Friday, September 14, 2007

kashmir's glacier opens to climbers as tensions thaw

By Jason Overdorf in Delhi
The Independent - 14 September 2007

Kashmir's treacherous Siachen glacier, battleground for the high-altitude standoff between India and Pakistan – sometimes termed "the coldest war" – is now set to become a tourist attraction.

In what has been pitched as a vote of confidence in a ceasefire that began in 2003, the Indian army announced yesterday in Delhi that it plans to open the 72 kilometre-long Siachen glacier to civilian trekking expeditions.

India and Pakistan – which have fought three wars for possession of Kashmir – are perhaps closer to a peaceful resolution than ever before. But to cynical observers, the move fits neatly into the tradition of oropolitics – or using mountaineering for political purposes – that has framed the conflict for many years.

Cadets from Indian military academies will begin a climb to the 16,000 feet Kumar Post next week, according to local reports.

If that expedition is successful, regular civilian expeditions – including some catering to foreign climbers – will be launched next year.

"The glacier can become a major tourist attraction. Since the ceasefire agreement with Pakistan, things have been safer and it is possible to hold such activities," a senior army officer was quoted as saying.

The first batch of trekkers, scheduled to set out from Leh on September 19, will be provided with basic training at the Siachen base camp by the Indian army. Ten experts on glaciers will guide the expedition, and the Indian army will provide equipment, lodging and logistical support for the trekkers.

An army spokesman indicated that the move to open Siachen to trekkers was inspired by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's call to turn the glacier into a "peace mountain" in 2005.

India and Pakistan have battled intermittently on the forbidding glacier since 1984.

Monday, September 10, 2007

outsourcing goes upscale

By William Underhill and Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue - The infamous "race to the bottom" may not be over. But increasingly, service industries are moving operations not to nations at the bottom—which is to say, nations like India, where labor is cheapest—but to where the work will be done best. The new race is to find the most-competitive service. And it speaks volumes about the rapid modernization of India that its companies are still out front.

This is even more remarkable if you consider how many new players and new kinds of services are crowding into the outsourcing market. According to consultants A.T. Kearney, there are now 55 countries, from Vietnam to Poland and Brazil, actively selling themselves as "remote service locations" to multinationals. And the kinds of services on offer continue to expand from call centers and back-office functions into new areas of information technology and R&D for industries as diverse as consulting, law and medicine. Western giants like IBM are getting in the game by setting up their own outsourcing arms (usually in developing nations). IDC research predicts that the world market for offshore IT services will grow to $37.8 billion by 2011, more than double last year's figure. Yet no new rival has derailed India's rise.

In the past decade, India's outsourcing revenue has increased tenfold. By some reckonings, Indian companies still capture more than 80 percent of the IT offshoring business. With growth in the Indian industry still running at a healthy double-digit rate, the top companies—Wipro, Tata Consultancy Services and Infosys—are evolving as fast or faster than the outsourcing market itself. Each now has a total stock-market value of more than $20 billion, when none were even listed 10 years ago. They are, in short, flourishing in a market that is now far more complex than the old caricature of Western firms' "exporting" well-paid jobs to poor nations, where salaries are far lower. "The smart companies are seeing outsourcing and offshoring not as a cost play but as a strategic way to transform their business," says Nandan Nilekani, CEO of Indian IT giant Infosys. "The customer is no longer just paying for 100 people to work for him, [but for a specific business outcome]. Therefore, the Indian companies have to improve the capacity of their people, so we have more people with a consulting mind-set. And we have to be willing to take risks."

The reason Indian companies can stay out front seems pretty clear: India, on the whole, remains poor and backward, but its leading companies are already world-class. Once humble and happy to take the IT drudge work of big U.S. or British multinationals, Indian firms are now multinational in their own right. The skills of their employees are improving fast, so they are able to offer higher-level services to Western blue-chip clients. And the sheer scale of past savings that Indian firms have delivered to Western clients puts them in a good position to win future contracts when those and other clients look to move more-sophisticated operations abroad. Kiran Karnik, president of India's National Association of Software and Services Companies, puts the matter simply: "While cost continues to be an important consideration, it's not the only one."

