Hindi cinema explores deals in new territories

For the first time in more than a decade, a Hindi film played in Cannes. Bollywood pics “My Name Is Khan” and “3 Idiots” have broken records at the box office. Warner’s “Atithi tum kab jaoge?” and Eros’ “Housefull” have opened to solid box office.

Compare those results with the same period last year, when exhibs and distribs were at a standoff and there were no new releases after a first quarter filled with flops.

The box office drought extended all the way to December, when Reliance Big Pictures’ “3 Idiots” opened with a record-breaking $21.4 million worldwide.

This year has brought plenty for Bollywood to be happy about, even if the Indian Premier League cricket tourney caused long gaps between films. Akshay Kumar comedy “Housefull” bowed to $14.3 million worldwide over the May 1 weekend.

“This is a better year, even though we had a slack period because of IPL,” says Eros North American prexy Ken Naz. “Good movies don’t get released during this time.”

Expectations are high for the rollout of Reliance’s “Kites,” which kicked off May 21 on 2,000 screens worldwide, including 200 in the U.S., (see review, page 16). The pic stars Mexican thesp Barbara Mori and Bollywood heartthrob Hrithik Roshan. Reliance will follow that up in June with Mani Ratnam’s “Raavan,” which reteams him with thesps Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her husband, Abhishek, plus composer A.R. Rahman.

Distrib UTV was pleased to see “Udaan” unspool in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard, the first Hindi film at the fest in 13 years.

“It’s a big deal,” says UTV motion pictures CEO Siddharth Roy Kapur.

UTV plans to release 15 films this year, its largest slate ever, with high-profile filmmakers including Sanjay Leela Bhansali (“Devdas”), Karan Johar (“My Name Is Khan”), Vishal Bharadwaj and Prakash Jha.

The first film to roll out is the Jha-helmed “Rajneeti” in June. Kapur has high hopes for his pics, including smaller budgeted films, despite increasing competition from Hollywood studios, which are branching into local-language production.

“A lot more people want to make movies,” he says. “It can grow the market.”

That sentiment is echoed by Eros’ Naz, who says, “competition is going to help the market.”

Meanwhile, UTV is trying to broaden its global footprint, venturing into South America, Eastern Europe and Africa — territories that aren’t traditional Bollywood markets. One of the places Kapur is trying is to break into is China.

“It’s a protectionist environment, so it takes a bit to get through,” he says pointing to the country’s quota of 20 foreign films a year. UTV has had some success in China with pics like the historical “Jodhaa Akbar.”

“If we could tap into Indians outside India and get people to watch legally, there would be tremendous revenue,” Kapur says.

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