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Passage from India

Fox shutters money-losing distrib unit

MUMBAI — Citing losses for the past four years, 20th Century Fox is winding up its 73-year-old Mumbai-based Indian distribution arm.

Closure comes after the exit of its India chief, Aditya Shastri, who recently shifted to UTV as the chief exec of its motion pictures biz.

The news surprised local industryites as it comes in a year of record earnings posted by the Indian distrib arms of Warner Bros. and Columbia TriStar.

“Spider-Man 2” grossed more than 350 million rupees ($8 million) last year to become the second-highest-grossing English language pic in India after “Titanic,” which made more than $11.5 million. Fox India’s last release was “Garfield: The Movie,” which made $5,700.

Sources claim Fox has launched an internal audit to probe possible financial irregularities.

Competing studio execs remain tightlipped about the closure while moving ahead with plans to release “Batman Begins,” “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” “King Kong,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” “Hitch,” “Miss Congeniality 2,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “War of the Worlds” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Fox India had recently begun distribbing Bollywood films, tying up with helmer Ram Gopal Varma to distribute “Ek hasina thi” (There Was a Beauty) last year. It also released helmer Nagesh Kukunoor’s “Bollywood Calling” (2001), Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s “Pinjar” (2003) and Khalid Mohamed’s “Tehzeeb” (2003).

Fox India’s next distrib venture “Bullet — ek dhamaka”( Bullet — A Blast) will hit theaters today. While most ex-Fox employees have accepted their pay off, a handful are contesting their dismissal in the country’s Labor Court.

A 20th Century Fox spokesman was unable to comment.

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