Geography is reasserting itself. Indian outsourcers are maintaining their edge in part by moving closer to clients, establishing their own bases in the West. Last month Wipro paid $600 million for an American infrastructure-management firm called Infocrossing, creating a beachhead that allows Wipro to deliver services and recruit U.S. talent more easily. (Last year Wipro hired more than 200 college and business-school graduates from the United States and Europe.) Proximity matters, says Suresh Vaswani, president of Wipro's global IT practice. "Data centers [for U.S. clients] have to be in the U.S., fundamentally because of customer comfort," says Vaswani. "That way all my servers ... are not so far away."

Trendspotters would do well to watch Sashi Reddi, whose relatively new Indian company is already moving to base employees overseas. A 42-year-old serial entrepreneur, Reddi founded AppLabs six years ago with a staff of less than 10, and it is now the world's leading independent software-testing firm, with 1,900 on its payroll and a client list that includes Sun Microsystems and Cisco. Already, some 400 of his employees are based in Britain and America, ready to bag ever more ambitious projects—with labor paid at Western rates. "You can only do so much with an offshore cost advantage," says Reddi, noting that customers want work done close at hand. Location can trump labor costs, says Reddi. "All the decent players are faced with the same decision."

Competition is helping to force the evolution of India's big players. A clutch of big-name operators has muscled into the business even on India's home territory. IBM Global Services, Accenture and Electronic Data Services now have a combined work force in India of about 100,000. And many nations are entering the outsourcing industry with built-in advantages. The Philippines, for example, has an edge in accounting services because it is well known for producing a generous supply of graduates. Bilingual Mauritius is rebuilding itself as a "cyberisland," and has an edge pitching to corporations that need services delivered in English and French. And new EU members, like Bulgaria and Romania, can help fellow members avoid violating EU regulations on matters like privacy, which insist that certain types of work must be handled inside the Union's borders.

For entrepreneurial Indians, the answer is simple: set up alongside emerging rivals. Look around any promising IT hot spot in Central or Eastern Europe and the Indians are there. Infosys already employs 250 people—almost all recruited locally—at a service center in the Czech city of Brno, handling business in 25 languages. And next month Infosys will open a facility across the border in Poland as part of a $250 million deal with Royal Philips Electronics. "Central Europe can't compete with countries like India on cost alone but it can better meet specific European customers' outsourcing needs due to the local talent and language skills and being in the same time zone," says B. G. Srinivas, the head of Infosys operations in Europe.

Nor are the Indians about to relinquish the low-cost advantage that provided their initial selling point. Inevitably, white-collar Indian salaries are climbing fast, but a staffer in Bangalore will still cost barely a tenth of his counterpart in Baltimore, and a youthful population should prevent serious labor shortages or wage spikes. And when it makes sense, India is now outsourcing the routine work to new outsourcing nations, some (like Vietnam) with even cheaper labor rates than its own. Satyam Computer Services, founded less than 10 years ago, now runs operations centers in Malaysia, Brazil and China and has plans to add more in the Czech Republic, Russia, Vietnam and Thailand. It was perhaps inevitable—Indian offshoring has finally gone offshore. That's the kind of flexibility it needs to stay ahead in this game.

With Katka Krosnar in the Czech Republic
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

bollywood: a primer

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Sept. 2, 2007 - In its heyday from the 1950s through the 1980s, Bollywood produced dozens of beloved films. These classics made superstars out of actors like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Zeenat Aman, Rekha and Amitabh Bachchan—a hero so well-loved the nation came to a standstill when an on-set injury in 1982 left him at death’s door for two months. Colorful song-and-dance spectacles that encompass melodrama, slapstick, high romance and cheap thrills—all in the same three hours—these movies rank second only to yoga among India’s most successful cultural exports. Here’s a primer on some of Bollywood’s best films—including a few from the “New Bollywood.”

Awaara (1951)
Directed by Raj Kapoor
Bollywood bwana Raj Kapoor directed, produced and starred in this melodramatic tale of a boy cast out of his law-abiding home and raised by bandits. When his father, an unforgiving judge, throws out his mother because he suspects her of infidelity, Raj (Raj Kapoor) finds succor with Jagga (K. N. Singh), only to discover years later that Jagga was the one who spread the lies that caused his mother’s disgrace. Enraged, Raj kills Jagga but fails to kill the judge, and is sentenced to years of rigorous imprisonment—by his own dear old Dad (Prithviraj Kapoor). The movie was a sleeper hit abroad in China, Romania, Turkey and Russia, where some still cherish fond memories of its signature song, “Awara Hoon” ("I Am a Tramp").

