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Bollywood Unmasked: The Real Potential of BC Film and Media Collaborations with India

Guest article by Paula McGlynn.

In the five months I have spent researching the Indian film industry, I learned that there is huge potential for more film and media related business between British Columbia and India. With a grant from Western Economic Diversification (WED), I went to India twice with the SFU India Initiative to look for ways to increase ties with BC and the Indian film industry.

With no previous knowledge of India and coming from a Scottish-Canadian background, I had the unique perspective of being a film student with nothing to gain but knowledge. I had no desire or hope to work with an Indian film production, and almost no previous exposure to Bollywood films. It was because of this that I went to India with an open mind and gained an incredible amount of access to influential people in the Indian film industry.

There was so much about the Indian film industry that I think should be common knowledge among Canadians at this point in time, but I will just highlight some of the things that surprised me and made me more interested creating opportunities for collaboration.

First, I learned that Bollywood only produces roughly one-third of the thousand films India produces each year. The other two thirds are produced in different cities and based on language differences; such as Kollywood in Chennai (Tamil language) and Tollywood in Hyderabad (Telugu language). The two cities each output two to three hundred films a year. Each language group has its own stylistic differences and is relatively self-contained industries with a strong domestic audience and star-system.

Second, I also realized that Bollywood films were no longer just singing and dancing in fields as I had previously thought. In the last ten years, American corporate studios have started integrating themselves with the industry in Mumbai such as Fox Star Studios and Disney. BBC also has a television department in Mumbai to produce formula reality shows like “Dancing with the Stars”.

This has resulted in increased pressure for Indian film productions to start ‘westernizing’ their methods of development. Slumdog Millionaire was produced around the same time, putting Indian stories in the spotlight. Recently, Independent Indian cinema has been going through a huge increase in international interest and popularity in festivals.

I am assuming that because of a variety of other reasons, including an increase of Indian filmmakers with more exposure to western styles of cinema, the typical Bollywood style has started to change. Of the most recent Bollywood films I have seen, none have had a singing and dancing sequence that wasn’t used in a realistic or ironic way. The importance of music is still a defining characteristic of the Indian film industry, but in general I would say that more westernized types of films are being produced.

A third, less obvious, trend is that there is a huge demand for quality film education in India. The discovery came from my increased exposure to Indian film students and young filmmakers. In general, there is a shortage of reputable institutes in comparison to the population.

I could name four or five schools that I would consider comparable to Canadian film institutions in the whole country. This is nothing compared to the 5+ institutions that output filmmakers every year in Vancouver alone. And while there is a demand for Indian film education, there is an especially huge demand for a ‘western’ film education.

I met many successful filmmakers and actors who did their film education in the United States and in Canada, and scores more students who asked my advice on which Western film schools I thought were best.

Finally, I learned that Indian films shot in foreign locations have a huge impact on non-film related economies such as tourism. This is something that many other countries have come to realize, and every October Sudhanshu Hukku runs the Locations Conference in Mumbai. Tourism boards, governments, and production companies come to Mumbai and pitch their locations and incentives to Indian production companies with an aim to snag a blockbuster film.

Having a large Indian audience see another country as a backdrop for a story decreases the perceived distance between the countries and increases a familiarity and awareness of it. An impressive example is Kaho Na Pyaar Hai shot in New Zealand. It increased New Zealand’s inbound Indian tourism five-fold after its release in 2001.

This also has huge implications for business investment and emigration. Keep in mind as well that Indian tourists are one of the highest spending tourist groups in the world.

After two and half months of general research, my second trip to India in January this year was focused on initiating some of the most promising types of collaboration. After the Times of India Film Awards (TOIFA) was announced, I worked closely with Jamshed Mistry (an entertainment lawyer closely connected with Vancouver and India) to create the BC-India Film and Media Initiative (BCIFMI).

The BCIFMI is an independent movement to increase awareness of the film business potential between India and BC, and to create some buzz around the subject. The TOIFA seemed like an ideal opportunity to kick start some more film business between BC and India, so Jamshed and I decided to start off by hosting a roundtable discussion in Mumbai with a diverse group of film and media professionals from both BC and India to discuss potential areas for collaboration and come up with an action plan to initiate more activity between the industries.

I blogged about the experience on my website and received a lot of interested in the topic. My most recent blog, BC Film, Tourism and India Post- TOIFA, includes a more detailed account of the BC-India Film and Media Initiative, and includes pictures form the roundtable and a copy of the report that was given to the BC government before TOIFA started, suggesting ways to maximize the opportunities for film, tourism, and BC businesses.

Now that I am back in Vancouver, I am waiting until I can return to India again to start working with the Indian film industry. I’m also looking for ways to help increase connections between the two industries in film production and education. The current plan is to go back to India in September and not only work on my own projects but to also build an awareness of the BC film industry and keep the BC-India Film and Media Initiative alive.

The initiative is currently a volunteer-based initiative and Jamshed Mistry and I have been receiving no compensation for the research or reports we are producing. I hope that other British Columbians and Canadians will see the combined value of increasing our interaction with the Indian film industry, and that Indian productions will see the wealth of stories, talent, and expertise that define the BC film industry.

I would like to take this opportunity to ask for help from anybody who would like to spread this information and support more film/media business between BC and India. Please share this article and my blog posts with your networks, and if you have any ideas or would like to talk with me about your thoughts and ideas, you can email me at fuzzmixmedia@gmail.com

Click here to read my blogs about the Indian Film Industry.

Paula McGlynn is completing her BFA with Simon Fraser University, and finished the Film Production program in 2012 with her thesis film, My Uncle Terry (selected for the Montreal World Film Festival).

She has won awards such as the Praxis Student Screenplay Award in 2011, and was selected for the DOXA Kris Anderson Youth Connexions program in May 2012.  Twice the recipient of the SFU Mobility fund for her research on the film industry, Paula McGlynn has strong networks between both the Indian and Vancouver film industry.

Paula is blogging on films, India, and writing short stories. She is also modelling and studying acting. She is currently develo ping the script for her first feature, The Benefits of Living in Bombay- A coming-of-age story about an NGO intern in Mumbai who gets an Indian sugar daddy to make ends meet.

For more information, visit her website: http://paulamcglynn.wordpress.com/

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