The Budget announcement of the formation of Task Force for AVGC Promotion has come after years of efforts put in by the industry stakeholders who see the sector contributing significantly to the Indian economy
In a major boost to AVGC sector, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced to set up a task force for Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and Comics (AVGC) sector with an aim to develop world-class creative talent to serve domestic as well as global demand.
“The Animation, Visual Effects, Gaming, and Comics (AVGC) task force will be set up to build domestic capacity to serve our markets and global demand,” said Nirmala Sitharaman in her Budget speech for the financial year 2022-2023.
In the past couple of years the AVGC industry stakeholders had been vocal in demanding the government to create an AVGC taskforce and AVGC Skills Council given the sector’s immense potential in creating jobs and making significant contribution to the Indian economy. The two editions of CII Global Summit FX in 2020 and 2021 have created a framework and recommendations for AVGC Sector, going forward.
“Delighted that the Government of India has accepted our request to set up an AVGC task force to provide strategic direction and provide a fillip to the sector. Thanks to @MIB and the @CII for their encouragement of this initiative. I shall work to ensure that we partner the government to achieve exponential growth in revenues, jobs and global market share,” said Biren Ghose, Chairman, CII National AVGC Committee 2022 & Country Head Technicolor India.
“I think what is really important now is that we are moving towards a new experience economy. We have young people who are tuning into our content. I think they are going to experience some things that are even beyond conventional storytelling. Education too has changed forever. I believe that the tools and technologies, practices and protocols that we have created are going to influence every industry,” he said.
Biren Ghose believes that “technology has moved from being purely an enabler to storytelling to becoming very much center stage”. “The way in which India can innovate with digital technologies is going to put us in a really good position in the competition that’s going to happen between countries as we aspire to take market share on a global basis in the media and entertainment sector,” he said.
Saying that the Budget announcement of the formation of taskforce for AVGC Promotion has come at the most appropriate time, Ashish SK, Chairman, FICCI AVGC- XR Forum & Founder of PUNNARYUG ARTVISION PVT LTD, said that after setting a strong foundation in the last two decades the Indian AVGC – XR is poised to grow phenomenally in coming decade.
“The creative skills from India needs nurturing to a great extend to enable the growth of the AVGC – XR sector. Setting up of a task force for the promotion of Indian AVGC sector will definitely bring in a great focus on positioning Indian AVGC sector for services exports, co-productions, growth of Indigenous intellectual property and its consumption patterns within India and overseas,” he added.
He observed that the Indian AVGC – XR sector is expected to have a major share of the media and entertainment industry. “The horizon & use cases of AVGC – XR verticals have expanded beyond its day to day defined utility in Architecture, Life Science, Legal, Education, Industrial, Urban Planning, Sports, Digital universe, Metaverse etc apart from media &entertainment,” said the Founder of PUNNARYUG ARTVISION PVT LTD.
The AVGC industry has thanked Anurag Singh Thakur, Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting , for his unconditional support and belief in the AVCG sector as the champion of Atmanirbhar Bharat. “If we could tell stories that project new India and its products through our media, it will support our allied industries and sectors,” Anuraag Thakur had said.
He also added that he believed India has the potential to create “creative incubators that identify and groom talent in graphic design, sound animation and visual effects,” and capture its fair share of global visual effects, animations, graphics and sound market.
Chandrajit Banerjee, Director General, CII, believes that the AVGC sector holds great potential in contributing towards India’s 5-trillion dollar economy target. “The sector can really double its growth rate and easily become about a trillion rupees sector by 2025. And the amount of jobs it can create is such a powerful tool. We can easily create about 2.5 million additional jobs, making it one of the most important and exciting sunrise sectors to nurture,” he said.
Rajan Navani, Chairman, CII’s India@ 75 Council and Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Jet Line Group of Companies, said that Indian AVGC sector grew at a fast pace during the pandemic, as “we have a strong 300 million Gen Z population that probably no other country has”.
He added that India has now positioned itself for being able to be a part of the explosive growth. “eSports, where we look at professional sports gamers, is an area that is increasingly becoming popular around the world. It’s a very unique confluence of technology, youth culture, social networking, entertainment, community, sportsmanship, sports, entertainment, all coming together,” he observed.
According to K Madhavan, Chairman, CII National Committee on Media and Entertainment and Country Manager & President The Walt Disney Company India & Star India, the goal of India’s media and entertainment industry is to reach $100 billion by 2030. “The growth target remains ambitious but not difficult to achieve, provided we get the right support from policymakers and the government. India already produces 160,000 hours of content every year, which is the highest in the world. We’ll see the demand for original content to grow every day and more and more consumers getting access to the internet in tier-2 and tier-3 cities.”
Madhavan said that there has to be a clear cut roadmap for AVGC exports, creating global b2b opportunities, encouraging increasing convergence initiative between creators and tech innovators, and distribution hubs.
Addressing the CII SummitFX 2021 – Global AVGC and Immersive Media Summit, Piyush Goyal, Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and Textiles had highlighted that the AVGC sector is growing at 9% and is expected to reach ~Rs 3 lakh crore (US$ 43.93 bn) by 2024 (at a CAGR of 13.5%).
