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Films fly many flags

Co-productions take off, but challenges remain

Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. British actor-director Stephen Fry. Indian director Dev Benegal.

These names are not likely to be found in the same space.

But on March 20, the trio came together to launch a $20 million film on the genius Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan and his friendship with Cambridge mathematician G. H. Hardy. The film is likely to be among the first productions under the India-U.K. film co-production treaty, which was signed last year. Hollywood producer Ed Pressman is prepping another pic based on a Ramanujan biography.

Co-production is the hot buzzword in the Indian film industry these days, and it’s not limited to mainstream Bollywood. A group of Mumbai’s off-mainstream filmmakers, Sudhir Mishra, Ketan Mehta, Aditya Bhattacharya and Anurag Kashyap, are at the Cannes fest to seek co-production partners.

Mishra, whose critically acclaimed 2003 film “Hazaaron khwaishein aisi” received technical assistance from EU fund Fond du Sud, says, “We want to tell the world that there are other types of films in India than Bollywood. Foreign collaborations will help Indian cinema find itself. There will be more variety.”

Several Hollywood majors have already expressed keen interest in Bollywood co-productions (Sony’s debut Hindi film “Saanwariya” is in production), and now U.K. companies are following suit.

“There is a huge interest in the U.K. to not only co-produce films with India but to shoot in India as well,” says “Ramanujan” producer Gina Carter.

Siddharth Roy Kapur of UTV, one of India’s leading production companies, points out that there is a language and cultural connect between the U.S., U.K. and India and therefore “there is more traction and interest from Hollywood in co-productions with South Asian Studios.”

But these co-production deals challenge both the Western and South Asian partners to find common ground between two distinct industries and markets.

One area of common ground is arthouse cinema. Arthouse films in India have long received funding from EU funds such as the Fond du Sud and the Hubert Bals Fund (HBF).

The one-year-old Swiss fund Vision Sud Est, is supporting “Unni,” a Malayalam language arthouse film about growing up in a small village in Kerala.

“Unni” helmer Murali Nair who won the Camera d’Or in 1999 for his first feature, “Marna simhasanam,” says U.K. companies are wedded to mainstream but “European sensibilities are a bit different and more catered toward film as an art form.”

The logistics of cross-cultural financing aren’t easy, either. Paris-based director Pan Nalin compares it to “making jazz music.”

“One is constantly improvising,” he says.

Nalin is finishing up “Valley of Flowers,” which he describes as an Asian love epic about passion, death and reincarnation. The $6 million film, shot mostly in the Himalayas at altitudes of 15,000 feet, has majority German finance, followed by India, France and the EU.

Nalin believes that there are more U.K.-India co-productions than EU-India because “it is a very difficult task for a European to understand the Indian market and its moods.”

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