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India’s Zee Making Push Into English-Language Genre Film Production (EXCLUSIVE)

India's Zee Making Push Into English-Language
Courtesy of Zee Studios International

Zee Entertainment, one of India’s largest media groups, is making a committed foray into the English-language movie production business. The initiative is spearheaded by Dubai-based Shibani Kapur, Zee’s CEO of international production.

“We are targeting high-concept, low-budget films, in the genre space and with the kind of international cast that a company like Lionsgate or New Line would recognize,” Kapur told Variety. “We want these movies to travel.”

Kapur’s unit Zee Studios Intl. aims to deliver up to four films per year, made with budgets between $1 million-$5 million. It has completed its first two productions and is currently finishing a third.

Its first picture was “Open 24 Hours,” a psychological horror film set in a rural gas station. Directed by Padraig Reynolds and starring Brendan Fletcher and Vanessa Grasse, it has been selected for all the major fantasy festivals including Sitges, Fantasticfest Frightfest U.K., Screamfest in L.A. and Telluride Horror.

That was followed by “Daddy’s Girl,” in which a youngster held captive by her stepfather becomes the target of a female vigilante. Directed by Julian Richards and starring Costas Mandylor, it premiered in the U.K.’s Raindance festival and is selected for the upcoming Fantasporto festival.

Costliest to date is another Reynolds-directed picture “Dark Light.” Now in post-production, it straddles the haunted house and creature genres, and stars Jessica Madsen (“Leatherface”) and Opal Littleton (Netflix’ “Ozark”). Creature design is by Aaron Sims (“Aquaman,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Insidious”). It used a significantly American and British crew and was shot in Europe to make use of local tax agreements.

“My task at the AFM is to talk to direct distribution partners for the first two and to meet potential sales agents for ‘Dark Light’,” said Kapur. “We’d expect it to have a limited theatrical life.

“Zee is already well established in India (and Indian diaspora communities worldwide) and feel that it is time to branch out. And the reason we are working this way is that we want to show that we are not just passive, equity investors, but are really hands on,” said Kapur. “And then by owing the films, whatever route to market we take with any particular title, eventually the picture will return to us, allowing us to exploit it across our networks and platforms.

In business for over 25 years, Zee operates 66 linear TV channels, in 171 countries and territories, and claims over a billion viewers. The group also recently expanded its digital offering with the launch of VoD app Zee5.

We are quite clear about the genre film markets in the English-language, Russia and Mexico, and we always keep one eye open on China. So we’ll be avoiding supernatural horror,” said Kapur.