“AVGC is truly one area which has India’s creative talent at its very best. India’s agility and resilience that you have already demonstrated in the last 16-17 months through the COVID period has shown to the world that we are a trusted partner,” the minister said.
He said in the Spirit of “Local goes Global: Make in India for the world”, AVGC sector must look beyond boundaries to reach new horizons.
When we look at various areas of value creation in the Indian M&E sector, the AVGC sector stands out owing to its great potential in taking India’s M&E story to the next level, said Apurva Chandra, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, while speaking at the 10th edition of CII Big Picture Summit 2021. He also announced that the government was working towards creating a National Centre of Excellence for AVGC to provide a major boost for further development of the sector in India.
“AVGC is no longer a sunrise sector. The sun has already risen in the AVGC sector,” said Neerja Sekhar, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, as she highlighted that the National Centre of Excellence for AVGC is a unique project where the industry needs to work together with the government to make it a success.
As per a report on Indian M&E sector released during the CII Big Picture Summit 2021 by the Boston Consulting Group India, VFX and Gaming can be the next IT-BPM boom and play a fundamental role in India’s M&E by 2030 with potential to create 75,000-120,000 direct and indirect jobs if India scales up its AVGC sector through structural interventions.
The Indian audiovisual sector is also a champion sector recognized by the Government of India. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has identified this sector as a high potential for increasing job creation and export earnings for India. It was forecasted that the industry could create 2-3x growth in jobs over 4 years. Incentive packages and innovative forms of new fast-tracked education for skill sets were being discussed.
More than 70 per cent of the AVGC revenues comes from AVGC services to the global markets. The AVGC sector in India is poised to drive a similar growth to what the IT industry saw 20 years ago. Audiovisual exports in the next five to 10 years will be amongst the top 5 sectors contributing to the Indian GDP.
Now that the Government of India has opened business visas for overseas companies to travel into the country, global film producers and studios with Film Visa are exploring options to come and film in India. The aviation restrictions have been lifted for foregin business travellers and companies into India.
Already, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has announced guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for film shooting and media production in the country. Various State governments have also issued SOPs for film shooting in their respective States detailing dos and don’ts aligning with prevailing local Covid conditions.
Film Visa, a special category for foreign filmmakers, producers and crew members to shoot in India was introduced in 2017 on the initiation by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India.
Dilip Singh Rathore, India’s most successful Line Producer for leading Hollywood Studios and European filmmakers, confirmed to Pickle that global producers are “expediting the process” to film in India in the new scenario of opening business to overseas companies.
Rathore’s On the Road Productions was the line producer for Christopher Nolan’s ‘Tenet’ (Produced by Warner Bros’) for filming portions of the movie in Mumbai.
“We are constantly getting calls over the last two days on filming in India,” says Rathore. “Interest in film in India is top in the radar of global producers. I am very optimistic that foreign film projects which were stalled in the beginning of the year will soon get activated.”
Italian filmmaker and producer Sergio Scapagnini is soon set to shoot in India for the new India-Italy co-produced film directed by Goutham Ghose. UK-based Collin Burrows of Film Treats Production is looking to film in India for forthcoming projects. Late last year, Paramount Pictures had announced producing web series ‘The Bear’ for Apple TV to be shot in Madhya Pradesh. The Hollywood project was based on a bestseller novel by Gregory David Roberts ‘Shantaram’.
Business visits among global production houses are also likely to pick up in the coming days as India offers cost effective solutions for animation, VFX and gaming verticals of the Media and Entertainment industry. Major Indian production companies have strengthened their remote servicing capabilities in animation, VFX and digital intermediaries for collaboration.
Film Facilitation Office (FFO), set up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting in the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), is currently accepting online applications for foreign producers to shoot in India.
FFO which was set up with a view to promote and facilitate film shootings by foreign filmmakers in India has also been extended to Indian filmmakers as well.
In the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, Indian film locales have captured the attention of global producers and viewers. Mira Nair’s TV series ‘A Suitable Boy’, a six-episode, 349-minute long series, adapted from Vikram Seth’s classic novel, was extensively shot in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, India. It is currently streamed on Netflix across the world and BBC One (in UK and Ireland). Netlflix’s action thriller ‘Extraction’ starring Chris Hemsworth was filmed in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Netflix has revealed that ‘Extraction’ tops the list in its 10 most-watched original movies of all time, as of today.
Another leading line producer stated that in recent times Film Visas have streamlined foreign film shooting in India. “Quick visa clearances for the foreign crew is one of the reasons why more foreign filmmakers are coming to shoot in India. For shooting in India, foreign filmmakers have to get clearance from the I&B Ministry. The Ministry officials coordinate with the Indian embassies abroad, and help in getting visa clearances faster. “Over 118 international films have been shot in the last four years and the FFO has been offering all support to filmmakers to shoot in India.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the ABC Television Network has announced the 93rd Oscars ceremony will move to Sunday, April 25, 2021, as a result of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network and in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.
