunus, was to be adapted for the big screen complete with a "Slumdog Millionaire angle".

"Slumdog has become our inspiration," the director Marco Amenta told Hollywood trade magazines. The film will be set in Bangladesh, where Yunus founded the Grameen Bank, an institution that provides loans with no collateral to poor women who are unable to obtain credit from traditional banks. The film will feature an Indian cast. "You will see people try and capitalise on the film's success and maybe someone will be smart in doing that," said Jason Resnick, a former studio executive who served until January as the senior vice president of worldwide acquisitions for the Universal Picture Group, where he ushered in films including Ray and The Motorcycle Diaries. Resnick is now an independent producer.

"Historically, though, some people look at these wins as a template and that's when it gets crazy," he said. "For example, after the triumph of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you saw Miramax buying up every Chinese film out there, but it doesn't work: you can't imitate a success like that."

Published: March 15, 2009 04:00 AM


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