This weekend, Rohit Sharma will head to Cannes for the business end of the annual film festival (this is called the Cannes Film Market). He will represent India’s film industry there, but he won’t be pitching the regular song-and-dance, tears-and-joy movies Bollywood makes.
The international sales president for iDream Independent Pictures Ltd will be selling seven Indian movies to buyers from all over the world. His discussions with them won’t just be about price; Sharma hopes to understand what the buyers want and customize the movies to their taste, not in terms of changing storylines, but in terms of making movies shorter, and leaving outsome songs.
“We don’t need to impose songs (on people) around the world when it is not (in) their culture,” said Sharma.
The market for Indian movies overseas is expected to grow at 18%, faster than the domestic market which is growing at 16%, according to a report by industry lobby Ficci and audit firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers Pvt. Ltd. Yet, the report found that the market could be expanded through better marketing, and sub-titling and dubbing efforts as well as wider releases.
Analysts at brokerages such as Kotak Securities Ltd and Emkay Share and Stock Brokers Ltd said that in the last few years producers have increasingly aimed their movies at overseas audiences.
One analyst, who didn’t wish to be identified, cited Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd’s TaRaRumPum as an example of a movie with international appeal. Other producers, such as UTV Software Communications Ltd, have partnered with Hollywood production houses. And movies such as Monsoon Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham, Bride & Prejudice, Water and The Namesake, while varying in content, have done their bit to put Indian movies in the minds of moviegoers overseas. More needs to be done to Indian films for them to be suitable for foreign audiences, said Frank D’Souza, a partner at audit and advisory firm BMR & Associates who focuses on the entertainment industry.
“The kind of cinema that we produce is not really suited for the international audience—that’s a fact,” he added. “It’s going to be marketed as a niche product. You will never get the mass appeal…unless you change the cinematic aspects, length, narration and songs that go in,” he said.
That’s the dream of iDream: to take movies, tweak them, and market them for audiences abroad that are not necessarily of South Asian origin. The movie might need a few songs cut out, a localized title, dubbing, or a new marketing campaign. iDream will not buy films from producers; it will recover the cost of adaptation, take a 25% cut of proceeds for its efforts, but the rest of the money goes to the original producer. Sharma and iDream’s chief executive officer Ashish Bhatnagar thought up the plan late last year. Cannes will be their first big test.
Sharma and Bhatnagar have played safe in their choice of seven movies. Their movies are Indian, but not typical Bollywood fare. One of the movies—My Own Sky—was the debut of director Kaushik Roy (it hasn’t been released in India), and his movie has already been tweaked.
“I realized that some songs probably don’t make sense for the European audience,” said Roy. “We kept them in when the story progressed through the song.”
iDream Independent Pictures is a 75:25 joint venture between iDream Production and Crossover Ventures, a London-based production and finance firm. iDream Production started as a distribution and production house, promoted by Shripal Morakhia (one of the promoters of financial services firm SSKI Corporate Finance Pvt. Ltd).
In April, Morakhia divested a 50% stake to the company’s senior managers, Bhatnagar and Sharma.
Four years ago, iDream Production produced an Indian version of Gulliver’s Travels, Jajantaram Mamantaram. In 2005, it produced a horror movie Naina. The first was renamed Land of the Little People, dubbed, edited, and sold to HBO for Latin America, South Africa, Germany, and various countries in East Asia. iDream sold Naina in Spain, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, and the movie will soon be released in Germany. iDream Independent executives said other countries have a culture of watching lesser-known international films more thanIndia does.
After Cannes, Sharma and Bhatnagar would like to slowly push the boundaries and venture into the mainstream. The duo gave Omkara andRang de Basanti as examples of movies they think will do welloverseas.
Both were mainstream Bollywood fare and big hits. Sharma and Bhatnagar said that they would also look at regional language films and try and work with directors whocan keep international audiences in mind whilemaking films.
Established directors and production houses might not quite like to alter their movies. Nihkil Advani, one of Bollywood’s best-known directors, said removing song and dance sequences strips out India’s unique offering.
“The Indian emotion is so out there and so shamelessly out there, (and) that is what appeals to the American audience,” he said.
The movies could be shortened, he agreed, because even Indians want shorter movies now. Part of the move towards shorter films is being driven by the economics of multiplexes (the shorter the movie, the more shows a multiplexcan run).
Ehsaan Noorani, a music director for Bollywood films, said it made sense to alter films for western audiences because they “are used to a particular kind of film.” That wouldn’t be musicals, he said. “There have been musicals, like Moulin Rouge, but I think they don’t want to see a musical all the time. That period is over for them,” he added.