“For over a century, movies have played an important role in comforting, inspiring, and entertaining us during the darkest of times. They certainly have this year. Our hope, in extending the eligibility period and our Awards date, is to provide the flexibility filmmakers need to finish and release their films without being penalized for something beyond anyone’s control,” said Academy President David Rubin and Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. “This coming Oscars and the opening of our new museum will mark an historic moment, gathering movie fans around the world to unite through cinema.”
“We find ourselves in uncharted territory this year and will continue to work with our partners at the Academy to ensure next year’s show is a safe and celebratory event that also captures the excitement of the opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures,” said Karey Burke, president, ABC Entertainment.
Industry veterans remembered that in 1938 Oscar Ceremony was pushed back because of flooding in Los Angeles; In 1968, it was delayed by a couple of days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And in 1981, it was put off for a day after President Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington D.C.
Dates also have shifted for the Academy Awards eligibility period, submission deadlines and related awards season events. The eligibility period for Academy Awards consideration has been extended beyond the standard December 31 deadline: a feature film must now have a qualifying release date between January 1, 2020 and February 28, 2021. The submission deadline for specialty categories (Animated Feature Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short Subject, International Feature Film, Animated Short Film, Live Action Short Film) is December 1, 2020. The submission deadline for general entry categories, including Best Picture, Original Score and Original Song, is now January 15, 2021. Visit oscars.org/rules for the complete 93rd Academy Awards rules, revised with these dates and deadlines.
During this time, it has become necessary to make exceptional changes to the Academy’s standard annual awards schedule. The intent going forward is to ultimately return to awarding excellence for films released in the January-December calendar year. Future eligibility windows and the Oscar show date for 2022 will be announced at a later date.
Academy key dates for the 2020/2021 Oscar season are as follows:
Preliminary voting begins Monday, February 1, 2021
Preliminary voting ends Friday, February 5, 2021
Oscar Shortlists Announcement Tuesday, February 9, 2021
Nominations voting begins Friday, March 5, 2021
Nominations voting ends Wednesday, March 10, 2021
Oscar Nominations Announcement Monday, March 15, 2021
NAB Show’s new digital experience, NAB Show Express, will take place May 13 – 14, 2020. The dynamic platform is free and designed to engage the NAB Show community by offering 24-hour access to premium content curated and customizable for the global media and entertainment community. NAB Show Express offers three unique educational channels, on-demand content and an exclusive Solutions Marketplace featuring exhibitor product information, announcements and demos.
Powered by Brightcove Inc. and Frequency, NAB Show Express will comprise three education channels that mirror traditional NAB Show experiences. These include:
BEIT Express, a channel focused on broadcast engineering and information technology;
NAB Show Experience, offering a variety of educational sessions, product innovation showcases, and interviews with industry trailblazers;
And Tech Talks, an NAB Show Live Special Edition, produced by Broadcast Beat and showcasing relevant conversations with NAB Show community influencers.
Each channel will feature eight hours of content streamed daily and available on-demand to accommodate the global NAB Show audience. NAB Show Express will also offer NAB Show’s signature podcast, exploring relevant themes and featuring prominent speakers.
The innovative digital platform will feature more than 100 educational sessions, including interactive panels and select sessions originally slated for NAB Show in Las Vegas, such as NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith’s State of the Industry address. Education partners include the Advanced Imaging Society, Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC), Broadcast Education Association (BEA), Future Media Conferences (FMC), #GALSNGEAR, Hollywood Professional Association (HPA), International Trade Association for Broadcast and Media Technology Suppliers (IABM), the North American Broadcasters Association (NABA) and Society of Broadcast Engineers (SBE), among others.
The free NAB Show Express Solutions Marketplace will offer exhibitor profiles, company-hosted events, press conferences and special offers for those interested in exploring new products and exhibitor news. Resources, such as industry-related white papers, articles, webinars, guides and research reports, will also be available for those who register.
Additionally, NAB Show Express will feature three standalone training and executive leadership events for which separate registrations will be available soon. These include:
Executive Leadership Summit (May 11), produced in partnership with Variety – free to attend;
Cybersecurity & Content Protection Summit (May 12), produced in partnership with Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA) and Media & * Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) – registration fees apply;
And Post | Production World Online (May 17 – 19), produced in partnership with Future Media Conferences (FMC) – registration fees apply.
The Film Facilitation Office set up by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in NFDC is going all out to ensure that foreign filmmakers don’t face any hassle while shooting their movies in the country. Christopher Nolan recently shot his film Tenet in Mumbai in a smooth manner and his team is all praise for the Indian officials for their support
Gone are the days when shooting in India was a herculean task for foreign filmmakers. Things have changed for good with the formation of Film Facilitation Office (FFO), which is rendering all support to directors and producers from abroad to make their movies in India.
A classic example is Tenet, the Warner Bros produced Christopher Nolan film which was shot recently with ease in Mumbai, called as the business capital of India and home to Bollywood (Hindi cinema), thanks to facilitation provided by FFO. Over 160 foreign crew members, 600 Indian crew members and 2000 extras were part of the film helmed by Nolan.
This is New India and people are ready to help anytime, feel foreign filmmakers who have lately shot their movies in the sub-continent, land of colourful amalgamations of different cultures, multiple locations and beautiful backdrops.
