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Bollywood, India's advertisement to the world

By Chinmayee Manjunath in Mumbai
Last updated on: March 20, 2006 14:36 IST
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As moderator Mira Kamdar said, it was only fitting that a conference held in Mumbai had a session on Bollywood. The panel for the session at the Asia Society conference in Mumbai, titled 'Bollywood's Boom, a Globalization of Culture', had the Mumbai-based Ronnie Screwvala, CEO, UTV Software Communications, the Mumbai-based, Los Angeles native Kristin Dornig, CEO, Prana Studios, the Hong Kong-based Michelle Guthrie, CEO, STAR Group, and Smriti Mundhra, the New York-based producer, who runs Drops Entertainment.

There was not really much debate about whether or not Bollywood has gone global, which everyone agreed on, but more about the definition and impact of its global presence. Mundhra believed that since people in every continent watch a Bollywood film, "that's as global as it gets." She focussed more on the branding of Bollywood for audiences beyond the non-resident Indians.

Dornig, who works in the field of animation and visual effects, spoke about how India is becoming a back-office for Hollywood in these fields, which is a benefit of outsourcing.

Screwvala, fresh from the success of Rang De Basanti, which UTV co-produced, felt that the Indian film and entertainment industry was too insular, mainly because there is such a massive domestic market. "We have to market ourselves globally and also bring in international concepts like pay-per-view to India," he said.

Guthrie agreed that the issue is also about unlocking India's full potential in this field. "India has to develop multiple revenue streams," she said, citing the examples of the American film industry, which taps international markets and the DVD sector.

Mundhra, who chose to release her film Waterborne via Google video, spoke about the future of individualised, personalised content for the customer. "I think this is going to be the way film distribution will go. And I want anyone with a broadband connection to be able to see my movie," she said.

Speaking about the importance of marketing, which is not upon stressed enough in India, Screwvala said that, for the first time, UTV spent 40 percent above production costs on marketing Rang De Basanti. Guthrie stepped in to talk about mobile phone marketing strategies, which she finds unique to Asia, particularly India. "Today, I saw someone get SMS alerts each time a wicket fell. That just won't happen in the US," she said.

The panellists addressed the problem of piracy, which is a real and pressing one for Indian films. Kamdar, a senior fellow at the New York-based World Policy Institute, commented that less than a week after a major film release, the pirated DVD is already in the market. "If I can buy a DVD for $1 rather than pay $10 to watch it in a theatre or $19 to buy the original DVD, I will go with the pirated one," said Mundhra, who believes that the only way to counter piracy is by offering added value to consumers.

Agreeing with her, Screwvala added that the Indian film industry has to look at other avenues, such as simultaneous release of a movie in theatres and on DVD. "Right now, costs are escalating, with huge theatrical release. Movies do very well on the DVD circuit, both domestically and internationally and there is also the option of premiering on television," he said. He also placed regional films in this context, saying that they could tap the DVD market for greater reach and profits.

Dornig, whose studio works primarily out of India for large Hollywood studios, spoke about the need for sharpening screenwriting and story-telling skills in India. "We get great raw artistic talent but not enough of these talent bases," she said. Screwvala and Guthrie agreed with her, stressing the importance of developing these skills to improve employee profiles.

The panellists were unanimous in their opinion that Indian films, particularly from Bollywood, create India's 'advertisement to the world'. What needs to be done, they believe, is increase the appeal of that advertisement by enhancing its quality, to better showcase the excitement of India.

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Chinmayee Manjunath in Mumbai