Russia Strengthens Film Ties With India at Goa Market

Russian industry seeks new connections as war in Ukraine and sanctions crimp business-as-usual.

Roskino Goa
Film Bazaar

Russia was a significant presence at India’s recently concluded Film Bazaar market in Goa, with Roskino and Moscow Export Center occupying two pavilions.

There were 14 Russian production companies represented at the Moscow Export Center pavilion. Roskino, operating under the umbrella brand ‘Russian Content Worldwide,’ featured more than 30 films, series and animations from 10 content producers. Both entities sent detailed catalogs of films, series and animation to Bazaar delegates ahead of the event with a view to achieving Indian and Asian sales.

“The presence of Russian companies at such a significant event in the Asian content industry marks a new stage in the development of Russian-Asian relations in film and animation,” said Roskino CEO Inna Shalyto in her introduction in the organization’s Bazaar brochure. “We look forward to strengthening business dialog with the Indian film industry and representatives of other Asian countries and are pleased to present a selection of outstanding projects created by Russian filmmakers.”

Roskino’s Indian representative is Sarfaraz Alam Safu, a seasoned line producer and distributor with bases in Moscow and Goa. “There were overall about 40-42 people [from Russia] and most of them were looking for buyers in the market and they were told that there will be lots of Indian buyers here,” Safu told Variety, adding that there was also an appetite for coproductions. The India-Russia coproduction treaty dates back to 1993.

“Many companies want to do something in India now, to shoot in India, to do collaborations. There were some companies with ready scripts who wanted to find Indian producers. This was their motto and I think for the first year it was quite okay,” Safu said. The companies were initially expecting a higher number of Indian distributors, but the last two days of the Bazaar was busy for all the Russian companies with several Indian companies showing keen interest, especially in animated products, for either dubbing or remaking them, Safu said.

The trade could also flow the other way. Leading Russian distributor Central Partnership was one of the companies present. “They brought their content, but they are huge, the biggest distributor in Russia, they buy all the Hollywood movies and European movies. They are looking for some good Indian movies also to release in Russia in a big way,” Safu said.

“Because of the sanctions, there are no Hollywood movies, [there is] a deficit of content in theaters. So, this is the best time for India to enter into Russia in a big way. But it will not happen from the Russian side because they don’t know what to buy, how to buy, when to buy. We have to take the steps as Indian companies. We have to go and also showcase our projects, our products, and content. And I’m sure there is a lot of good Indian content, which they will like.”

Safu added that there wasn’t much Indian content offered to the Russian companies at the Bazaar and what little was on offer was independent fare, which did not attract much interest. Safu is of the opinion that more blockbusters are needed if Indian content is to crack the Russian market – back to the days when films starring Raj Kapoor and Mithun Chakraborty were huge box office draws. The Indian producers Safu approached for blockbuster films demanded minimum guarantees of $100,000-$200,000, which he said was not feasible. He said that the Russian market, which is in thrall to Hollywood product, needs to be wooed back by India.

“Aamir Khan went to China and promoted ‘Dangal’ himself and it gave him a good result. Shah Rukh Khan is damn famous in the whole of CIS – he’s never been there. I give guarantee – if he comes with any of his projects, like the upcoming ‘Pathaan,’ he will make more money in CIS than any other European or any other Western countries,” Safu said. “My request to the Bollywood producers’ associations or directors’ associations is to come up in a group. I will arrange everything. I will tell the Russian government to arrange everything, from press conferences to B2Bs, we have to work and enter into that market.”

Safu has a company called Indian Films that releases Indian movies in Russia every week. But he is not content because it caters primarily to the Indian diaspora and student market audiences and collections are not high. He does not currently want to take the risk to advertise Indian films in a big way in order to gain a wider audience.

For now, Safu, whose Indian films as a line producer include “Zero” and “Valimai,” is fielding shooting requests from Indian companies. These had stopped when the war in Ukraine began, but have now resumed. “I’m now getting queries, because now I’ve understood that Russia is totally safe. Lots of shoots happening in Russia, local and Chinese, without a problem,” Safu said.