And, the support by FFO is immense, which is rolling out red carpet to foreign filmmakers to make their vision a reality in India, with all ease.
Nolan’s shoot in Mumbai was rather extensive and ambitious. But, the filmmaker and his team didn’t feel the difficulty at all, despite shooting the movie in busy areas. In fact, the director wrapped up his shoot in well under a week.
Interestingly, Nolan had earlier shot his Batman: The Dark Knight Rises in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Tenet stars John David-Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Clemence Poesy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Dimple Kapadia with Kenneth Branagh and Michael Caine. Tipped to be an action thriller, it is slated to hit theatres next year, on July 17, 2020.
Says Dileep Singh Rathore, the India producer of Tenet: “I recently completed a six-day schedule of Tenet in India, and it was only possible because we got the permissions in time. As someone who has faced a lot of trouble in getting permissions in the past, now, it feels like a red carpet has been rolled out for foreign projects in India. I have four other international projects in the pipeline to shoot in India.”
According to Rathore, “We were super excited by the coordination and facilitation provided by Film Facilitation Office set-up by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the state of Maharashtra. It’s best of the facilitation one could get for a film shoot. We are extremely thankful to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India and the co-ordinators at FFO and B A Gagrani, Principal Secretary at the Chief Minister’s Office, Government of Maharashtra. They were instrumental in getting all the permission clearances. This time for the first time, I saw that every department was accountable and FFO office was extremely supportive and they did wonders. I have to specifically point out FFO’s intervention in getting permission from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which provides permission for aerial shootings in the country. We could use helicopter for the Tenet film shoot.”
If figures are anything to go by, at least half-a-dozen foreign projects are currently being made in India. “Quick visa clearances for the foreign crew is one of the reasons why more foreign filmmakers are coming to shoot in India. For shooting in India, foreign filmmakers have to get clearance from the I&B Ministry. The ministry officials coordinate with the Indian embassies abroad, and help in getting visa clearances faster,.” says a leading line producer.
It is to be noted that the Information & Broadcasting Ministry, in 2017, consulted the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of External Affairs, and introduced a special visa category for foreign filmmakers. Also, as foreign filmmakers often want to capture aerial scenes, a separate department has been introduced to cater to these requests. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) provides permission for aerial shootings in the country.
Earlier, getting the permission to shoot in India used to take five-six months. But now, it has come down to three-four weeks.
The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, set up the FFO in the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) with a view to promote and facilitate film shootings by foreign filmmakers in India. The services rendered by the FFO have now been extended to Indian filmmakers as well.
It acts as a single-window facilitation and clearance mechanism that eases filming in India, as well as endeavouring to create a film-friendly ecosystem and promoting the country as a filming destination. The institution of the ‘Most Film Friendly State’ Award, which was won by the State of Gujarat in 2015, the State of Uttar Pradesh in 2016 and the State of Madhya Pradesh in 2017, is a unique initiative in this direction.
In the recently announced 66th National Film Awards, Uttarakhand bagged the honour for ‘Best Film Friendly State’ for ‘furthering the growth of the film industry in the State including creating an environment for ease of filming in the State, encouraging skill/talent development, incentivizing the re-opening of closed cinema halls, formation of film development fund, continuing with the earlier incentive plan for filming, formation of Utttarakhand Film Development Council among other pro active initiatives’.
FFO acts as a facilitation point for the foreign producers and production companies along with their Indian Producer/Line Producer in assisting them to get requisite permissions, disseminate information on shooting locations and the facilities available with the Indian film Industry for production/post production and works closely with State Governments in assisting them to set up similar facilities.
Foreign filmmakers desirous of shooting their Feature Films, Reality TV shows and commercial TV series in India, can apply online at the FFO website. And, the rest will be taken care of in a professional and friendly manner.
India is emerging as a hub to dub for Hollywood and European language films,” says Manish Dutt and Krishi Dutt of VR Films & Studios Ltd, . Meet them at the American Film Market 2019 for all your localisation needs
Manish Dutt along with his brother Krishi Dutt runs India’s biggest dubbing company, managing over 900 artistes who lend their voices in several languages to keep his pipeline engaged. Even after clocking 50,000+ hours of dubbing and witnessing 80 percent year-on-year growth, Manish’s VR Films is hungry for more.
“India is emerging as a hub to dub for Hollywood and European language films,” says Manish, Managing Director, VR Films. “We are positioning ourselves to be a one-stop shop for all dubbing and sub-titling requirements. Our dubbing company is making Hollywood in India.” VR Films is a “Limited” company now…with shares listed on BSE SME Platform- first dubbing company in India and second in the world to achieve this.
What is your major objective and focus at American Film Market 2019?
This AFM we have strategized to be very specific for new Titles provided they are different in terms of content and from what we already have in our basket. We have a string of new Titles which are in production and slated for 2020/21 delivery. Markets in India Sub Continent have been quite lukewarm where Theatrical and TV platforms for foreign content are concerned and this contributes towards being more cautious for future acquisitions.
