New shingle tries moving beyond Bollywood

I-Dream sets sights on global Indian community

LONDON -- A vast worldwide audience of Indian filmgoers may be grossly underserved by Bollywood movies. That's the theory at the heart of an ambitious new distribution venture set to fly its flag at Cannes for the first time next month.

Indian film specialist Rohit Sharma has formed the shingle i-Dream Pictures International with the aim of bringing a new wave of Indian-themed film to the world's burgeoning Indian diaspora -- films with Indian themes and locations but an international flavor.

Though Bollywood output remains popular in cinemas, the burgeoning Indian diaspora is hungry for movies that aren't all singing and dancing when it comes to scenes of a sexual nature, Sharma believes.

Before becoming president of i-Dream Pictures International, Sharma spent five years managing film distribution in India for Buena Vista International and oversaw the rollout there of such titles as "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Monsoon Wedding."

He thinks he has spotted a gap in the market and has assembled a sales slate with an even split of Indian-language titles and English-language fare but not Bollywood movies.

"Bollywood (movies) have limitations because it is not really world cinema," Sharma told the Hollywood Reporter. "Films such as 'Bend It Like Beckham' and 'Monsoon Wedding' are world cinema, and there is a growing market for films that have an Indian feel."

Sharma is not alone in thinking the market is growing. According to the Film Distributors Assn. here, "Indian cinema harbors global ambitions for mainstream crossover hits."

Filmmaker Sabrina Louis, who co-directed and produced "The Unforgettable" in Mumbai, India, says that her aim was to make a film that dealt with such adult themes as sex and passion without utilizing dance routines.

Her picture is one of the six movies on Sharma's slate.

Louis told The Hollywood Reporter she wanted to use her years of experience of producing and directing television in Mumbai. "I know we can make movies with high-production values for far less investment," Louis said.

Sharma and his company are traveling to Cannes, having sifted through more than 70 movies from filmmakers and producers all looking to access the world sales markets.

"Our sales company is not here to simply represent Asian films, we also want to pick up U.S. and U.K. titles to sell," Sharma said. He added that for filmmakers from anywhere in the world, part of the attraction is the uptick in cash paid for Indian television and ancillary rights on movies because of the economic boom in India.

Sharma and his team are repping "Tahaan" from Santosh Sivan, a director whose first movie, "The Terrorist," was championed by John Malkovich when he was on the jury at the Cairo International Film Festival in 1998.

Sivan is touring the U.S. with "Before the Rains," his first U.S. feature.

I-Dream also will rep "Ocean of Pearls," an English-language, Hollywood movie directed by Sikh director Sarab Singh Neelam.

"If a producer or filmmaker knows he or she can get up to $500,000 for Indian television rights, that's a good source of financing toward costs for a movie," Sharma said.

He says that he registered i-Dream Pictures International in the U.K. but has an office in Mumbai. "We are a registered U.K. company and it is easier to interact with U.K. buyers and overseas operators from there," Sharma said.