India's UTV rebuts News Corp. stake

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NEW DELHI -- Mumbai-based film and television production major UTV Communications dismissed a report Wednesday that News Corp. was to acquire a 15% stake in the company.

"That report is complete fiction. In fact, we have had a long relation with News Corp. via STAR TV which had an equity in UTV but that was bought out a year and a half ago when UTV announced its IPO," said UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala in an interview.

The Economic Times reported: "Companies acting on behalf of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. have bought 3.5%-4% of Indian television and movie production house UTV, in which Walt Disney Co. holds a 15% stake, on the market, and News Corp. plans to further increase its stake to near 15% and make an open offer for UTV."

This reportedly spurred a rise in UTV's share price in the last three days, which rose 5.3% to 233.5 rupees ($5.2).

Meanwhile, UTV announced that it will produce India's first ever trilogy with well-known director Rakesyh Mehra, whose latest film "Rang De Basanti" (Paint It Yellow) is India's official entry for a foreign-language Oscar.

"It's not a conventional trilogy with the same characters in all three films, but there will still be a common theme," said Screwvala. According to Mehra, the first film, called "Paanch Kaurav" and named after characters from the Indian epic Mahabharata, is set in 1930s India. "The next will be set in the future while the third will go way back into the past," he added.

"Kaurav," set to go into production in the winter of 2007, will have a budget of between $11 million-$14 million, Screwvala said, "and the subsequent films will have an incremental increase in budget of about 15%."

UTV is also producing Mehra's next film "Delhi 6," which is scheduled to start shooting in March. It is being co-written by Hollywood screenwriter Syd Field, who also served as a consultant on Roland Joffe's 1992 "City of Joy," which was set in Kolkata, India.

In August, UTV announced co-production deals with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Fox Searchlight totaling $37 million.
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