Anil Ambani Pursues Global Media Empire

Anil Ambani, the Indian billionaire, is putting up between $500 million and $600 million to back famous Hollywood director Steven Spielberg and his team at DreamWorks as they leave Viacom Inc.'s Paramount Pictures later this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Anil Ambani, married to a former Bollywood actress Tina Munim, has clearly shown great interest in the Indian film world for a while, his global ambition to build a major international media and entertainment empire is just beginning to emerge.

Ambani's company, Reliance Big Entertainment, said last month that it would finance movies by production houses connected to George Clooney, Jim Carrey, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and others. It also said it plans to spend more than $1 billion in the next 18 months to expand its entertainment empire. Reliance is not the only Indian company pursuing deals in Hollywood. Similar deals are being made by UTV Motion Pictures, which co-financed current U.S. box-office hit "The Happening" directed by Oscar-winning Indian-American Manoj Night Shyamalan. And a similar joint effort is underway between Disney and Yash Raj Films in producing an animated film "Roadside Romeo" for the Indian audience. Disney is also an investor in UTV.

The history of outside investors, including foreign companies, trying to profit from Hollywood is long, with few notable successes. The 1980s saw a flood of Japanese investors, followed in the 1990s by Germans. The Indians, however, are different. Bollywood film revenues totaled $2.5 billion last year, less than one-tenth the total made by Hollywood films, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. But film revenue in India has been growing at about 17% a year for the past three years, while growth in the U.S. has been less than 3%. Emerging markets in general have outpaced the U.S. and most other developed markets: Annual movie revenues have climbed more than 6% in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America in the same period, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Besides the Hollywood deals, Ambani is launching 20 TV channels and owns FM stations in India. Anil Ambani's plans appear to be highly ambitious and may partly be driven by the sibling rivalry between Anil and Mukesh. Currently, Mukesh is ranked a notch higher on the Forbes billionaires list.

The opportunities for growth in Bollywood are attracting successful, Silicon Valley based Indian-American entrepreneurs such as Raj Singh and Kanwal Rekhi to invest in Indian movies with broad, international appeal.

India is clearly on its way to becoming a major media and entertainment powerhouse extending its influence and spreading its culture well beyond South Asia. The Indians are coming! Rupert Murdoch, Sumner Redstone and Walt Disney bosses had better watch out!


Riaz Haq said…
Here's a Time Magazine article on Hollywood bending to get Chinese business:

We already knew some filming of Iron Man 3 took place in China, and that the movie has a Chinese co-distributor and that Chinese actor Wang Xueqi has a role — but, as of late last week, Chinese Iron Man fans have another reason to feel special: they’re getting their very own version of the movie.

(MORE: Licence to Cut as Skyfall Censored in China)

After the May 3 release of the Marvel tentpole, another edition will be released in China and will be marketed and distributed by Chinese distribution company DMG Entertainment. (DMG is listed as a co-producer for the film on IMDB, but this latest press release clarifies that, in China at least, the movie is a Marvel production distributed by DMG.) The announcement, available on Deadline, told fans that the Chinese version would include bonus footage:

The Chinese version of the film will also feature a special appearance of China’s top actress, Fan Bingbing, and will offer specially prepared bonus footage made exclusively for the Chinese audience. Marvel Studios’ experience working on this film with Fan Bingbing and Wang Xueqi and in shooting in China has been very positive and has created a springboard for future collaboration with China’s talented stars and its growing film and television industry.

DMG has experience with this kind of situation, as the Los Angeles Times points out: Looper also received financing from the company and had a Chinese version that showed more of Shanghai than U.S. audiences saw.

These little nods to the appetites of Chinese fans — or, in some cases, the potential future decisions of Chinese censors, as other movies have learned the hard way — may not seem like much. But studios must be betting that a few extra Chinese location shots or scenes with Chinese actors could pay off in a big way, and they’ve got reason to think it’s possible: analysts predict that China, currently the No. 2 box-office market in the world, will surpass the U.S. within the next decade.
Riaz Haq said…
Here's an Indian view of Waar as published in Emirate 24X7:

One of the most intense rivals on the cricket field, India and Pakistan are capable of turning a dead rubber into a fierce battle of egos.

Now, the film industries of these two countries have realised the box office potential of turning a movie into an ‘India vs Pakistan’ affair.

The age-old rivalry is given the re-make treatment with renewed vigour and often a cross-border love angle, after all, in Bollywood and Lollywood, love still rules.

Pakistan’s latest super-hit film 'Waar' seems fair give-back for a generation of cross-border bashing films coming out of India – including 'Ek Tha Tiger', 'Gadar' and 'Agent Vinod'.

In Shaan Shahid's 'Waar' (Strike), militants overrun a Pakistani police academy and kill 100 officers. An Indian spy and her accomplice are behind the success of the mission.

Pakistan’s first big-budget movie depicts every volatile aspect of Pakistan’s rocky relationship with India.

Even in Pakistan, 'Waar' has been denounced by some liberals wary of what they see as fiery nationalistic rhetoric and scenes demonising India.

The narrative is simple and packed with action.

Indian villains team up with militants to plot spectacular attacks across Pakistan.

Pakistani security forces jump in and save the day.

'Waar' has proved to be hugely successful, attendees leapt to their feet to applaud the patriotic scenes.

Bilal Lashari, ‘Waar’s’ 31-year-old director, believes that too much is being read in-between the lines.

The fact that the Indian intelligence agency RAW features prominently has raised a few hackles.

Though Bilal confesses that there is a subtle hint of select Indian characters causing trouble in Pakistan, he re-emphasises that his is not a propaganda film and has to be looked as a 'high quality' entertainer.

The film has also revived the stagnating film industry in Pakistan.

If Pakistan's film industry has discovered this new means of minting money, Bollywood was flogging this potential script to death as early as the 1990s.

In the early 2000s, films like 'Gadar' and 'Maa Tujhe Salaam', were still based on blatant Pakistan-bashing scenes.

Recently, Saif Ali Khan's 'Agent Vinod' and Salman Khan’s 'Ek Tha Tiger' faced problems with the Pak censors boards.

Pakistan banned 'Agent Vinod' a few days before its scheduled release, most likely because of its critical portrayal of the Pakistan's generals and spies.

They are shown providing support to the Taliban in Afghanistan and scheming to set off a nuclear suitcase bomb in India's capital.

In 'Ek Tha Tiger' Katrina Kaif plays the role of a Pakistani spy posing as a scientist's part-time home caretaker while Salman Khan plays a RAW agent who falls in love with Kaif's character.

Films portraying love and peace between the two nations, work the reverse angle with some success - latest being 'Main Hoon Na' and 'Veer Zaara'.

Indo-Pak scripts are, by the final credits, a mirror reflection of the Indo-Pak political situation - one step forward and two steps back.

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