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At the Cannes film festival this year, Relativity announced an India joint venture with Bollywood film and TV company B4U. The venture has earmarked a $100 million investment to create and distribute entertainment and sports content in India across various platforms, including film, TV and digital.
The remake of The Best of Me is the first of a three-picture deal between the Relativity-B4U venture and leading Indian banner Balaji Telefilms. Directed by Michael Hoffman, the film is based on Nicholas Sparks‘ 2011 novel of the same name and stars James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan.
“Relativity’s model is to also focus on emerging markets, and India has huge potential,” Kavanaugh told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
Established as a TV production firm in the mid-1990s headed by Ekta Kapoor (daughter of veteran Bollywood star Jeetendra), Balaji Telefilms has delivered a string of runaway hit soap operas produced for various networks, such as 21st Century Fox’s Star India. Film unit Balaji Motion Pictures has backed titles such as 2011’s breakthrough hit The Dirty Picture and horror franchise Ragini MMS, among others.
“Our three-film tie-up with Balaji is going to be great, because they bring in a lot of expertise in various areas, to which we can also add to as well,” said Saksena. “We estimate a total investment of about $25 million (1.5 billion rupees) for these three films.”
As announced in Cannes, Relativity-B4U is also developing a Bollywood remake of an upcoming Relativity comedy, currently titled Untitled Armored Car Project, starring Owen Wilson and Zach Galifianakis.
“It’s a funny, romantic theme, which can work here,” said Saksena, pointing out that it is not yet decided which local partner will board the project. He also added that Relativity-B4U is “working on other projects, which we will announce in the next couple of months.”
“India likes big-event movies, and by that I don’t mean big special-effects movies like Transformers, but just big movies which have big stories that take you to another world,” said Kavanaugh. “You will see three to four movies a year that we will simultaneously make for the U.S. market with a separate Bollywood version for India.”
Kavanaugh is hoping to replicate his China model by co-producing movies that “eventually converge.” Hinting at one of Relativity’s upcoming China projects, he added: “We are about to distribute a movie that is half-Chinese, half-American, which is in production though. We haven’t announced it yet. That is a co-production, which is a big step forward from where China was a year ago. We hope to do that kind of thing in India at some point, so we don’t have to be making two separate movies.”
Kavanaugh is also upbeat about the Indian market given that by 2020 the country will have the largest population of young people below 30, according to a recent international study. “Our belief is that existing distribution systems from satellite to cord cutting is going to converge onto smartphones of which India will have a huge penetration, thanks also to its youth market. And smartphones are getting easier to connect with TV sets.”
The potential for marketing Indian content beyond traditional overseas diaspora-driven markets is also on the agenda. “B4U already distributes Indian films overseas [such as this year’s surprise comedy hit Queen],” said Saksena. “Relativity’s international distribution with B4U’s existing network can give the right content the ability to reach its full potential.”
Kavanaugh added: “If we can find [another] Moulin Rouge that played well here and incredibly well in the U.S. and worldwide – that’s an example of crossing cultures.” He pointed out that Relativity also produced the film version of hit musical Mama Mia!
Comparing China and India, Kavanaugh noted that the two markets “are opposites.” He explained: “China loves American movies, and the government has imposed import regulations [to protect the market for local movies]. In India, you have a consumer who is used to a very different type of product [given the dominance of local movies]. In China, you have a government that wants to make sure Chinese product is as important as U.S. product.”
Expanding on the trend of Chinese-international co-productions — such as the Relativity-Huayi Brothers 2005 title Forbidden Kingdom starring Jackie Chan and Jet Li — Kavanaugh added: “The only reason a lot of people are doing co-productions now is to really help the Chinese government [by demonstrating] that we can make movies that are Chinese and American.”
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