Posted by: Mehul Srivastava on July 16, 2009
The unlikely partnership between Anil Ambani, of India’s Reliance- ADAG empire, and Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director and DreamWorks studio head, finally took form July 16, with Ambani, Walt Disney and JP Morgan announcing the possibility that they may fork over at least $825 million to Spielberg.
And no, Spielberg won’t be making Bollywood masala films. Instead, this huge chunk of change will allow DreamWorks to finance Spielberg’s penchant for expensive box office hits. Since DreamWorks broke up its relationship with Viacom’s Paramount Pictures in late 2008, the studio hasn’t released a single film, but has been working on some.
Now, Spielberg could produce as many as 8 films from the money, and Indian newspapers were rife with speculations about the plots. A secret-service-kidnapped president drama, asked the Times of India? Another Close Encounters of The Third Kind?
Of course, the normal caveats apply, Reliance Big Entertainment’s CEO, Amit Khanna, said in a conference call with reporters. The deal is not final, the number is open to change, but most likely go upwards, since Reliance had originally agreed to match Spielberg’s fundraising up to $550 million. Right now, Ambani will put in $325 million to match the $325 million that JP Morgan and other banks are putting up. Disney’s $150 million gives it the worldwide distribution rights for any films produced with this money, except for India, where Reliance will own all domestic rights.
India’s embrace of Hollywood has been more enthusiastic than the United State’s taste for Bollywood fare. In 2007, the Hindi-dubbed version of Spiderman 3 was the largest grossing film in India, but Indian films with western actors (Sylvester Stallone showed up in one, Denise Richards in another) haven’t done well overseas. Warner Bros went the other way – producing Indian films for Indian audiences, and has had mixed success – it’s 2008 marquee attempt, Chandni Chowk to China (a reference to a famous market in Delhi), a potboiler comedy that combined all the crowd-pleasing elements of lighter Bollywood fare – twins separated at birth, a poor hero dreaming of a big break, comedy, action and a torrid romance – didn’t do that well, even with two of India’s biggest film stars in the lead roles.
It makes sense for Reliance to go in the other direction; Indian box office receipts will be about $4 billion in 2012, whereas U.S. box office sales in 2008 were twice that, according to the National Association of Theater Owners.
The Ambani-Spielberg saga has been long in the making. Spielberg’s frustrations with Paramount and his long-drawn-out escape from his contract was made possible by Ambani’s decision to consider funding future movies for DreamWorks.
Ambani’s BIG Entertainment has already invested in a slew of Hollywood star projects, announcing at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival that it had agreed to invest in projects that involved George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Jim Carrey. No films have been produced as a result of that arrangement, and the amount of money pledged is still unknown. The Indian Express, citing unnamed sources, said it could be as much a $1 billion.
Ambani’s love for Bollywood is well-known in India. His wife, Tina Ambani, was a Bollywood star in the early 80’s, and into the 90’s, and he counts Bollywood stars amongst his friends (On the other hand, what Bollywood star would NOT want to be friends with one of the world’s richest people).
But this investment is all business, Ambani indicated in the conference call. “It’s a game changer,” he said, sticking closely to a script that his associates had repeated through the day – that this investment would allow one of India’s largest corporate houses to reach out to oyoung people around the world.