Mother India (1957)
Directed by Mehboob Khan
Nominated for an Oscar in 1957 in the best foreign film category, this sentimental, patriotic tribute to Indian womanhood stars Nargis as a poverty-stricken village mother whose marriage has left her in the clutches of an unscrupulous local moneylender. Even though her husband abandons her, she spurns the moneylender’s offer to marry her and cancel her debts. In what would become a classic Bollywood trope, one troublemaker son is driven from the village to become a bandit, while the other toils away as a farmer. In the end, the bandit (played by Sunil Dutt) returns to kill the moneylender and steal his daughter. But “Mother India,” who has vowed her son will do no wrong, shoots him and he dies in her arms. In real life, Sunil Dutt and Nargis married a year after the film was released.

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
Directed by K. Asif
This epic period flick about a Mughal emperor and his son took nine years to complete, set the bar for lavish productions and held the all-time box-office record until 15 years after its release. In the film, the Mughal prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) falls in love with a beautiful slave girl named Anarkali (Madhubala) when she dances for him in a palace of mirrors to the song “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya” ("I Have Loved, So What Is There to Fear?"). But when the prince tries to marry the slave, his father, Emperor Akbar, throws the girl in jail. A battle ensues. The prince is defeated and sentenced to death, but the slave girl bargains for his life by offering her own in return.

Padosan (1968)
Directed by Jyoti Swarup
"Cyrano De Bergerac" meets "Romeo and Juliet" meets Milli Vanilli in this tearjerker. Village simpleton Bhola (Sunil Dutt) wins the love of his neighbor Bindu (Saira Banu) with his beautiful songs. The only trouble is, Bhola can’t sing—he’s lip-synching tunes crooned by his buddy Guru (Kishore Kumar). When Bhola finds out he’s lied, she dumps him and decides to marry her music teacher. But Bhola wins her back by faking his suicide. Tears pour, and a wedding ensues.

Sholay (1975)
Directed by Ramesh Sippy
A crackling Bollywood-style Western—chapati Western, some call it—Sholay brings together two lovable crooks, a principled policeman and a ruthless gangster in a tragicomic, action-filled caper. The story of two convicts (Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra) who help a retired policeman capture the ruthless bandit Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) who massacred the policeman’s family, Sholay was loved by audiences so much that one Mumbai theater ran the film for 286 consecutive weeks—more than five years. Even today, millions of Indians can quote rafts of the superstylized dialogue from memory.

Amar, Akbar, Anthony (1977)
Directed by Manmohan Desai
Undoubtedly one of the zaniest Bollywood movies, this film may be the greatest of all the stories to follow the once-beloved “lost and found” formula. With three major stars (Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Rishi Kapoor) and three equally big heroines (Parveen Babi, Shabana Azmi and Neetu Singh), "Amar, Akbar, Anthony" was an old-school blockbuster about the three sons of an ex-convict who are abandoned when their father is forced to flee his old mob boss and their mother goes blind. One son (Amar) is adopted by a Hindu policeman and becomes a policeman himself. Another (Akbar) is raised by a Muslim tailor and becomes a singer. The third (Anthony) is raised by a Catholic priest and becomes a rebellious scofflaw. In the end, the boys are reunited and join forces in fighting, singing and dancing; they find their mother, and take revenge on the evil mob boss—and Mom miraculously regains her sight. Throughout it all, Amitabh Bachchan delivers the goods—tears, guffaws, funny accents, goofy costumes—as Anthony. And the smash song “My Name Is Anthony Gonzalves” remains on most Indians’ list of desert island discs.

Umrao Jaan (1981)
Directed by Muzaffar Ali
Set at the time of the Indian Uprising (or Mutiny, as the British called it) of 1857, this poetic and atmospheric film tells the story of a young girl—Umrao Jaan, portrayed by the incomparably gorgeous Rekha—who is kidnapped by a neighbor and sold to a brothel to be trained as a courtesan. Skilled in poetry, song and dance, she charms the local prince (Farooque Shaikh) but winds up running away with a handsome bandit (Raj Babbar). But when the police kill him and the British attack Lucknow to put down the mutiny, she is forced to flee the city and winds up—can you guess?—back in her old village, where she meets her old mother and younger brother and sings a heartbreaking song.

