This is the latest in Deadline’s series of reports on the people, projects and polemics that have folks buzzing in various overseas territories.
The International Indian Film Academy Awards just announced the event will travel to the U.S. for the first time next year, settling in Tampa, Florida in June. The move is one that’s likely to up the profile of Indian cinema Stateside where Bollywood isn’t typically top of mind among moviegoers. But heat on Indian cinema and talent is growing with movies like Yeh Jawaani Hai Dawaani, actors like Ranbir Kapoor and multi-hyphenates like Anurag Kashyap making waves. A question remains, however, on how closely the twains of Hollywood and Bollywood can ever meet.
India celebrated the 100th birthday of Hindi cinema in Cannes in May, turning a spotlight on the industry. Then last month, romcom Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani broke into the U.S. top ten upon release. The film’s success at home and abroad was partly because it’s the kind of “mushy romance we hadn’t seen in a while,” a producer who works in India and the UK tells me. Star Ranbir Kapoor is one of Bollywood’s hottest actors right now, also a key factor in Yeh Jawaani‘s success. He hails from a showbiz family and studied at the Lee Strasberg school in New York. With a sort of Ryan Gosling look, Kapoor is “the next one to be considered the Shah Rukh Khan-level mega-star” in India, a studio exec says.
Fanning the flames, Kapoor just won the best actor prize for 2012’s Barfi! at the Indian Film Academy Awards which were held this weekend in Macau. The romantic comedy was India’s 2012 Oscar entry. (Its title may be unappetizing to American ears – it’s the lead character’s name and also a condensed milk-based sweet – but it was one of Bollywood’s highest-grossing films of the year.) It also won several prizes at January’s Filmfare Awards including top picture and actor; Kapoor played a deaf-mute man involved with two women.
Kapoor’s Yeh Jawaani co-star Deepika Padukone is next up in Chennai Express. Padukone is an established actress who broke out in 2007’s Om Shanti Om. Chennai Express has the distinction of going out on August 8, the eve of India’s Eid al Fitr holiday. Beginning in 2008, films toplined by Indian superstar Salman Khan staked a claim on the Eid holiday which celebrates the end of Ramadan. With Khan’s next big production, Mental, not releasing until the January Republic Day weekend, the Eid spot is ripe for another comer with big box office potential. Conventional wisdom says it will be Chennai Express. (Chennai Express, like Yeh Jawaani, hails from UTV in which Disney has a strategic stake.) The love story cum road movie is directed by Rohit Shetty (the Golmaal franchise, Bol Bachchan) and, with Padukone, stars the iconic screen giant Shah Rukh Khan, making it one to watch. If Chennai follows Yeh Jawaani‘s path, Khan should be happy. He has said that his dedication is to getting Indian films seen by the world rather than having his own career in Hollywood.
It’s an interesting proposal. India’s massive territory produces some 1,500 films a year and has a powerful indigenous market where local share can be as high as 90%. This helps explain why there are not many so-called cross-over actors. People I’ve spoken to believe that’s because the talent is so happy at home. One India-watcher tells me they don’t think it’s often the goal of Bollywood stars to head to Hollywood given “the level of stardom, creative freedom, accolade and money that they get in India.” A producer suggests the same thing: “It’s about whether they want to cross over or not.” Carrying the torch to some degree, Irrfan Khan, of Life Of Pi fame, comfortably works across the continents as has Anil Kapoor, a star at home where he’s shooting a local version of 24 after having played a role in the Fox show’s last season in the U.S. Both Khan and Kapoor were heavily featured in Slumdog Millionaire.
Still, along with Ranbir Kapoor, other names I hear talked about who are established at home and have the potential for Hollywood careers should they seek them are Hrithik Roshan who’s got sci-fi superhero pic Krrish 3 coming up. He’s a bona fide star at home – and in the UK where his wax likeness stands at Madame Tussaud’s – and is managed by Brillstein Partners. Others include Saif Ali Khan who this year starred in and produced India’s first zombie pic Go Goa Gone; Priyanka Chopra whose credits include Barfi!, Shootout At Wadala and Krrish 3; Vidya Balan who won the Indian Film Academy prize for Best Actress this weekend for Kahani; and the aforementioned Deepika Padukone.
For his part, Ranbir Kapoor next stars in Bombay Velvet, the first part of a trilogy about the evolution of Bombay (now Mumbai) beginning in the 1950s, which is co-produced by Fox‘s Fox Star Studios. The joint venture is currently involved in eight local films per year and notably backed 2012’s My Name Is Khan, one of the biggest internationally successful Indian films of all time. Bombay Velvet is directed by Anurag Kashyap – a multi-hyphenate who is part of a new breed of Indian filmmaker who doesn’t work solely in the candy-colored musical flourish Westerners associate with Bollywood. His films as director, writer and/or producer include Black Friday, No Smoking, Gangs Of Wasseypur, Ugly, Bombay Talkies, Udaan, Monsoon Shootout, Lootera and The Lunchbox which Sony Pictures Classics acquired out of Cannes’ Critics’ Week. Bombay Velvet, which releases on December 25, 2014, is intended as a mainstream Bollywood film. “With this film [Kashyap] isn’t trying to move away from traditional Bollywood commercial cinema,” I’m told by an insider who believes “it’s really two very different kinds of films made specifically with the goals of each in mind.”
Even if Hollywood isn’t the Holy Grail for these actors or directors, it will be interesting to see if any pop up in U.S. movies more quickly than it took Indian legend Amitabh Bachchan. The 70-year-old, who’s made more than 180 films at home and is a national treasure, just had his Hollywood debut with Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby; and he’s said he’d do more if offered the chance. He was in Cannes this year with Gatsby and to participate in the Bollywood birthday celebration. In one kind of cross-over at least, Cannes jury president Steven Spielberg earlier spent time with the actor on a swing through Mumbai in March. There it was revealed that DreamWorks is eyeing an India-set movie with its partners Reliance Entertainment…