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American Movie Studios Eying Bollywood

Several Hollywood studios are collaborating with Indian film producers to make Bollywood-style films in India. Bollywood is the term popularly used for the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the American studios want to capture a larger slice of the market in a country with a voracious appetite for its own films.

Saawariya, or the beloved, is one of the latest films shot in India. It is a quintessential Bollywood production.

It includes the usual melodrama and elaborate song-and-dance sequences that Indian audiences love to watch. It is being produced by a top Indian director with an Indian cast.

But there is a crucial difference: Saawariya is being produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a major player in the American film industry.

It is the American studio's first foray into what is known as Bollywood: the Indian film capital, located in the city formerly known as Bombay.

Trade analyst Komal Nahata says the purpose is simple. Hollywood studios such as Sony want to bring in larger profits by giving Indian audiences what they love most: Bollywood-style films.

"I think they have realized that India is a huge market," he said. "First they got their films here in English, then they dubbed them in languages like Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and this was a natural progression… and it makes commercial sense to partner Bollywood production houses, and make Hindi films now."

English-language films are steadily gaining in popularity in India. But according to estimates, they still accounted for only five percent of the amount spent at the box office in 2006.

So Hollywood studios have begun entering into joint ventures with Indian production houses. Warner Brothers has unveiled plans for its first Indian production, an action comedy. Walt Disney is collaborating with an Indian studio to make animated movies, and the first production is due to be released next summer. Paramount Pictures is also contemplating Bollywood productions, according to domestic media.

Nahata expects the trend to gather momentum in the coming years, because it is likely to benefit both sides.

"These collaborations are now going to be the order of the day," he added. "The Hollywood studios have deep pockets, so Bollywood producers can make more ambitious projects, and somewhere down the line I think they will also take Bollywood in territories which hitherto have been closed for Bollywood."

The Indian movie industry expects the American studios to give Indian directors complete creative freedom to produce movies in their own style.

There is good reason to do so. Bollywood has a massive following among Indians, both at home and overseas. Its appeal cuts across classes in a country where watching movies is the primary entertainment, and where new multiplex theaters are being erected across the country to satisfy the huge demand.