Bringing Bollywood to Leicester: Reasons to be cautiously optimistic
Last month, Leicester MP Patricia Hewitt backed a funding initiative led by a group of Asian entrepreneurs to raise a reported £37 million for investment in Indian films, featuring Indian and British Asian talent, likely to be filmed in the region.
With over 17 million people watching Indian films everyday in cinemas or at homes worldwide, and annual revenues exceeding an estimated £800 million, Bollywood - as India's creative industries are referred to - is seen as a cultural and commercial force that can compete with Hollywood.
Thus the launch of any initiative that presents opportunities to engage profitably with Bollywood would predictably be met with much fanfare and media attention. But what makes Bollywood such hot property in these parts and this current boom be sustained?
The project extensively surveyed locations and facilities in the region and interviewed over fifty individuals connected with films in India and the UK, including Indian filmmakers who had shot films in the UK and Europe.
An advantage that this region had was the presence of large and economically active communities of South Asian origin, which were heavy consumers of Indian films, film-inspired media and live events.
Leicester is now a competitor to London and Birmingham as a key producer for Indian film-related content like TV software, music, DVDs and video; as well as an offshore platform for distributing these in Europe and the USA.
Earlier Indian films only used locations abroad for adding picturesque glamour to films; and Asian impresarios taking live-shows featuring top Indian talent around venues like Wembley Arena, Royal Albert Hall, NEC, Sun City and Madison Square Garden supplemented that. First video and then satellite television opened up a global market for Indian cinema and resulted in widespread impacts for culture and commerce, which has lessons for the East Midlands.
From Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Bombay Dreams, to Gurinder Chaddha’s Bend It Like Beckham and from the popularity of the local MATV to the Leicester Haymarket Theatre’s Bollywood Jane were all fuelled by the infusion of ‘home-grown’ talent with ‘crossover’ appeal.
Indian cinema also began to attract funding from diasporic communities, which led to American, Canadian and British Asian investment beginning to bankroll a substantial proportion of film finance in India.
The leisure and tourism sectors of these areas took advantage of this trend by promoting these Bollywood links. Yet, to ensure variety in the ‘look’ of a film, directors never hesitate to shift locations once they are considered ‘over-exposed’.
On top of that is the ongoing battle of undercutting between the tourist sectors in countries like Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Mauritius, South Africa and Canada, to attract productions there by offering part-finance, tax-breaks and cheap access to locations and facilities - all geared to position their tourist hotspots in films seen worldwide.
In 2001, the University of Leicester hosted the first Bollywood film to be shot in the region. De Montfort Hall has held Bollywood-style live concerts before and the Walker's Stadium is in consultations to become a venue for bigger open-air, summer concerts, particularly during English football's off-season.
Instead of celebrating the yet-to-be-realised-success of an incubating business plan, what we might need to do is get together to develop and articulate an unambiguous and farsighted, strategic vision for cross-sectoral engagement with India’s creative industries, that clearly maps long-term cultural and commercial benefits for Leicester and the region.
Last updated: 23 March 2004 10:55
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