Mr. India (1987)
Directed by Shekhar Kapoor
Not many non-Indians know that Shekhar Kapoor—a former model in ads for “suitings and shirtings”—directed this crowd-pleasing fantasy before moving to Hollywood to make "Elizabeth." But its goofy comedy and good-natured spoofing of James Bond hijinks made "Mr. India" a smash. The story pits Arun Verma (Anil Kapoor), an orphan who makes his money busking with a violin, against Mogambo (Amrish Puri), a dastardly villain as absurd as Dr. Evil with his own high-tech island. It’s a mismatch until Verma receives a mysterious letter revealing that his late father invented an invisibility cloak. After that, the common man becomes a crimefighting superhero—Mr. India—and takes down Mogambo and his mad scientists.

Hum Aapke Hain Kaun ...! (1994)
Directed by Sooraj R. Barjatya
Perhaps the first of the lavish “family dramas” that became the staple, and then the bane, of Bollywood, "Hum Aapke Hain Koun ...!" ("Who Am I to You") is the story of two Indian families brought together by the (of course) lavish wedding where musclebound pretty boy Salman Khan and curvaceous screen siren Madhuri Dixit meet and fall in love. The three-and-a-half-hour spectacle with 14 songs and big dance numbers is hard to beat.

Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (1995)
Directed by Aditya Chopra
The first and most successful of the “NRI movies” (films featuring, and in part targeting, nonresident Indians), "DDLJ" as it came to be known was a megablockbuster, attracting enough fanatics to keep it running for 600-plus consecutive weeks at one Mumbai theater. Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol play Raj and Siman, Indians living in the U.K. who meet and fall in love on a tour of Europe. But Siman’s father insists that his daughter will have an arranged marriage with the man of his choosing—a pompous, arrogant ass (of course). In a socially regressive turn typical of later NRI movies, Raj refuses to elope with Siman, but insists on convincing her father that he’s the right choice with lots of (smarmy, but in a good way) singing and dancing.

Dil Chahta Hai (2001)
Directed by Farhan Akhtar
Many consider "Dil Chahta Hai" ("What the Heart Desires") to be the spark that began the current stylistic revolution in Bollywood filmmaking. The story of the lives and loves of three friends (Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna) leaving college for the adult world, the movie was the first film to depict India’s modern, urban youth. Though it didn’t do well in the hinterland, it won critical and popular acclaim for its easygoing, realistic humor and its postmodern tributes to classic Bollywood songs. And for the upwardly mobile kids of India’s cities, it provided as seminal a cultural touchstone as the TV series "Friends" did in the U.S.

Lagaan (2001)
Directed by Ashutosh Golwarikar
One of the earliest films to break away from the romance formula, Lagaan tells the story of a 19th-century Indian village under the thumb of a ruthless (and racist) British officer. When the British officer doubles the tax on the village crops despite a ravaging drought, a rebellious villager (Aamir Khan) wagers him that the villagers—who’ve never played before—can beat the legation team at a game of cricket. If the village wins, the tax will be canceled instead of doubled. If the British win, the tax will be tripled. The story unfolds with all the gimmicks of Hollywood’s classic sports flicks, as well as a few Bollywood twists—like the village untouchable whose mangled hand turns out to make him a wicked spin bowler! As usual for Bollywood, the English-language songs were dismal. But the high drama, British villains and terrific Hindi soundtrack made "Lagaan" a moderate success around the Commonwealth.


bollywood takes on hollywood

By Jason Overdorf
Newsweek International

Sept. 10, 2007 issue - Ronnie Screwvala is the front runner in the race to become Bollywood's Jack Warner—the man who began the transformation of parochial U.S. cinema into its modern global form. Yet Screwvala is rarely picked out of a crowd in India, let alone in the United States. But Hollywood insiders know him well, for producing the "The Namesake," the groundbreaking hit about Indian immigrants, and for coproducing a Chris Rock comedy ("I Think I Love My Wife"). Now he is coproducing "The Happening," a new sci-fi thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and directed by M. Night Shyamalan ("The Sixth Sense") that seems destined to vault him into the big leagues. With a budget of $57 million, it will cost as much as 10 Indian blockbusters, setting a new bar for Bollywood. "Our ambition is to be a global Indian entertainment company—there's no reason we can't make big-budget Hollywood movies, too," says Screwvala.

At 45, Screwvala is a stocky, soft-spoken man whose urbane colonial English is a far cry from Jack Warner's notorious bluster. But his innovations are fast putting his Mumbai-based company, UTV Software Communications, on the world map and setting the modern standard of studio efficiency in Bollywood, the way Warner did in Hollywood. A multimedia conglomerate with interests in film, TV, animation and videogame production and distribution is also the closest thing to the diversified Warner Bros. that India has ever seen.

Indeed, over the past five years Screwvala has led the transformation of India's prolific but chaotic film industry. India makes about 1,000 movies a year, including Bollywood's 200-odd Hindi pictures and others in regional languages—about 10 times Hollywood's total. But until recently, every Bollywood movie was an independent film made by a producer-director who ran his operation like a mom-and-pop shop. Deals were cut off the books between film families. Marketing was left to theater owners. And writers scripted scenes on the day of shooting, following stock formulas: brothers separated at birth; village rebel vs. rapacious landlord, or cops vs. robbers. It was considered the height of innovation simply to meld these elements, creating, say, a story about brothers separated at birth who grow up on opposite sides of the law but then ultimately join forces against an evil landlord after much singing, dancing and weeping.

In its heyday, from the 1950s through the early 1980s, Bollywood managed to pack cinemas throughout this movie-crazy country with such fare. But its formulaic plots grew stale at just about the time that TV penetrated middle-class homes. Film revenues virtually stagnated between 1985 and 2000 at about $1 billion annually —less than one third the box office of a single major Hollywood studio. India's poverty and low ticket prices started making foreign markets more alluring. But Bollywood couldn't produce a global hit.

That may finally be changing. Indians are getting wealthier. The younger generation is spending more on entertainment. And innovators like Screwvala have begun professionalizing the business, bringing in outside investors and accounting standards and aggressively marketing films with novel plots. His production company has cut the old three-and-a-half-hour marathons to between 90 and 120 minutes, and has hired Hollywood scriptwriters to make its features more watchable. He's also gone straight to foreign shores—backing Mira Nair's New York-based production of "The Namesake," a story about the Indian diaspora—to prove that his model will work. The film grossed about $14 million at the box office—nearly 95 percent from the United States, more cash than any other Indian production has earned abroad to date.

Indian movies are also enjoying an impressive domestic boom. In 2006, India's film business grossed about $2 billion, up from $1.5 billion in 2004, and PricewaterhouseCoopers forecasts that revenue will leap to more than $4 billion over the next five years. "Our growth rates are much higher than Hollywood's, but in value terms we are way below [the U.S. movie industry]," says Timmy Kandhari, head of PWC's media and entertainment practice. But that will change as ticket prices—which now average less than $1 in India—swiftly catch up with the racing Indian economy.

This anticipated boom has foreign and domestic players scrambling to get in. Disney bought a 15 percent stake in Screwvala's UTV for $14 million in 2006. This year, Viacom inked a 50-50 joint venture with budding news-media mogul Raghav Bahl, head of the Indian entertainment conglomerate Network 18. The venture, called Viacom 18, will produce and distribute TV shows, digital media and (eventually) 10 to 12 movies a year. A separate entity called the Indian Film Company—in which Network 18 and Viacom own stakes—will begin financing about 40 to 45 films a year within three years. Billionaire Anil Ambani's Reliance ADAG conglomerate has acquired a 51 percent stake in a leading movie company called Adlabs Films for a little under $90 million. And three Indian studios held IPOs in London this year, raising a combined $220 million.

That's big money in a nation where until recently the average film budget was only about $150,000, and should dramatically increase the number and quality of Indian films. But very little cash will likely flow into coproductions with Hollywood, an area where Screwvala remains at least several years ahead of his competitors, most of whom still shy away from big Hollywood gambles. Screwvala is contributing $27 million—more than an Indian hit would gross—to the $57 million budget for Shyamalan's "The Happening." But the returns can be huge: "The Sixth Sense," which cost Shyamalan around $40 million to make, grossed nearly $700 million.

Screwvala has more than one wager in play. UTV has also forged coproduction deals with Fox Searchlight and Sony Pictures, and with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment. Hollywood—which requires endless cash injections and has for years been looking for outside funding from sources as diverse as German pensioners and private-equity funds—is only too eager to cut more such deals. "I think [these coproductions] are going to become more common," says Jose L. Rodriguez, Shyamalan's U.S.-based coproducer on "The Happening." "Ronnie is sort of leading the pack."

