The Hollywood studios court Bollywood audience


NEW DELHI -- The output of the Indian film industry is the largest in the world, and Hollywood is keen to get in on the action. Expectations are high for Warner Bros.' Bollywood debut "Chandhini Chowk to China," which is slated to hit theaters later this year. Co-produced by veteran filmmaker Ramesh Sippy, directed by Nikhil Advani and starring Akshay Kumar, the romantic comedy is the first Indian film to shoot extensively in China. At press time, there were unconfirmed reports that Warner Bros. is also prepping two smaller films slated for release this year.

While Sony has yet to announce its

follow-up to last November's "Saawariya" (Beloved), which opened to mixed reviews, Uday Singh, executive vp of Mumbai-based SPE Films India, says the banner plans to release "at least six films a year, which will be focused on the Indian market and diaspora." Last September, SPE signed a nonexclusive co-production and distribution agreement with Eros Entertainment, a leader in distributing Bollywood films overseas. Eros has also made recent forays into production with hits like "Namastey London" (Hello London) and "Partner."

Disney has partnered with one of Indian filmdom's most successful banners, Yash Raj Films, to co-produce the animation feature "Roadside Romeo." Disney also has a 32.1% stake in UTV, which has interests in broadcasting and film.

Unconfirmed reports suggest Fox is prepping its India plans with a possible collaboration with leading Bollywood director Karan Johar.

"The entry of Hollywood majors is a welcome sign since it will only expand opportunities," says Saurabh Varma, chief marketing officer of Mumbai-based Reliance Big Entertainment. But CNN-IBN's Rajeev Masand questions how Hollywood can change the Indian film landscape. "Sony didn't offer anything new with 'Saawariya,' which performed below expectations," he notes. "I think Hollywood is riding the bandwagon with established players, but the studios have to come up with an original game plan as well."
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