2011: When Hollywood Connected with India

 

Tom Cruise, Lady GagaHugh Jackman and even Paris Hilton brought Hollywood star power to India like never before in 2011, complete with obligatory "I Love Bollywood" quotes.

Touchdown” could be the buzzword for 2011 to describe Hollywood's India connection, which reached a new high thanks to some high voltage star power landing here for the first time.

The year kicked off with Hugh Jackman enthralling a full house at the annual entertainment business conference FICCI Frames in March, even doing a brief Bollywood jig with superstar Shah Rukh Khan and actress Vidya Balan.

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India's total film market is estimated at about $1.65 billion (87.5 billion rupees), and Hollywood and other foreign films hardly command of that. This points to the obvious potential to expand this segment, even if domestic content will always dominate.

A pre-phone hacking scandal James Murdoch offered a wake-up call to the entire Indian media business in his opening remarks at FICCI Frames. “India’s $15 billion media industry should have been $120-odd billion -- given its creative human talent and historical depth,” he said on the heels of this year's FICCI Frames report on the entertainment industry, prepared with consultants KPMG India, that predicted the Indian biz would double its revenues to nearly $30 billion by 2015.

Bollywood had a good run with some titles such as Reliance Entertainment's action extravaganza Bodyguard, starring superstar Salman Khan and actress Kareena Kapoor, which collected the highest opening day take ever, crossing 200 million rupees and went on to yield a net 889 million rupees in its first five days of release. Another strong performer came in Reliance's Singham, which netted 1 billion rupees in its sixth week of release.

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Shah Rukh Khan's superhero caper Ra.One – rumored to be India's most expensive film (budgeted at over 1.5 billion rupees) – was considered an under-performer even after collecting 1.7 billion rupees worldwide in its first five days of release.

But the breakthrough of the year was The Dirty Picture – produced by Balaji Telefilms' Alt Entertainment banner - which proved that an actress can run a movie in a mostly male-dominated business. Vidya Balan's turn as a sexy Eighties screen siren has made Dirty Picture (budgeted at 210 million rupees) the runaway hit of the year, netting over 700 million rupees in its first two weeks. “This was the rare case where great content met commercial success while proving that a female-oriented film can be widely marketed,” said Balaji Telefilms CEO Tanuj Garg.

Hollywood hit a bump in the summer over a breakdown in revenue-sharing terms with multiplex chains, who refrained from screening tentpoles such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Captain America and Final Destination 5.

As an example of potential loss of revenues, Apes grossed about 59 million rupees on its opening weekend according to its distributor Fox Star Studios but “this figure could have been double had the film opened in multiplexes,” said consultants PriceWaterhouseCoopers India entertainment leader Timmy Kandhari.

When releases resumed, Hollywood tasted success with Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin – The Secret of the Unicorn, which its distributor Sony Pictures India claimed was the highest-grossing animated film in India thanks to its 254.4 million rupees gross in its first four-week run.

But another Hollywood hiccup came when reports indicated that the next James Bond film was not going to be shot in India, after the Indian railway ministry reportedly denied some permissions. However, India was still a favorite shooting destination for international projects such as Michael Winterbottom's Trishna, John Madden's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Roland Joffe's Singularity and Ang Lee's Life of Pi.

Beyond films, India's first Formula One racing event offered an opportunity for Lady Gaga to touch down and perform at the closing night race party held near Delhi.

As the year headed to the crucial festive season, Tom Cruise landed here for the first time and introduced India to a first of its kind Hollywood red carpet event for Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, which opened 16 December via Viacom18 Motion Pictures.

I love watching Hindi movies... (If offered a Bollywood film) I would never say no. I would love to do it,” the 49-year-old actor offered.

But nobody could match Jackman's wittiest take on Bollywood. “I am a huge fan of Shah Rukh Khan and I loved his film My Name Is Khan. I want to do a sequel to this film and that will be called My Name Is Jackman (with the tag line) 'and I am not a tourist',” Jackman joked in a reference to the My Name Is Khan tag line, “And I am not a terrorist.”

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