September 12, 2008

Namasté, and good luck. To you, Mr. Murdoch

Sorry for being away for an extended spell, due to an ongoing search for a full–time job on the one hand, and an ailing MacMini® on the other (I have three computers: one MacMini® plus one Hewlett–Packard desktop and one Sony VAIO which run Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution).

Now that we're back, we can note this item reported by Agence France–Press and elsewhere:

US film studio and distributor Twentieth Century Fox and the Star entertainment and media group on Tuesday announced a joint venture to produce Asian-language films for worldwide distribution.

The new organisation, to be called Fox Star Studios, will first work in India, with a view to expanding into China and southeast Asia, they said in a joint statement out of Mumbai, Hong Kong and Beverly Hills…

You might know about Star TV, if you've seen their copyright declaration at the end of a huge number of Hong Kong movies on home video — or if you've seen the Fortune Star logo on Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's Region 1 DVDs of those movies.

But you might not know how big a presence they are in North America. More digital cable services (plus Dish Network and Mr. Murdoch's DirecTV) offer Star packages of one kind or another in major cities and metro areas. (Dish Network offers the most Star bang for the buck in DSS land. I don't know how Cablevision and Time Warner fare.)

I'm not sure what to make of this news. Bollywood companies have certainly been looking to expand their audiences beyond India and its global diaspora. And to be sure, they have quite a few converts — myself, for instance, a new fan of Farah Khan's delightful hommage, Om Shanti Om, having finally seen Eros International's DVD.

Think back, also, to Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan (Once upon a time in India), produced by Aamir Khan (whose own first directorial effort, the acclaimed Taare Zameen Par [Every Child is Special], already out in India via T–Series, will soon hit a Disney Region 1 DVD in North America).

And I'm hearing nothing but good words about Mr. Gowariker's 2007 feature, the epic Jodhaa Akbar, which (judging by the trailer DVD that came with my copy of the soundtrack CD) looks gorgeous, appears to be well–cast and directed, and (like Lagaan) boasts a A. R. Rahman score that is guaranteed to make a positive impression.

Which leads to one of the few Bollywood studios that can go toe to toe — or is it frame to frame (or reel to reel)? — with Hollywood's finest: UTV Motion Pictures, which co–produced Jodhaa Akbar with Mr. Gowariker's company (AGPPL). Go to their website and take a look at the streaming trailers online, especially Mumbai Meere Jaan and the thriller A Wednesday!, and you'll see what I mean.

UTV is one of the few operations that is serious about everything that goes into great moviemaking, and it shows. They'll probably survive a Fox Star invasion. So will Sony, which brought Lagaan to a global audience and which co–bankrolled Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Saawariya (available in North America on a well–received Sony Region 1 DVD). How the others will fare is another story.

Rupert Murdoch's presence in Asia is one that has commanded high viewership of the Star network system. I just wonder how much resentment has gone along with it.

And will Fox release Region 1 DVDs of their Fox Star flicks, or will they just be "for local consumption"?

Of course, I have to wonder how well some of Fox's {ahem} domestic catalogue will go over abroad. Anyone for Babylon A.D.?

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