However we will be very aggressive for our Dubbing business and have meets lined up with leading Hollywood Film Studios and OTT platforms as there is a big demand for Indian Localisation of International Content.
Post listing of VR Films & Studio in the BSE and NSE SMEs platform, how has been response from clients and investors?
We started on a very promising note…with our IPO getting oversubscribed 1.7 times. Our share price has more than doubled from INR 61 (listing price) to INR 130 (current price)….more than double in 6 months of listing with Dividend payout @10%.
For Oct 2019 – March 2020 we expect to do 4 times more YOY.
Tell us about your film “The Courier” to be released in India this November? What are your acquisitions and co-production plans?
“The Courier” is an Action Thriller starring Gary Oldman, Olga Kurylenko and Dermot Mulroney. It’s a fast paced movie which we shall exploit Theatrically and Digitally in 9 Indian languages apart from English…namely Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Bangla, Marathi, Urdu and Bhojpuri.
We are in talks for a co-production too with European makers…and shall take it forward during this AFM. We also intend to get into producing Hindi Films and have been exploring opportunities.
Streaming platforms are hot now… How has VR Films benefited from OTT from dubbing perspective?
They form a major chunk of our dubbing business…almost 60-65%. We have been dubbing for streaming platforms since 2018…for one major we dubbed their series and features…nearly 2000 hours in just 3 months in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Bangla. We are in talks with more OTT platforms and shall soon have them onboard….including the major one. Content localisation for OTT is a huge business opportunity which will grow in leaps in times ahead.
What are your thoughts on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India initiative and how do you think companies like VR Films are embracing it?
Our PM is a visionary. Where VR Films is concerned we have been dubbing for leading International Film Studios and TV Platforms since 2000. We started with no Dubbing Studio and today we have more than 65 Dubbing Studios across India…localising Foreign Content in Hindi and regional Indian languages. At times we run double shifts to keep up with the demand. VR Films Studios are known for quality and exemplary service. We deliver much before time. Our clients have been with us since years and we keep adding new ones. OTT platforms have contributed majorly in our recent growth and VR Films will surely do India proud where “Dubbing in India” is concerned.
Do you see slowdown in the market — especially in your services business?
Fortunately not. Dubbing will grow in times ahead. It makes business sense to dub existing successful content in various languages and monetise. India is a growing market…it’s vast and has huge requirements. Each region has its specific language and the platforms will woo audiences by proving content in their specific languages. Apart from entertainment content there is educational/health related content which will be exploited in times ahead. Recently a platform approached us to dub Literature/Novels in various languages. Opportunities are huge and we at VR Films have always kept our eyes and ears open to grab
To prevent this argument from going soft it’s perhaps best to start with a story, even if it’s an anecdote about an anecdote. Despite having never met the man in question, an acquaintance of mine from Mumbai once recalled how Amitabh Bachchan may have saved his life in the dusty valleys of Afghanistan. The storyteller, an Indian diplomat, who shall we say functions as part of the spear tip of Indian statecraft, was in the Central Asian nation soon after the Taliban’s ouster in 2002 and looking to make contact with a few leaders of the putative Northern Alliance. Suddenly besieged and presented to a different set of warlords he found himself unable to break the ice with them, and was soon gravely informed that they suspected him of being a Pakistani spook, the “enemy” they loathed. That is until he spied a tattered poster of Bachchan’s 1992 hit Khuda Gawah (‘God is the Witness’, a fi lm shot extensively in Afghanistan) in the next room and decided to talk Bollywood — to immediate excitement among the Afghan warriors. Unable to recall any song from that fi lm, however, he found himself back in the doghouse, until he started belting out ‘Mehbooba, Mehbooba’ from Sholay, the 1975 blockbuster that launched Bachchan to superstardom, and is perhaps the most famous Hindi film west of Amritsar. An agreement was soon concluded and the diplomat found himself warmly escorted back to his base with much fierce debate about the new “Khan ishtars” in Mumbai.
The tale might have perhaps grown longer in the telling but there’s no disputing how popular Indian films now are in many parts of the world. Clearly, going soft need not be inopportune. For well over two decades now foreign policy wonks have waxed eloquent about the merits of ‘soft power’ for nations looking to find their places at the global high table. India, with its old civilisation and spiritual customs based on universalist traditions, has always had several cards to play in this game. Indian commercial cinema, with its distinct rhythms, is the latest addition to the pack. As a noted strategic affairs guru puts it: “Bollywood has done more for Indian influence abroad than all the bureaucratic efforts of the government”. But there’s still some way to go, for both industry and creative artists cynically churning out assembly-line movies in the country, and for the state making more concerted efforts to better push what is arguably India’s most exciting export goodie.
