'Kites' movie brings together 'Rush Hour' director and Bollywood

An Indian film company hopes to market the 'Kites' movie to American audiences by bringing together a beautiful Mexican actress, Bollywood's biggest hunk, and the director of 'Rush Hour.'

Lefteris Pitarakis/AP
Actors Hrithik Roshan, right, and Barbara Mori, left, pose for the photographers as they arrive for the European film premiere of the film 'Kites', in London, Tuesday.

What brings together a beautiful Mexican actress, India's premier silver-screen hunk, and the director of "Rush Hour"?

Bollywood's most serious bid yet to show it's not just Hollywood that can export films.

India's Reliance Big Pictures today debuts "Kites," a 130-minute story about two lovers on the run who don't speak the same language.

Director Brett Ratner of "Rush Hour" movie fame has edited that original Hindi-language version by dubbing it into English, toning down the soundtrack, removing a dance sequence by the critically acclaimed Indian lead, Hrithik Roshan, and adding a racy scene. Mr. Ratner's 90-minute "Kites: The Remix" premieres in US and international theaters May 28.

"I think this is going to be some sort of a breakthrough ... a first milestone," says Reliance MediaWorks CEO Anil Arjun, explaining that "Kites" is the first time Bollywood has so thoroughly edited a film to appeal to Western viewers.

Bollywood goes international

It's an attempt to capitalize on recent successes that Reliance has seen. Its film "My Name is Khan" grossed $39 million worldwide for a month after its February release, including $17 million outside of India, according to Agence France-Presse. Reliance's film "3 Idiots," which came out on Christmas Day, grossed $6.7 million alone in North America – a record for a Bollywood film, the company says.

Further showing its seriousness about entering the American market, Reliance recently purchased nearly 200 movie theaters across the US – of 525 theaters is owns worldwide – that show both Hollywood and Bollywood films.

But while last year's Oscar-winner "Slumdog Millionaire" stoked optimism that Indian films can find a place with global audiences, not every movie strikes Western fancies: 2009's "Chandni Chowk to China," also an attempted hybrid US-India release, tanked.

Mature movie markets, most notably Hollywood, have long figured out the formula to capitalize on a film in as many countries as possible, says John Lee, dean of the Mumbai-based Whistling Woods International Institute for Film, Television, Animation and Media Arts, and author of "The Producer's Handbook."

Hollywood films often make about 30 percent of their total revenue domestically and 70 percent in tailored versions for international releases, he says.

"They [Hollywood] find out for every picture how they can optimize it in Spain, in Italy, in Korea," Mr. Lee says. "It began to be a turnstile and that kind of experience is going to happen here [in India]. And I think it's going to be more profound."

Need 'scientific' script writing

But the wall between Bollywood and Hollywood is high.

India is one of the few markets that Hollywood has failed to dominate, with only 4 percent market share here, according to a recent report (pdf) from KPMG financial advisory services. And even though the Indian film industry has produced 72,000 feature films, Bollywood hasn't yet had the international success it would also like, says Rajesh Jain, an author of the KPMG report.

"There needs to be a lot of better content based on scientific script writing," Mr. Jain says. The average Hollywood script takes about five years of writing and creative incubation, Mr. Lee says, while a Bollywood one is often under a year.

But movies like "Kites" and "My Name is Khan," which are filmed abroad and have international plot lines, have more chance of global success than the standard masala Bollywood dance and love story musicals that typify the industry.

Finding deeper niche abroad

Somnath Seth, a vice president and curriculum director at Whistling Woods, doubts that more common Bollywood films have a significant crack at crossing over.

"The way we tell our stories is entirely different than the way stories are told in the US," he says. While American movies fit into different genres, Mr. Seth says every Indian movie is expected to have it all – love, horror, action, singing, and dancing.

Frank Lovece, a film critic for Film Journal International in New York City, who has seen the Hindi version of "Kites," says that "I thought it worked very well.... It's a bold experiment."

He suggests that even run-of-the-mill Bollywood movies could find a deeper niche with viewers abroad, even outside the India diaspora.

"I think that you'll have a niche market," he says, "the same that you have a niche market for French films."


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