India 2014 in Review: Remake Frenzy, Deals Draw Headlines
Cinemas consolidated, Kim Kardashian missed out on a visit and the prime minister said that the country's Mars mission cost less than 'Gravity'
This was an eventful year for the Indian entertainment industry. It gravitated toward official remakes, and the country's general elections — the biggest in the world with an estimated 800 million people eligible to vote — surpassed any mega blockbuster, keeping frenzied news networks busy well into the summer.
India also once again welcomed a mix of international heavy hitters in the entertainment and technology space, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Alibaba's Jack Ma, while others planned to visit the country but didn't make it.
The box office also saw the usual mix of formulaic fare (Shah Rukh Khan's Happy New Year, Salman Khan's Kick) and unexpected hits (Haider, director Vishal Bhardwaj's Hamlet adaptation). And in the final weeks of 2014, the biggest release of the year: Aamir Khan-starrer PK, from the team behind 2008 megahit 3 Idiots, was released by UTV Motion Pictures, a unit of Disney India.
Here is THR's closer look at the big media and entertainment industry stories of 2014 in India:
Year of Remakes
With the Indian industry long accused of ripping off foreign storylines, 2014 was the year the tide seemed to be turning toward increasing legit remakes.
The most ambitious remake was Bang Bang!, Fox Star Studios' take on the Tom Cruise-Cameron Diaz starrer Knight and Day. FSS also released City Lights, a Hindi makeover of 2013's Metro Manila, the U.K.'s foreign Oscar entry.
The remake trickle could turn into a flood with a host of projects announced in 2014, such as Relativity's planned Bollywood take on romantic drama The Best of Me. “There is a lot of content we make that is very appropriate for Bollywood, and Bollywood can be opened up a little bit by remaking [that content] with the right partners,” Relativity's Ryan Kavanaugh told The Hollywood Reporter. Similarly, Fox Star Studios said it would remake The Fault in Our Stars.
Movie Theater Consolidation
The last couple of years witnessed consolidation in the exhibition industry in India, but 2014 saw what is considered the biggest deal in the sector. DreamWorks partner Reliance ADAG sold its Big Cinemas chain to South India's Carnival Cinemas in a deal that would reduce Reliance Capital's debt by about $117 million (7 billion rupees). The acquisition will make Carnival one of the top three multiplex operators in the country, with more than 300 screens nationwide. India's largest theatrical chain is PVR Cinemas, which boosted its total screen count to more than 350 after it acquired rival chain Cinemax India in 2012. Mexico's Cinepolis — the only international player in India's exhibition sector — weighs in with 193 screens after it hit the acquisition route, buying Mumbai-based Fun Cinemas.
"When it comes to the exhibition business, India is one of the last markets in the world where you can attain scale, since the country is still quite under-screened (with about 11,000 screens)," according to consulting firm KPMG India's head of entertainment and media, Jehil Thakkar. "More than just consolidation, there is also room for new entrants in the sector."
In the summer, Reliance ADAG, headed by Anil Ambani, merged its film services business with leading VFX player Prime Focus. The deal gave Reliance MediaWorks a 30.2 percent stake in Prime Focus. Additionally, RMW's and Prime Focus’ founders Naresh and Namit Malhotra each earmarked a $20 million investment in Prime Focus, used to fund the earlier merger of U.K. VFX company Double Negative with PFW.
While R-ADAG seemed to exit its entertainment holdings, Ambani's older brother Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Industries made a dramatic entry with the $680 million acquisition of Viacom's India partner Network18, a diversified broadcasting and media group.
Will India Get Film Commissions?
When it comes to promoting India as a shooting destination, the government in 2014 announced a single-window clearance policy to reduce red tape. But an LA India Film Council study argued that the country also needs film commissions to further streamline the process and attract more foreign productions.
“[Hollywood] studios bringing their international productions to shoot in India could be the next growth area,” Motion Picture Association of America's senior vp and deputy managing director and regional policy officer, Asia-Pacific, Frank Rittman, told THR.
Box-Office Data Tracking Gets A Boost
In what could be a breakthrough for the industry, Rentrak launched its India service, aiming to fill the gap for independently verified box-office data.
India has an estimated 11,000 screens, and box-office data is still largely based on figures reported by distributors and producers rather than independent data sourced from cinema locations. Rentrak will step in to collect and analyze data from cinemas, as it does in other markets.
Heavy Hitters Visit India
A slew of big names from the entertainment and technology industries visited India in 2014.