Much water has flown down the Ganges since earlier generations of Indians were often told of how much Russians loved Raj Kapoor’s cloyingly Chaplinesque tramp from Awara, or of how Dilip Kumar was as much a heartthrob in Lahore and Dhaka as he was in Mumbai. Beyond old ties of cultural kinship in the subcontinent and bilateral arrangements between governments (which saw a handful of Indian films being regularly exported to ‘friendly’ countries like the Soviet Union or Mongolia), Indian cinema has struck out and conquered bold newer frontiers now. Indian superstars like Aishwarya Rai and Aamir Khan regularly walk the red carpet at big film festivals like Cannes, Toronto and Venice and are recognised globally. Southern superstar Rajinikanth was a cultural phenomenon in Japan for a while, where local fans dubbed him ‘Dancing Maharajah” and landed up in exotic Indian costumes for his movie premieres. Bolly superstar Shah Rukh Khan was conferred a high Malaysian state honour which even stirred controversy there with many protesting that local actors were ignored. Several actors also increasingly pop up in the tabloid press when holidaying abroad in the West — a surer sign of cross-cultural traction than any box-office grosses — and are now slowly experimenting with taking up meaty roles in films in a more globalised Hollywood.
There’s no denying Indian movie stars’ graphs have seen increasingly steep rises from the last decade into this one. If pirated videotapes in the 1980s kickstarted the revolution, the internet – and its endlessly cyclical streams of video content — appears to have solidified this reach, taking Indian film to places as far afield as North Africa, Western Europe, Japan and South Korea. In fact there’s a reason Indian film distributors now delay releasing Hindi or Tamil films in many foreign markets, despite the lucrative business many films do there. Most pirated DVDs that land up almost immediately after film premieres on Indian shores come from these places.
Home is where the heart is
In briefly analysing this trans-cultural appeal of Indian cinema two major factors must be noted. One, the size, breadth and rising cultural assertiveness of the Indian diaspora across the world has been a factor so huge it’s changed Bollywood in several noteworthy ways. The expatriate Indian’s outsize longing for identity and roots has helped reshape the country’s film trade. The foreign box office (BO) contributes so signifi – cantly to big movies in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu that several duds at the local BO actually go on to make profits from the diaspora dollar. Many films now have exclusive premieres in London and New York, unthinkable even a decade and a half ago. Pioneered by filmmakers like Subash Ghai — who was actually lampooned in the mid 1990s for ‘pandering’ to Non Resident Indian (NRI) audiences — the size of this market has even led to the content changing in Bollywood. Indian films have got slicker, costlier and are now set in locales across the globe with many actors often playing NRI characters, echoing vaguely NRI concerns.
Film markets at festivals worldwide now see sizeable Indian delegations hawking new productions for distributors to pick up or producers to take up. Outside of Bollywood, Tamil film producers now tie-up ‘FMS’ (Foreign, Malaysia, Singapore) rights before they get down to haggling with local distributors about territories and sales, while Telugu producers line up small European and sizeable North American releases for their new films.
NRIs, it seems, just can’t get enough of the filmy glamour from their old country in any way possible. Many film stars now earn big bucks from performing at ‘Bollywood Nights’ abroad. These arena shows, staged almost exclusively in countries with large NRI populations, have also proven so lucrative that several stars either long in the tooth back home or relegated to the background now make their money purely from ‘touring’.
Business is booming overseas, yet as any big producer, distributor or cultural commentator will tell you, much remains to be done to increase penetration beyond the diaspora. The odd viral video of Europeans doing ‘Bollywood dancing’ for small audiences or weddings with a Bollywood theme are still too few and far between for Indian cinema to be labelled a widespread crossover phenomenon. Unlike, say, with the martial arts films that crossed over from Hong Kong and China to the West over three decades ago; or Japanese creature features, manga or ‘J-Horror’ genres. They influence Hollywood, still the gold standard for big feature film production. To change that requires tinkering with the old formula for Indian cinema. It would mean going more ‘arty’ (a despised phrase in Indian film production circles) and looking to imbibe and reconstruct in singular fashion genres, themes and narrative experiments from elsewhere. And not just in form.
Which is, of course, easier said than done. A strong recidivist streak resides deep inside Indian filmdom. The formula may not be periodically dumped or retired for a new genre to rise to the top of the heap à la Hollywood. This in turn has a lot to do with why the formula is the way it is. Why fix what ain’t broke? And besides, this formula is the second reason Indian films have such a large global reach. It’s why they speak in unmatched dulcet tones to several other developing societies that have much more in common with Indian audiences than they suspect.
Think Local, Act Global
There’s a reason India is referred to as a subcontinent. The sum of its many ethnic, cultural and linguistic parts is perhaps greater than the whole. With over 25 major languages spoken and over 700 hundred dialects, not to mention large ethnic, cultural and religious divisions, nation building and unity was a challenge the founders and early builders of modern India took very seriously indeed. Cinema was soon harnessed to the task in the 1950s. Filmmakers and writers took on matters of great national and social import and until the mid 1960s (when romances got mushier and a new generation of glamorous lovers and sex symbols appeared onscreen) and early 70s (when public anger against a dysfunctional state and crony capitalism exploded on screens across India) sought to craft a cohesive cinema that provided ‘wholesome’ family entertainment while dwelling on traditional Indian values and customs. These films had to crossover from one region of India to another that had about as much in common with each other as two European countries do. They had to transcend barriers of language, class, creed and ethnicity. They began doing that for almost every big Bollywood release in roughly the late 60s to early 70s. The seeds of a global formula were sown right there. In fact, in addition to India’s remarkable (even if slightly flawed) tryst with liberal democracy, several theorists and historians have championed Bollywood in particular as a great force for national integration in what ought to have been a rather fractious country of infinite diversity. To put it a little simplistically, a template was slowly evolved and continues to form the basis of cinema to this day with very little variations on the theme, even if the forms have changed over time.
