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Hollywood hit makers head to India

India is experiencing a surge in interest as a location for foreign film-makers amid hopes that the presence of overseas productions will boost the home-grown industry.

The information and broadcasting ministry said that it has cleared 11 projects this year and has nine more in various stages of approval while in 2009 24 films were given the green light.

"We have given permission for more than 100 movies in the last three to four years," said D.P. Reddy, the joint secretary (films) at the department.

"It's primarily because we have a lot of good locales where shooting can take place and we have the technical competence. The services are pretty competitive. It makes a lot of sense to come," he told AFP.

India has been an enticing location for foreign film-makers for almost as long as cinema has existed.

In the 1920s, the German director Franz Osten made a series of black-and-white silent films inspired by India's many religions and rich history.

Richard Attenborough's epic "Gandhi" (1982) was largely shot in India and brought the country to a worldwide audience.

More recently, major films such as the James Bond thriller "Octopussy" (1983), "The Bourne Supremacy" (2004) and "A Mighty Heart" (2007) have all used Indian locations.

This year's "Eat Pray Love", starring Julia Roberts, was the first high-profile film since "Slumdog Millionaire" to come to India on location.

Some film industry watchers have attributed the surge in interest in India to the runaway success of "Slumdog" at the 2009 Oscars.

But Reddy said India was already attracting interest even before the British-made film came out.

The official said that film-makers were coming from all over the world, with recent permission given to studios behind the latest film in the "Mission: Impossible" franchise and the big screen adaptation of the novel "Life of Pi".

Other films in the pipeline include "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" starring British actress Judy Dench and directed by John Madden, whose previous credits include "Shakespeare in Love" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin".

Meenakshi Shedde, a Mumbai-based film critic and film festival consultant, said India's age-old combination of spirituality and sexuality, its people, their attitudes and exotic landscapes remained a fascination for film-makers.

But she also said it was part of a wider trend for Hollywood to try to capture new audiences, as Western markets reach saturation point.

"It's just a straight-forward business proposition... they're trying to tap the Indian market," she said.

Analysts accept that India's potential is huge. Last year, some three billion cinema tickets were sold in India, compared with 1.5 billion in the United States, according to a Crisil media and entertainment report last September.

In 2009, nearly 60 Hollywood films were released, earning a combined revenue of 85.5 million dollars, consultants KPMG said.

Dubbing into local languages is becoming more accepted, although the revenue potential for Hollywood films is lower than in developed countries because of cheap ticket prices, they added.

"The last 12 months have seen a dramatic growth of Hollywood in India" with US films' share of theatrical revenues now at about 10 percent, said Vijay Singh, chief executive of Fox Star Studios.

New audiences are also being exposed to Hollywood films through the burgeoning satellite television sector, which show both the original English and dubbed versions, he added.

Shedde said Hollywood may have a more difficult time penetrating the Indian market, even with the inclusion of familiar locations, actors and themes.

"Most national cinemas are destroyed by Hollywood," she said.

"But in India, after all the Tom Cruises and Steven Spielbergs, dubbing into at least three to four languages and with all their marketing clout, they still have less than 10 percent of our market."

A foreign presence could be beneficial, including for the home-grown industry, which last year saw overall revenues slump by 14 percent to 89.3 billion rupees (two billion dollars).

"It should force Bollywood to raise the ante and strengthen their storytelling," said Singh.

"It (foreign filmmaking in India) is going to help," added Reddy. "I think the trend will continue with the success of some of these films. That will give a fillip to the industry."