Alibaba's Jack Ma vowed to invest more in India. The billionaire made a brief trip to New Delhi, but didn't specify how much and in which sectors he would invest. Softbank's Masayoshi Son from Japan was another visitor. He said he has earmarked $10 billion for investment in India, with $837 million in deals already announced in online ventures. Among them is a $627 million investment in Indian e-commerce platform Snapdeal.
And who would have thought a film soundtrack launch could have so much muscle? Arnold Schwarzenegger flew down to Chennai to launch the soundtrack of South Indian film I, from Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire). The former bodybuilding champion is understood to have been approached by the producers to promote the film since its lead character also was into bodybuilding.
While Others Didn't Make It
The Internet didn't break when it was announced that Kim Kardashian would make a guest appearance on the Indian version of Big Brother, which airs on Viacom18's Colors channel. But the real breaking news came when Kardashian tweeted that her trip was canceled.
While some reports said it was due to a visa issue, Kardashian didn't give details, only stating, “there was a short window to coordinate all the elements necessary to make it happen...unfortunately time ran out.”
And then there was the visit of the year that never was. The Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai's annual Mood Indigo cultural festival, held in late December, drew much social media buzz when organizers posted a Twitter and Facebook announcement in October stating that Chris Nolan would be one of the star guests. But Nolan's reps said that the Interstellar director wasn't aware of the event and had no plans to attend. The resulting online and media reaction led organizers to issue an apology.
Hollywood Talent Connects With India-Based Projects
Stan Lee's first Bollywood superhero film could go into production in 2015, it was announced this year. After launching Chakra the Invincible, Lee's first Indian superhero comic character, back in 2011, the comic book legend said he was developing a film version of the property. A Stan Lee action movie with some Bollywood song and dance would be a first.
From gangland New York to the New Delhi underworld — that's how far Ray Liotta will come in his career when he starts shooting The Field early in the new year.
Directed by Rohit Karn Batra, the film is described as a New Delhi-set crime thriller that explores an undercover operation of an Indian mafia family. Liotta will play an arms dealer caught in the middle of the erupting war.
And Indian Talent Went Hollywood
Over the past year, Indian stars have taken on roles in big Hollywood productions or struck talent deals.
No stranger to Hollywood, acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan (Life of Pi, Slumdog Millionaire) will next be seen in Jurassic World. “I'm playing the park owner, a very flamboyant person. When the first Jurassic Park came out, I barely had the money to see it, and now I'm playing a part,” Khan told THR.
Khan also has boarded TV miniseries Second World War from co-producers NHK of Japan, Canada's Don Carmody Television and FATT Productions in the Netherlands.
After being signed by Universal Music (in 2010) and CAA (in 2012), Priyanka Chopra has boosted her Hollywood crossover credentials by making inroads with her first international music project. Her debut single, “In My City,” was the theme song to the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football ; it was followed by a duet with Pitbull ("Exotic") and a Bonnie Raitt cover ("I Can't Make You Love Me").
Also the first Indian to feature as a Guess girl in a campaign photographed by rocker Bryan Adams, Chopra in December inked a talent deal with ABC Television.
ABC will develop a show for the international superstar or cast her in an existing project. ABC executive vp casting Keli Lee, who signed Chopra, has played a major role in casting Scandal's Kerry Washington, Modern Family's Sofia Vergara and Grey's Anatomy's Sandra Oh as part of the network's diversity push.
India, China Sign Treaty
The state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September also saw a film treaty being signed between the two countries.
So how will the Chinese dragon and the Indian tiger tango in film? For starters, Viacom18 Motion Pictures India said it was partnering with China's Taihe Entertainment Corp. and Shinework Media on Jackie Chan project Kung-Fu Yoga.
Described as an action comedy to be shot in China and India, the film will star Chan and reunite him with director Stanley Tong following their earlier projects Rumble in the Bronx, Police Story and The Myth.
'Skyfall' and 'Gravity' Comments Made Headlines
Recalling why the India shoot for James Bond film Skyfall didn't happen, India's former Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi explained how 007 missed being an ambassador for Indian Railways.
A dialog line “added in jest” was to have Bond say that “Indian Railways is stronger than James Bond.” But negotiations fell through when Skyfall producers wanted to shoot an action scene with people on a train rooftop. The ministry objected to that as it felt the scene would show India “in poor light,” which led the production to move to Turkey instead.
And Prime Minister Narendra Modi had some financial advice for Hollywood. Applauding India's successful Mars orbiter mission, Modi commended the Indian Space Research Organization for budgeting the mission at $78 million, well below the reported $100 million budget for Warner's Gravity. Said Modi: “I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie."