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Bollywood remains flamboyant despite global slowdown

By Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi
October 13, 2008 09:27 IST
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Even as financial markets all over the world were battling a severe crash, two individuals were busy flashing smiles, shaking hands and forging a mother of all partnerships on the global entertainment arena. Anil Ambani's Reliance ADAG partnered with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks, which had exited from Paramount Pictures, and signed a $1.2-billion deal for Hollywood projects with some of the biggest names in the industry.

In the light of these developments, Farokh Balsara, media analyst, Ernst & Young, sounds upbeat, "The market meltdown notwithstanding, just wait and watch how Reliance continues to acquire cinema chains in the US. Thanks to the meltdown, the company will acquire these chains at a cheaper rate because the market value of these chains is bound to be lesser than it was even a couple of months ago."

Having said that, what exactly does the global market crash mean for the Indian film industry? In Balsara's view, any player, even established ones, looking at international funding, might have to face some heat definitely. He points out, "Tie-ups where the likes of Sony Pictures and Disney, for instance, have expressed their interest to 'experience' Bollywood by making films here with top directors will not get affected."

However, he adds, "Animation and gaming companies like Shemaroo, Maya, even Rajshri and People Pictures, might find the going very tough, considering they were stepping into the market to try and raise funds through equity."

He adds, "Private equity funding will be very tough to get now."

Another media analyst, on the condition of anonymity, says, "Lehman Brothers has a 8.26 per cent stake in Entertainment Network India, which operates Radio Mirchi 98.3 FM. The company had some mega plans for expansion, but now there will be a question mark on those plans for some time."

The analyst adds: "Even Disney's interest in Yash Raj may not translate into a long-lasting relationship despite the latter being one of the oldest players in the entertainment industry." Along with these, Samaira Pyramid too might not generate the sort of funds that it was boasting of bringing to the table.

According to Jyoti Deshpande, group COO & commercial director, Eros International, any company that is dependent on raising further equity or debt to execute its plans may see crunch time. "Newer players who have overspent in the short run to get into the game might find that they need to dig deeper still," adds Deshpande. On its part, Eros has already invested over $ 200 million in a slate of over 60 films, which will release over the next six to 30 months. "We have locked all these projects at extremely competitive prices. We are extremely confident about the profitability of these projects," Deshpande says.

Mihir Shah, media analyst with Prabhudas Liladher, points out, "Companies like UTV have outperformed time and again, in fact, even raised and earmarked funds in different verticals. So, despite the meltdown, such companies will hardly be affected."

However, he predicts that companies will start looking at secondary markets, and business dynamics may have to be seen and understood from a new perspective altogether, at least for the time being. "It will be difficult to raise funds through equity, so dilution of funds and debts will need to be created, newer avenues will have to be tapped," he says.

The 'newer avenues', says Shah, will include film funds like Vistaar Religare Fund and Cinema Capital Venture Fund, both, incidentally, approved by the Securities and Exchange Board of India.

"The funds are essentially raised through High Network Individuals," confirms Shah, explaining that Vistaar Religare has a corpus of Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) while Cinema Capital Venture Fund has Rs 700-odd crore (Rs 7 billion) of funds.

Despite a slowdown, most experts agree that the meltdown will not cripple the Indian film industry. "We will need some time to figure out whether the Indian consumer gets affected at all. If that doesn't happen, what's the fuss," questions Smita Jha, media analyst with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Pramod Arora, CEO and president, PVR Cinemas, says, "Some of our plans might get postponed, but only by a month or so." He adds that the meltdown has assured that men and boys finally get separated. "Real estate developers were getting caught up by this mall mania and that will be thankfully corrected. In addition, we can select locations for multiplexes at the prices that we want," he says.

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Abhilasha Ojha in New Delhi
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