By Holger Volland
Juliane Schulze senior partner at the Berlin-based strategic financial consultancy peacefulfish speaks to FAQ (Frankfurt Academy Quarterly) about the state of the Indian film industry, the growing international interest in Indian stories, and the opportunity for co-productions.
FAQ is published online four times per year by the Frankfurt Book Fair. The inaugural issue focuses on India. You can download the complete issue and sign up for a free subscription online at http://frankfurtacademy.tumblr.com/FAQ.
FAQ: With its 200 to 250 films per year, Bollywood is arguably the most prolific film industry in the world, quantitatively speaking. What role does it play in international competition?
Juliane Schulze: Bollywood is indeed the name of the Indian film industry located in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, and it primarily produces films in Hindi. However, if we combine these films with the productions of other regional film industries in India, like Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, Oriya, Bhojpuri and Malayalam, then that number is much higher — more specifically, 1,100 films are produced annually on the subcontinent. In Hollywood, that number is around 700 films per year. A typical Bollywood film is 140–160 minutes long (or sometimes longer) and combines multiple genres — the musical, romantic comedy, drama and sometimes action.
The enormous length and the mix of genres have not made it easy for the Indian film to conquer the international market to this point. There are, of course, communities of fans. In Germany, you might occasionally see Bollywood films on RTL 2 during prime time. But the typical Bollywood film has not been able to catch on at the European or American box offices. It’s primarily the independent filmmakers not affiliated with Bollywood who generate the greatest visibility for Indian cinema abroad through their participation in international festivals. These films are mostly influenced by political and social issues, and speak a more common cinematic language that is familiar to Western audiences. But since their stories often remain very local, they only rarely find international distribution. As a result, even this artistic cinema from India remains undetected by a broad audience.
The award-winning film Slumdog Millionaire, based on an Indian novel, tells an Indian “fairy tale” and takes place in India. But the film was produced in the UK. How important of a role does India play as a co-producer on the international market?
India has signed bilateral co-production agreements with Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy. It is very unfortunate that there are still only very few official co-productions. This is, of course, a result of cultural differences, i.e. a lack of stories that would captivate both an Indian and international audience, and not least because of the very different means by which we finance films. Indian film crews generally bring their entire team and provisions along with them. Foreign service providers are paid, but are not seen as potential co-producers. This view is gradually beginning to change. The film Don 2, starring Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and filmed primarily in Berlin last autumn, certainly represents a turning point.
The producer hired a local crew and a German catering service. I was told that the Indian and German teams ate Indian or German food as they desired. In order to facilitate more co-productions between Europe and India, Berlin-based firm peacefulfish and Mumbai-based Curry Western Productions launched the Eurindia Film Bridge this year in Cannes. This platform will enable European producers to identify the right film locations and co-production partners in India, and, in the process, to help Indian producers team up with European partners to realize projects with financial support and at local filming locations. Curry Western Productions contributes to the production experience in both worlds and peacefulfish offers its strategic international expertise in film financing. We are currently in the process of building a network of partners around Eurindia.
James Cameron stated at the beginning of the year that there is a ”story crisis” in Hollywood. Will Bollywood also run out of stories soon?
I see two trends that I think are worth monitoring. On the one hand, the general public’s taste is changing in general and evolving away from mass entertainment to more demanding international films. This also means that we’re talking about smaller and more medium-sized audiences. Indian society is currently in the midst of a transition toward a broader middle class. Their stories need to be told. On the other hand, India is also experiencing a generational change now that younger producers are starting to replace older ones. These educated, worldly professionals are also beginning to tell new stories abroad that reflect their own experiences and world views. I don’t know if India, whether we’re talking about Bollywood or independent film, could ever experience a lack of stories in this scenario. We will probably soon see that the films of this new generation of producers will be the ones that work in foreign markets.
The European film industry is largely subsidized by public funding. How do Indian producers finance their projects, which are sometimes very costly?
Indian films are financed with private capital. Because unlike in Europe, where film is seen as a cultural asset worthy of support, in India, a film as regarded as a product that has to prove itself on the market. Costs are covered by Indian financiers who have privately financed films for generations, specialized banks and, of course, the producers themselves. There is no support system like there is in Europe.
Therefore, a co-production between European and Indian partners is a nearly ideal match for both sides — venture capital meets grant money. Let me come back to Don 2 again. During pre-production, the producer learned that his production, which was not covered by the bilateral agreement and for which the German producer was purely providing a service, was nevertheless eligible for German funding. This gift, provided by the Deutsche Filmförderfonds (DFFF), opened the door for later genuine co-productions that have been conceived as such from the beginning. Don 2 will be released in German cinemas in December of this year. I hope that we will then be able to lead many discussions about co-productions and co-financed films between India and Europe.
Juliane Schulze is a senior partner at peacefulfish, a Berlin-based strategic financial consultancy founded in 2000 and specializing in audio-visual media. She uses her comprehensive cross-industry knowledge of film, the Internet, games and mobile content as a consultant for international production companies and media regions, as well as in projects for the European Commission. She lectures at the Media Business School and the Binger and Torino Filmlab, and is an expert for Mediatech Investment Forum and the Creative Coaching Center in Berlin.