Sony betting big on Bollywood

Studio turns interest to Indian productions

Sony is expanding its local-language production initiative to India.

Studio is co-producing its first Indian film with Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. “Saawariya” (Beloved) will be in Hindi.

“India has a rich and prolific film history,” Sony Pictures Entertainment chairman Michael Lynton said, “and we at Sony Pictures recognize the potential and importance of the Indian market and welcome the opportunity to team up with the film industry in India. This is a defining moment for us as a company, and for filmmakers, artists and audiences in India as well.”

Pic will be released through Sony Pictures Releasing India, which is headed by Uday Singh.

Sony is already active in the local-language biz in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Bhansali’s 2002 film “Devdas” won several awards in India and was the nation’s official entry in the foreign-language Oscar race. International recognition for Bhansali came when “Devdas” won the Asian Film Award at the MTV Asia Awards, received a nomination in the film-not-in-the-English-language category at BAFTA and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival market.

Bhansali’s latest film, “Black,” starring Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherji, grossed $8.6 million worldwide.

Sony isn’t the first Hollywood studio to invest in Indian film. In 2002, 20th Century Fox inked to produce three Hindi films in India from director Ram Gopal Verma, including “Ek Hasina Thi” (“Once There Was a Beauty”). Deal fell apart over difficulties between Verma’s production company and Fox.

Historically, Hollywood studios have been reluctant to invest in Indian film productions due to restrictions imposed on foreign investors.

But with ticket sales in India reaching $57 million in 2004, attitudes are changing.

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