Also powered by audiences changing with a new liberalising India, new fi lms from the mid 1990s began to be increasingly located abroad (and not just for the songs) while the melodrama remained firmly rooted in varying interpretations of ‘Indianness’. Over the year the characters got glitzier, the stars got shinier, the songs got dreamier, the love stories got mushier, the gangsters and vigilantes got nastier and the Hollywood-inspired action sequences got edgier, but the melodramatic tensions remained pretty much the same. It made — and still makes — for a heady mix. Yet at its core Indian cinema is still mostly all about family, culture, traditions and, of course, romance. And the increasing demands that modernity makes on each of those.
This is largely what appeals to audiences in countries that are grappling with the rapid changes wrought by the modern world and increasingly breakneck Westernization of societies. So from much of the Arab world to Central Asia and parts of South East Asia, from Africa and to many parts of Latin America, Indian films deal with societal tensions that people deal with on a daily basis. Despite the candyfloss glamour on top, which merely provides for the perfect escapism for such audiences. And an alternate ‘warm’ escapism, one that comes straight from the heart; as opposed to what Hollywood provides, which for these audiences tends to be either too cerebral, too Western or merely a visceral rush. The neo-Shakespearean tragicomic genre that Bollywood has made its own is a different fl avour to be savoured with everyone. No wonder it’s a hit.
Besides, there’s also one special secret sauce added into the mix. The one genre that India perhaps took and refashioned in singular fashion more than any other to make it its own more than any other: the old Hollywood musical format. Which was quickly fused with classical Indian traditions of devotional and theatrical musical performance. The spectacular results are there for the world to see. Indeed, whatever your cinematic inclinations you would have to admit, where would Indian cinema be without all that song and dance? The world agrees. Come, sing along. Or better yet, dance.
Many Indian companies have created top end studio facilities in India that serve as a single window to fulfil the needs of overseas filmmakers
India’s contribution to Hollywood movies is well known – the last two Harry Potter films, Pirates of the Caribbean, Percy Jackson, Life of Pi, Skyfall, Prometheus, The Jungle Book, Blade Runner have all used India talent. This has been enabled as larger studios have extended their pipelines and proprietary tool sets and software to India.
The Media and Entertainment (M&E) Industry is one of the most dynamic industries in India with modern technologies acting as a key enabler for providing world-class services to overseas clients/companies. The industry is increasingly witnessing the convergence of media, entertainment and technology creating efficiencies in workflow, revenue streams and unique business models.
Indian media, entertainment and technology services are growing at an accelerated pace on the back of growing offshore services domain, especially in animation, VFX, gaming, AR/VR, film production, location and new media, among others. The Indian animation and VFX services have gained a lot of traction among the international producers and production houses.
The Cannes Competition promises a tantalising contest between the old and the new this year. The jury headed by Alejandro G. Inarritu has its job cut out
By Saibal Chatterjee
The line-up that the 72nd Cannes Film Festival has assembled for its flagship Competition section pits a host of veterans against a slew of younger filmmakers who have broken into the league for the first time. For the discerning, not the least for the jury presided over by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the tantalising contest could throw up quite a few surprises.
The selection, which is definitely more exciting than last year’s, sees the return of many Cannes favourites who have delivered the goods over the years. The first-time contenders, Celine Sciamma, Justine Triet and Mati Diop (the first Black woman in the Competition) and Jessica Hausner, are expected to give the jurors a slew of options when they weigh the big guns against the challengers.
Austrian director and screenwriter Hausneris a Cannes regular, but her films (Lovely Rita, Hotel and Amour Fou) did not make it beyond Un certain regard. With the English-language Little Joe, starring Emily Beecham and Ben Whishaw, she has been elevated to the competition. So has Sciamma, whose 2007 debut film, Water Lilies, premiered in Un certain regard before 2014’s acclaimed Girlhood marked the opening of Directors’s Fortnight. Her new film, Portrait of a Girl on Fire, has broken into the main competition. A French director of Senegalese descent, Diop is also an actress who has done the festival rounds and a maker of shorts of considerable repute. She has cracked the competition with her very first film as director, Atlantique, making her only the second woman with a debut film in this section after Julia Leigh (Sleeping Beauty) eight years ago.
French director Justine Triet’s previous Cannes outings were outside the official selection. Her debut film, Age of Panic, was presented in the ACID programme of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Her second film, In Bed Victoria, played in Un certain regard. Her new film, Sibyl, has catapulted her to the competition.
French-Malian director Ladj Ly is the second Black filmmaker competing this year for the Palme d’Or. His feature debut, Les Miserables, an extension of a short film that was nominated for a Cesar last year, is inspired by the riots of 2005. The film explores contemporary Montfermeil, where Victor Hugo set his classic story in 1862.
