Reliance secures Hollywood players

Deals made with Clooney, Hanks, Pitt companies

India’s largest entertainment conglom, Reliance Big Entertainment, unveiled deals Sunday intended to make it a significant Hollywood player. Announcement came on the heels of company’s declaration at a glitzy Cannes event that it will spend $1 billion over the next 18 months building its businesses in India and globally.

Reliance has signed a string of development deals with the production shingles of a stellar array of top Hollywood talent: Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Prods., Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney’s Smokehouse Prods., Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone Prods., Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment and Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures.

Deals are described as “production silos” under which Reliance Big Entertainment provides development coin to enable the talent to nurture or acquire movie projects before taking them to the studios with which they have first-look arrangements. In a second stage, deals allow Reliance to participate in up to 50% of a movie’s subsequent production funding and to secure rights in India.

“We are totally respectful of the existing first-look deals that each of our partners enjoys and are confident that the respective studios will welcome our development silos and our subsequent co-financing ability,” said Reliance prexy Rajesh Sawhney. “We are breaking completely new ground and not just as an Indian-based company.”

Khanna said the silos will likely become involved with 30 projects in the next couple of years, of which at least 10 will go into production. Reliance execs and CAA reps, who brokered the deals, were at pains to explain that Reliance coin is supplementary to the stars’ first-look deals rather than alternatives.

“We will increase the speed and safety of the elevator, but the destination is still the top floor,” said Reliance Big Entertainment CEO Amit Khanna.

“We have great relations with the Hollywood studios. We already work with them in music, video distribution in Indian theaters and through our Indian DTH platform, which is now in soft launch,” he said.

At Friday’s event with ICM topper Jeff Berg on hand, Reliance pulled back the curtains on a production slate of 69 Indian movies with budgets ranging from $1 million to $40 million, as well as production pacts with two production shingles.

“It is time for Indian companies to step up and take on the world,” Khanna said.

While the deals and spending plans are unquestionably ambitious, the company has equally stratospheric backers. Reliance Big Entertainment is part of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, a giant conglom with interests spanning telecommunications, energy and retail.

The deals cited Friday included a two-film pact with Vinod Chopra Films, the shingle controlled by Vinod Vidhu Chopra, and a six-film deal with Excel Entertainment that includes “Don II,” sequel to 2006 hit “Don” starring Shah Rukh Khan.

Reliance will open offices in the U.S. to oversee its growing array of Stateside movie activities, which already include a 220-screen circuit and the digital imaging biz recently acquired from DTS.

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