Inspired bridges East and West

Eighteen months ago, entrepreneur Meena Bachan and management guru Phil Blackburn knew nothing about the movie business.

They must be quick learners, because their Anglo-Indian company Inspired Movies has since financed and shot — count ’em — 13 films.

That’s the sort of debut that excites, to put it politely, a certain degree of skepticism from seasoned followers of the indie film scene.

The fact that only four of the movies are English — “Red Mercury,” “Take 3 Girls,” “Exitz” and “Natasha” — and the remainder are Bollywood pics in either Hindi or Tamil, makes the achievement only slightly easier for the competition to swallow.

Peter Ansorge, the respected ex-head of drama at Channel 4, certainly shared those doubts when he met Bachan and Blackburn in a West London pub to discuss producing “Take 3 Girls,” a crime-edged drama about a multiethnic girl band scripted by his old friend Farrukh Dhondy.

But he was convinced enough by their pitch to sign up as Inspired’s head of U.K. production.

Michael Wearing, the veteran BBC exec whose credits include some of the greatest, edgiest Brit TV drama ever made, from “Edge of Darkness” to “Boys From the Blackstuff,” also has lent his credibility to the venture by producing “Red Mercury,” a post-9/11 thriller starring Stockard Channing and Juliet Stevenson.

The upcoming Cannes market screening of “Red Mercury” will be the first public test, in the West at least, of Inspired’s claims to be pioneering a new kind of “rapid creativity.”

The company’s first three Bollywood movies have already been released in India. Two failed to make much impact, but the third, “London,” is the biggest Tamil hit in four years.

All Inspired’s movies, in whichever language, are shot in Blighty to take advantage of U.K. tax breaks, using Indian crews working on accelerated schedules, with post-production split across timezones in London and Bombay.

Scripts are delivered and rewritten to tight deadlines, but budgets are still healthy — between $4 million and $10 million. Funding comes from three Indian investors who originally committed to a slate of 15 films, but have now agreed to roll over their investment.

Ansorge and Wearing say Inspired’s methods hark back to the early days of FilmFour and the BBC’s Play for Today, when filmmakers were able to react much more quickly to the world around them.

“The whole notion that there’s a science to perfecting a script which takes five years is a disaster for contemporary film culture,” says Ansorge.

“You can’t do a film which hopefully has topical vibrations with the traditional snail’s pace of financing a film,” echoes Wearing.

The Bollywood slate is formulaic and mainstream, but Ansorge’s British movies aspire to something edgier, seeking to reflect contemporary, multicultural realities in a manner similar to such early FilmFour hits as “My Beautiful Laundrette.”

Bachan and Blackburn hope this will make their pics commercially distinctive in a marketplace glutted with over-processed product.

But how did two people with no background in the movie biz manage to raise such funding? The answer is — by accident.

They were running the Inspired Leaders Network when Bachan persuaded her sister, Bollywood producer Vibha Bhatnagar, to shoot one of her films in Blighty. When Bhatnagar’s financing fell through at the last minute, Bachan quickly found three new investors, who turned out to want a longer-term commitment. So Inspired Movies UK was born.

“We’re just trying to find our way into the industry,” Blackburn says. “There seems to be so much talent here, but the institutions have become so sclerotic as they have got older.”

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