Bollywood takes pitch to China

The Indian film industry is taking its annual road show to China’s coastal casino enclave of Macau, hoping to broaden the appeal of its elaborate song-and-dance productions in the booming Chinese market and the rest of eastern Asia.

HONG KONG — The Indian film industry is taking its annual road show to China’s coastal casino enclave of Macau, hoping to broaden the appeal of its elaborate song-and-dance productions in the booming Chinese market and the rest of eastern Asia.

Bollywood’s first family led by veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, his son Abhishek, and daughter-in-law, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, will walk the red carpet as the International Indian Film Academy hosts its 10th annual weekend conference which started Thurday and runs until Saturday.

The world’s most prolific film industry is hoping to translate its large output into bigger revenue by widening its viewership beyond native Indians.

Overseas income is already contributing more to the US$2.3 billion Indian movie industry, with foreign box office revenues jumping from 5.3 per cent of total revenue in 2005 to 9.8 per cent in 2008, according to a report commissioned by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

With their large ethnic Indian populations, the U.S. and Britain are now Bollywood’s two biggest foreign markets.

Those figures, however, pale in comparison to Hollywood’s global influence.

The American industry earned $9.8 billion at the domestic box office in 2008 and another $28.1 billion abroad, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.

But encouraged by the global success of the Oscar-winning rags-to-riches story Slumdog Millionaire — a British film about an orphan from the slums of Mumbai who becomes the champion of the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire — Indian filmmakers are looking to expand their reach beyond their own ethnic communities.

“The success and popularity of Slumdog Millionaire, with its Indian locales, artists and music, underscores the growing influence of Indian cinema and augurs well for Bollywood movie markets targeting global audiences,” the FICCI report said.

Amitabh Bachchan told a recent media briefing promoting the International Indian Film Academy weekend that the Indian film industry needs to do a better job of selling itself.

Indian films typically devote 10 per cent to 15 per cent of their budget to marketing, compared to 30 per cent in Hollywood, according to the FICCI report.

“Hollywood has greater marketing skills. We don’t know how to market our product because we don’t have the funds,” the 66-year-old actor said, adding that, “we are trying.”

The film academy has held previous overseas events in London, Dubai, Johannesburg, Amsterdam and Bangkok.

In addition to showcasing several new Indian films, this year’s event in Macau will include a conference of business executives from India and China today that will focus on collaboration between the two countries, with Indian Ambassador to China Nirupama Rao making the pitch for her home country.

Famed Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman, an Oscar winner for his Slumdog Millionaire score, will hold a workshop today.

Heartthrob Hrithik Roshan and wife Suzanne were to model for Indian designers at a fashion show Thursday night.

The three-day program culminates Saturday night with the annual IIFA Awards.

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