India's UTV unveils film slate


CANNES -- Mumbai-based entertainment group UTV promoted a slate of film projects big and small Friday at the Festival de Cannes, a fest that began 60 years ago, the same year India gained its independence.

"Jodha Akbar," starring Ashwari Rai as the Hindu wife of India's Muslim emperor (played by Hrithik Roshan), is budgeted at $11 million for director Ashutosh Gowariker, maker of the 2001 hit "Lagaan," which made $5 million overseas, UTV CEO Ronnie Screwvala said.

Focusing UTV's Cannes sales effort on homegrown films -- rather than on its $57 million co-production with 20th Century Fox of M. Night Shyamalan's thriller "The Happening" -- UTV attracted 32 international distributors to a lunch meeting at Cannes, Screwvala said.

"Our content has to appeal to our core audience, but with each film we hope to push the international envelope," he added. "This visit to Cannes is about India first, then UTV."

To that end, Screwvala said the $5 million "Goal" by Vivek Agnihotri, about a ragtag Indian soccer team competing in Britain, wrapped this week. Describing it as "an unusual film for cricket-mad India," he said "Goal," which stars John Abraham and Bipasha Basu, is slated for an August or September release.

UTV also is rereleasing India's 2006 Oscar submission, "Paint It Yellow" ("Rang De Basanti"), renaming the film by director Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra "Color of Sacrifice" and cutting it down to just over two hours, short for typical Indian cinema.

"Our younger audience is no longer tolerant of long movies. They want to consume content on their own terms," Screwvala said.

The low-budget Mumbai love story "Metro," starring Shilpa Shetti, premiered in London last week -- a fitting first for an Hindi film in this anniversary year, Screwvala said. At home in India, it already has earned $1.7 million off of 165 prints, said Siddharth Roy Kapur, UTV executive vp motion picture marketing and distribution.

While no Indian film has ever won a prize at Cannes, Screwvala said that "the biggest splash is yet to come."

This year, UTV signed a $240 million deal with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra Pictures for four films. Contemporary drama "Delhi 6" could be the first, followed by the action adventure trilogy set to start with "Paanch Kauran," Screwvala said.

Also just completed is the small budget "Wednesday" by Neeraj Pandey, a story that plays out in just a few hours of one day.

Finally, Kapur said, the $3 million Nishikant Kamat film with the working title "Mumbai Meri Jaan," began shooting this week. The film is about the train bombings in Mumbai in 2006.
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