Mumbai: US movie studio Universal Pictures has decided to produce Hindi films, according to a person familiar with the development.
“The films will be a mix of locally motivated stories and crossover films. These will be released predominantly in the Hindi language,” said the person, who asked not to be identified because news of Universal’s independent entry into India is yet to be made public.
Universal Pictures has a joint venture with Paramount Pictures called United International Pictures, which distributes films made under their banners.
A division of NBCUniversal Inc., a US media conglomerate that also has interests in CNBC and E television channels, Universal Pictures is in the process of setting up an office in Andheri, a Mumbai suburb.
The studio, one of the oldest in the world, is yet to decide its investment budget for Hindi movies, said the person cited earlier.
The Bourne Legacy, slated for a 10 August release, will be the last film to be distributed by United International Pictures. “By the end of August, United International Pictures will dissolve, after which Universal Pictures will release its Hollywood films under the NBCUniversal flagship, besides making films for the Indian market,” the person added.
Paramount, owned by Viacom, last year began the theatrical distribution of its movies through Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, a joint venture between Viacom Inc. and Network18 Media and Investments Ltd.
Although other big Hollywood studios such as Fox Star Studios, Viacom, Walt Disney Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. have dabbled in Indian language films, they haven’t had a smooth run.
Sony Pictures co-produced Saawariya directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali in 2007, its first Hindi film. The film lost over Rs 25 crore for Sony, according to at least two film industry analysts. Warner Bros’ first Hindi film Chandni Chowk To China starring Akshay Kumar lost almost Rs 30 crore, but its second Hindi film—the small budget Atithi Tum Kab Jaoge—recovered cost, according to the analysts.
The studios have now decided neither to produce nor acquire films at high cost.
“Currently there are no plans for Hindi production or distribution,” said a spokesperson of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Warner also does not want to produce Bollywood films in a hurry, said another person familiar with the development, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The prices talents quote are uneconomical. For instance, the local partners want the intellectual property rights of the film to be returned after 10 years, while Hollywood studios like to have the rights for a lifetime,” this person added.
Walt Disney’s early entry into India with Yash Raj Films did not work when its first animated film Roadside Romeo failed to please audiences and incurred a loss of Rs 4 crore, said the analysts.
However, after acquiring UTV Software Communications Ltd earlier this year, Walt Disney Studio is now working closely with UTV Motion Pictures.
“Over time international studios have realized that Hollywood films make for less than 10% of the Indian box-office collections, and in order to grow in this region, one cannot ignore making Bollywood films,” said Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director, studios, Disney UTV.
Fox Star Studios, a venture of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and STAR, made its Indian debut by acquiring the rights for Shah Rukh Khan starrer My Name is Khan for Rs 100 crore, the highest acquisition deal for an Indian film.
Film experts say the Indian film industry is a competitive market. Relationship with local talent and having the sensibilities to create content that will appeal to Indian audiences is a challenge for the international studios.
“Just having deep pockets does not give a studio an edge over local production companies and Hollywood studios have realized that,” said industry analyst Komal Nahta. “They are more cautious and no longer acquiring films at absurd prices.”