By Saibal Chatterjee
Indian film-makers are spreading their wings and going global.
Vidhu Vinod Chopra is shooting his new film in New Mexico
Several major Indian directors - Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Jahnu Barua, Sudhir Mishra and Pan Nalin, among others - are in Cannes to firm up plans for films targeted at the global market.
This is against the backdrop of strategic partnerships linking frontline Bollywood players like Reliance Big Entertainment (RBE) and Eros International with stars and studios in Hollywood.
Chopra, whose previous film, Eklavya - The Royal Guard, was India's official entry for the Oscars last year, will shoot his first English-language feature, Broken Horses, early next year on location in New Mexico.
"The film will be ready for release by 2009 end," the director said.
Broken Horses, being co-produced by Chopra's company and RBE, has screenwriter Nick Pileggi on board as script consultant.
He was nominated for Oscars for films like Goodfellas, Casino and American Gangster.
A few years ago, Chopra was close to directing The Fifth Move, an English-language psychological drama with Hollywood stars.
"I haven't abandoned that project. I have only deferred it. I did not want to start my Hollywood career with a small film," he said.
Though neither Chopra nor RBE is willing to divulge the budget for Broken Horses, its production cost is projected to be in excess of $20m.
Veteran Assamese director Jahnu Barua, who has just wrapped up a new Hindi film, Har Pal, starring Dharmendra, Preity Zinta and Shiney Ahuja, is now set to film Homing Pigeons, a period love story to be shot extensively in the UK.
"We are currently casting for two British actors and one Assamese actress," reveals Barua.
Cannes regular and film-maker Sudhir Mishra is close to realising The Nawab, the Nautch Girl and the John Company, a sweeping Raj-era historical, which has been long in the making.
Bollywood stars appear regularly at international festivals like Cannes
"It is a film that can't be made without international participation. The cast, crew and even a part of the funding would have to come from more than one country. I hope to have everything in place by early next year," said the director.
Mishra is in touch with prospective co-production partners. "I'd be able to make a formal announcement soon," he said.
Paris-based Indian film-maker Pan Nalin has already announced an internationally oriented English-language cinematic venture on the life and times of the Buddha. It is scheduled to go into production by September.
Titled Buddha, the film will present "contemporary treatment" of a period story, Nalin said.
"I do not want to make a biopic aimed only at Buddhists. It will be an accessible human drama, not a reverential narrative. The idea is to reveal the man behind the myth."
Nalin's Buddha will be produced by his own company, Monsoon Films, on a budget that could touch $20m.
Mahindra & Mahindra, the Indian automobile giant that has floated a new film fund, is financing the film.
'Hollywood films with Indian stories'
Nalin, director of films like Samsara and Valley of Flowers, said: "Buddha will be the biggest film of my career by far.
"At one level, the film will dramatise a road trip Gautam Buddha undertook with some friends and disciples. It will also be an epic love story revolving around the father-son and husband-wife relationships," Nalin said.
Mumbai-based Sanjay Srinivas is ready with a much smaller film, God Lives in the Himalayas, which has been picked up for global distribution by Los Angeles-based Longtale International.
The Nepali-language film has an all-Nepalese cast. The film follows four children on a journey to discover God after one of them loses his mother in a terrifying fire caused by a religious ritual.
Writer-journalist-film-maker Vijay Singh, who divides his time between Paris and Delhi, is in search of funding for his screen adaptation of his own novel Whirlpool of Shadows, about the 19th Century marriage of the Nawab of Awadh and an Englishwoman.
India is one of the biggest producers of cinema in the world
No stranger to international co-productions, Singh's other directorial credits are Jaya Ganga and One Dollar Curry.
"The contemporary perspective in the story," he said, "is provided by a British actress who flies to India to play the role of the Begum and falls in love with her script assistant."
It isn't just individual directors that are seeking to go global.
Indeed, this trend is being fuelled by the international ambitions of cash-rich Bollywood production and world distribution sector players.
RBE has swung development deals with companies owned by Hollywood stars Nicholas Cage, Brad Pitt, Jim Carey, Tom Hanks and George Clooney.
These strategic partnerships, says RBE's creative consultant Prasoon Joshi, could in the long run yield "Hollywood films with Indian stories".
Eros International has signed a deal with Lionsgate, Hollywood's leading independent studio with a catalogue of over 12,000 titles, to facilitate the release of Indian films in the American mainstream and home video space as well as ease the way for Bollywood remakes of Hollywood films.
Significantly, the Indian government's National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), which had dropped out of the production radar, is back in business.
One of the several films that it is co-financing is Naye Joote (New Shoes), to be jointly produced by Britain's Richard Holmes and Sweden's Hepp Film.
The writer is a film critic and Associate Editor - Arts and Features, Sakaal Times.