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Lack of Hollywood studio finance could impact Bollywood projects

The service is built on Disney’s proprietary digital rights locker KeyChest, rather than UltraViolet, a cloud storage service used by other major Hollywood studios. Photo: ReutersPremium
The service is built on Disney’s proprietary digital rights locker KeyChest, rather than UltraViolet, a cloud storage service used by other major Hollywood studios. Photo: Reuters

  • While India makes around 300-400 Hindi movies a year, most of the A-grade titles featuring big and familiar faces that get some amount of recognition and make up more than 85% of the box office are backed by corporate studios.

NEW DELHI : Hollywood studios such as Walt Disney and Universal Pictures scaling down operations in Bollywood and others like Viacom18 Motion Pictures preferring to spread their investments out over multiple languages could impact local Hindi movie projects adversely and spell big trouble for the business.

With little or no access to the deep pockets of these companies, the number of big-budget films will be curtailed going forward, media experts said . While India makes around 300-400 Hindi movies a year, most of the A-grade titles featuring big and familiar faces that get some amount of recognition and make up more than 85% of the box office are backed by corporate studios.

Th bad news comes at a time when the business has already been devastated by covid-19 with multiple films delayed and several having to skip theatrical release.

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Mint had earlier reported that Hollywood studios are tweaking their strategies in India by either scaling back operations or focusing on regional and digital content rather than big budget Hindi films. Disney has decided to slow down Bollywood production through its acquired arm Fox Star Studios (Disney acquired 21st Century Fox Inc. in June 2018 which made Star India, Fox Star Studios, and Hotstar part of Walt Disney), Universal Pictures has shut down its India office while Viacom18 has already made significant forays into Tamil and Telugu. Rival player Sony Pictures Networks has always been conservative in greenlighting Hindi movies. Reasons ranged from local co-producers refusing to share IPs to lead male stars taking away a disproportionate share of the budget.

“It would be a massive state of concern (for the local film business). These studios spend anywhere between 2,500-3,000 crore per year across films between them and are a very important part of the ecosystem. Them moving away is a sign of big trouble," said Karan Taurani, research analyst at Elara Capital Ltd said. No local producer can put his lifetime savings to make the kind of large star films that require 120-230 crore, Taurani added.

The one solution would be to look at small-scale films, high on concept rather than star value.

“Stars always look for studios to back their films and these will be harder to put together," said Siddharth Anand Kumar, vice-president, films and television, Saregama India adding that this might be an opportunity for small films and newer talent to find better space to thrive. This makes sense given that the Indian market is big enough to accommodate all kinds of content but people especially love stuff made in vernacular languages that brings out emotions best, he said.

Media experts say filmmakers will increasingly look for other avenues for funding. For instance, according to a report by movie trade website Film Information, Karan Johar who had a long-term partnership with Fox Star Studios has finalised a five-film deal with Lyca productions, a sub-group of British mobile network operator Lycamobile that has produced Rajinikanth’s 2.0 in the past.

Meanwhile, local studios like T-Series that have been aggressive on film production for the last couple of years are also a safe recourse. Not only do they have stable sources of revenue thanks to their music library, they also focus on medium-budget films, starring young faces, some of which like Kabir Singh have broken out to become blockbusters.

“All said and done, studios have made local producers richer by fronting big projects. These filmmakers will definitely have to rework their models now," said a former Fox Star Studios executive who did not wish to be named.

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