Surrey bid to become an India film centre could prove a tough audition
BY FRANK O’BRIEN, BIV
The first thing Surrey has to do to become a centre for Bollywood films is to forget about Bollywood films, according to the only Surrey resident to produce a blockbuster within India’s movie industry.
“Bollywood is stagnated,” said Mike D’Souza, owner and executive producer of Silo Entertainment Ltd., a film producer with close links to India.
The “big ticket” in India films is the independent filmmakers who are more interested in international, contemporary themes than Bollywood’s muscular musical genre.
D’Souza, who produced the Bollywood hit Boom in 2003, added that Surrey should play to the strengths of the existing “world-class” Vancouver and Burnaby film studios if it wants to become a player in India’s $2.3 billion film industry.
“Surrey has no sound stages, no real film infrastructure,” D’Souza said.
Bollywood films are aimed at the India diaspora and India, he said, while the real focus should be on creating “smart, intelligent” B.C. movies that would appeal as much to a North American audience as one in Mumbai.
“There is huge market for Bollywood films,” he said, “but they can only reach a certain level of market and can’t grow beyond that.”
Still, Surrey, where 30% of households speak Punjabi as their primary language according to Statistics Canada, is hoping to break big into the Bollywood movie scene.
In February, the Surrey Board of Trade co-hosted a Breaking Bollywood seminar with the Canada India Business Council and Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus.
The event, which drew about 40 people, featured two Indian film representatives, including top screenwriter Anjum Rajabali and Chennai-based professor Aysha Viswamohan.
As well, B.C. is bidding for Surrey to host the 2013 International Indian Film Academy Awards, the “Bollywood Oscars” that were last held in Toronto and Shanghai.
But B.C. has tried before to catch the lens of Indian filmmakers.
Nine years ago, famed Bollywood producer Vidhu Vinoc Chopra looked at shooting a $20 million thriller in the Vancouver area. But the idea was abandoned after Chopra failed to win government incentives and help with red tape, according to industry sources.
Today, B.C. offers a 33% tax credit for labour used in the film industry, which costs the province approximately $200 million annually.
Ida Chong, minister of community, sports and cultural development, estimates that the movie business employs 25,000 people in B.C, either directly or indirectly.
“What we heard at the Breaking Bollywood seminar is that it is not all about the money,” said Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade.
The India film officials said that talent and local expertise were as important as government incentives, she said.
Paul Dhillon, a producer with Surrey-based MMM Film Finance International and a graduate of SFU’s film school, notes, however, that Surrey’s talent pool is thin.
Dhillon, who sold his first India-themed movie, Sweet Amerika, co-produced with Bobby Nagra, to CBC, is currently producing the thriller B-Town Boyz, about Indian youth gangs in Surrey. He is looking for a “well-known” Indian actor for the lead (he is hoping to land Freida Pinto, star of India’s smash hit Slumdog Millionaire) and will likely recruit other Indian actors from Toronto and the U.S.
Dhillon is aiming for Telefilm Canada backing for the $2.5 million movie and is not shy about where he expects the money to be repaid.
“If my movie is big in Canada, it might be in 40 to 50 theatres. In India it would open on 500 screens,” he said. “Vancouver has among the best technical people in the film industry,” but it is big names on the billboard that attract backers and ticket buyers.
D’Souza said Surrey is on the right track – opening dialogue and meetings with India’s film industry – to encouraging a viable local film industry. But he said success would require patience, pragmatism and a reality check.
“If Surrey wants to support Bollywood-style Punjabi-language films, and India regional language films, why not?” he said. “But the big ticket is the independent films that are going global out of India.”
Said D’Souza, who is currently producing a big-budget movie with Indian and Canadian money and talent, “There is a huge opportunity [for a Surrey film industry], but it is not just between Indians. It is all about attracting the best in the business.”
First published in Business in Vancouver; issue 1170.