Cause Entertainment to produce 'issue' films

Modeled on Participant Media's social awareness plan

NEW DELHI -- While the Indian industry is beginning to see the growth of film funds in recent years, the backers of a new $44 million fund, Cause Entertainment, have modeled their business plan on Participant Media (“Oceans”) with the objective of raising awareness about social issues.

Backed by DM Capital Advisors, the Cause Entertainment Fund’s corporate board includes industry heavyweights such as former Sony Pictures India CEO Uday Singh, Sony Music India managing director Shridhar Subramanium, Sony Pictures Television India CEO Man Jit Singh and Conde Nast India CEO Alex Kuruvilla.

“Our core focus is to produce films which focus on social issues and as it so happens, some of the recent successes have been films revolving around a cause,” said fund co-founder Vicky Dhir, pointing to films like last year's runaway hit “3 Idiots,” which tackled the subject of college education and 2006's “Rang De Basanti,” which questioned the importance of patrioitism for India's current generation.

Beyond just raising awareness with its planned slate of three to four films per year, CEF will dedicate a portion of its revenues for “social equity,” which will invest in social venture capital, microfinance initiatives and run awareness programs for various social causes associated with the banner's respective films.

 “Our objective is also to be proactive about working for a cause at the grass roots level by engaging appropriate organisations and charities and hence benefit society with the proceeds of the film,” Uday Singh explained.

Illustrating this with an example, Singh said that after “Slumdog Millionaire,” Danny Boyle “had to come down to India personally to supervise his newly established charity to benefit the film's child actors. With a more proactive approach embedded with the film from day one, this process would have been much more effective.”

But with an eye on financial viability Singh also cautions that CEF should not be seen as an “arthouse outfit but one that focuses on mainstream commercial cinema.” And unlike Participant Media, which has had successes with documentary films, Singh said the Indian market is “currently not conducive to documentaries in terms of viability so our focus will initially be on feature films.”

In terms of budgets, Dhir said that CEF will probably look at cofinancing projects in the range of about $1 million to $9 million “because beyond this, big budget productions find it difficult to recover costs in the current market scenario.”

While details about projects -- which could include international coproductions -- are being finalised, CEF is awaiting clearance from financial regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India, which is expected in the coming weeks. Also planned is a U.S. roadshow at the end of the month targeting potential investors.