It can only help the younger contenders that the likes of Pawel Pawlikowski, Yorgos Lanthimos, Robin Campillo and Alice Rohrwacher, directors who know what it takes to snag awards in the world’s premier film festival, are on Inarritu’s jury. If only four female directors are vying for the Palme d’Or, one more than last year, the nine-member jury has a quartet of women – besides Rohrwacher, American director Kelly Reichardt, Hollywood actress Elle Fanning, and Burkina Faso actress-director MaimounaN’Diaye. Surprisingly, the Competition has no film from either Japan – Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Shoplifters won the Palme d’Or – or Scandinavia (Swedish director Ruben Ostlund’s The Square won the festival’s top prize in 2017). Neither Kore-eda’s first English-language film, The Truth, not Swedish director Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness, a follow-up to the remarkable A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, are still in post-production.
Several big names of world cinema – Christophe Honore, Albert Serra, Bruno Dumont and Kantemir Balagov – have been shunted to Un certain regard, making it a sidebar with immense weight. Honore’s Chambre 212, Serra’s Liberte, Dumont’s Joan of Arc and Balagov’s Beanpole will play alongside six films directed by women – Zabou Breitman and Elea Gobbe-Mevellec’s The Swallows of Kabul, Monia Chokri’s A Brother’s Love, Danielle Lessovitz’s Port Authority, Mounia Meddour’s Papicha, Annie Silverstein’s Bull and Maryam Touzani’s Adam.
Returning to the competition, British filmmaker Ken Loach and the Belgian Dardenne brothers are in with a chance of making history by becoming the first to win the Palme d’Or thrice.The octogenarian Loach teams up again with his two regular collaborators, writer Paul Laverty and producer Rebecca O’Brien on Sorry We Missed You, a film about a young couple struggling to achieve financial stability and keep their family from keeling over in a gig economy.The last time Loach was in Competition (I, Daniel Blake, 2016), he took home the festival’s top prize.
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are back on the Croisette with Young Ahmed, another film in their social-realist mode. The titular character is a boy who is radicalised to the point of wanting to kill his teacher. The brothers’ previous outing in Cannes – The Unknown Girl, 2016 – was somewhat of a dampener. They are due for a strong comeback.
Another veteran, 75-year-old Terrence Malick, who bagged the Palme d’Or the last time he was in Cannes (for The Tree of Life, 2011, which was only his fifth feature),could well catch up with the double winners with A Hidden Life, a drama about an Austrian conscientious objector who was put to death during WWII. The film stars August Diehl in the principal role, besides Belgian heartthrob Matthias Schoenaerts.
Two other past Palme d’Or winners, Quentin Tarantino (for Pulp Fiction in 1994) and French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche (for Blue is the Warmest Colour in 2013), are competing again with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Mektoub, My Love: Intermezzo respectively.
Snapping at their heels would be Jim Jarmusch, whose zombie satire The Dead Don’t Die, the 2019 festival’s opening film, holds huge promise. And who can discount Pedro Almodovar, competing this year with the self-reflexive Pain and Glory? Neither of the two filmmakers, who have been feted consistently at the festival, have ever won the top prize. It’s about time.
Other familiar names that will vie for the Palme d’Or are Marco Bellocchio (The Traitor), Arnaud Desplechin (Oh Mercy!), Xavier Dolan (Matthias and Maxime) and Kleber Mendonca Filho (Bacurau, co-directed by Juliano Dornelles). French director Desplechin has not been in the Cannes competition since 2013’s Jimmy P. His new film stars Lea Seydoux in story that centres on a murder in northern France.
Palestinian auteur Elia Suleiman makes a comeback to the Competition after a decade-long hiatus with It Must Be Heaven, a film in which he plays himself, a man uprooted from his moorings and traversing the world. Suleiman, who comes from a state that isn’t officially recognised by France, was last in Cannes with The Time That Remains, which blended the anguish of occupation and oppression with broad strokes of sardonic humour. It Must Be Heaven promises to take that fine balance a few steps further. One of the younger directors whose entry will be watched with keen interest by the jury as well as the critics attending the festival is Corneliu Porumboiu. The 43-year-old Romanian director won the Camera d’Or for the 2006 film, 12:08 East of Bucharest and followed it up with the Jury Prize in Un certain regard for Police, Adjective in 2009. His latest film, Gomera (The Whistlers), is in the festival’s main Competition. It is Porumboiu’s first time in this league.
Cannes first-timer Ira Sachs joins Jarmusch and Malick to complete the American presence in the competition. His film, Frankie, features Isabele Huppert in a starring role, but that certainly isn’t the only reason why it has made the cut. The New York filmmaker has been in the business for two decades and has built a formidable reputation that could benefit immensely from wider exposure on the Croisette.
The Cannes competition has two films from Asia. One of them is Korean genre director Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. His 2017 film, Okja, a Netflix production, had premiered in Cannes in 2017 and sparked a row with French exhibitors that ensured the shutting out of the streaming giant from the festival. The other Asian film in contention is Chinese director Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake, a noir thriller. This is Yinan’s first appearance in the Cannes competition. Another Chinese detective yarn, Zu Feng’s Summer of Changsha, will screen in Un certain regard.