He's also shaking up Bollywood. Until recently, India's film industry was controlled by a few powerful producer-directors, like Yash Chopra, who enjoyed strong family or personal ties to Bollywood's fickle superstars, many of whom were also related. The heads of these "film families" never worked out a budget in advance and started shooting with only a fraction of the cash they needed in hand. Preproduction was a 20-minute meeting. Writers made up the dialogue as they went along. There were no production schedules or contracts; stars walked in and out of projects at whim. With hundreds of local distributors and tens of thousands of theater owners who habitually underreported box-office returns, it was hard to tell who, if anybody, was making money. "Nobody thought of this as a profit-and-loss [business]," says Screwvala. "They thought of it as a cash-flow [business]. So if a producer-director made a movie and it lost $5 million, but he got advances to make his next movie of $5 million, [in his mind] he'd broken even."

UTV, by contrast, went public on the Mumbai Stock Exchange in 2005, becoming one of the first listed film companies in India and introducing modern methods. The studio spends as long as two years in preproduction selecting scripts and setting casts, budgets and distribution plans. UTV has also taken control of marketing and raised spending to 25 percent of each film's production costs, nearing the Hollywood average (about 50 percent). And UTV shoots pictures in three months—on budget. To improve collections from the foreign market, UTV has avoided selling the overseas distribution rights to its films and built its own distribution network instead, setting up offices in the United States, Canada, Britain and the United Arab Emirates. Now the company is focusing on turning the 20-odd other countries where Bollywood films have established a niche market into a meaningful part of the business.

Screwvala says he shook things up out of necessity. "I was an outsider," he explains. "I hadn't grown up with these stars and directors." The son of a businessman (his father retired as managing director of a cosmetics firm), he was hardly destined for the movies. But after graduating with a degree in commerce from Mumbai University, he cut his teeth in television. He was the first to launch multichannel TV in India, schlepping around to meet with the residents' associations of Mumbai apartment buildings to sell closed-circuit cable at a time when the only other option was a single, state-owned broadcaster. Later, his company produced India's first daily afternoon soap opera, "Shanti." Working with Disney to dub its library of films into Indian languages in 1996 gave Screwvala the idea to try and create a modern, Western-style film company himself.

With little capital and without the family ties needed to attract big stars, he attacked the industry's fringe first. UTV got into film distribution in 1996, and then in 1997 Screwvala produced a typical low-budget Bollywood romance named "Dil Ke Jharoke Main" ("In the Windows of the Heart"). It bombed, convincing Screwvala of the need to work with a new generation of actors, directors and writers who were willing to experiment. UTV then inked deals to coproduce three films with big budgets (for Bollywood) and A-list stars. All three strayed from the Bollywood formulas and laid the foundation for the company's subsequent hits, including "Rang de Basanti"—a realistic film about Delhi youth.

UTV wasn't the first to make innovative movies; director-producer Ram Gopal Varma preceded Screwvala on this count. And Yash Raj Films, the perennial box- office leader, was quick to adopt many of UTV's Hollywood-studio-style practices. But Yash Raj was slow to see the potential of genre-breaking films, making its first such attempt this year with "Chak De," a movie about women's field hockey. This delay let Screwvala harness new-style films to new corporate structures more quickly than his rivals.

Hollywood is impressed. James Lassiter, Will Smith's partner in Overbrook Entertainment, says he and Smith were blown away last year when they met Screwvala in India. "We connected with Ronnie," Lassiter says. "He's more ambitious [than other Bollywood players], the way we're more ambitious [than Hollywood] ... He's smart, he has excellent taste, he has a global perspective and I think ultimately he'll be a big winner in worldwide cinema."

At home, Screwvala has already come a long way. He has crept steadily up the charts to become the second biggest box-office success in Indian film after Yash Raj, which still focuses on romances and big-budget song-and-dance extravaganzas. And Screwvala now takes in more than any of the other big producers from India's film families, many of whom are now scrambling to adopt his basic business model. Where there were once scores of director-producers who made one or two films a year, operating by the seat of their pants, now many of the best directors have been absorbed by the three major studios, which produce eight to 10 films a year. Thanks to the recent IPOs and other deals, three more studios—each with serious financial muscle—will produce their own slates next year.

The next challenge for Bollywood is to branch out into the broader media and entertainment business, which is expected to grow in India from about $11 billion to $25 billion by 2011. Screwvala is building UTV into what he calls a 360-degree media and entertainment company. He already has ventures in animation, gaming and TV content production, and he has eight to 10 TV channels in the works. UTV's animation division is producing four features for the world market this year, including one starring Will Smith and another directed by Simi Nallaseth, one of the animators of "Ice Age." Earlier this year, UTV acquired a British videogame company called Ignition Entertainment Ltd. Ignition is set to release Wardevil, a high-end game for the Sony's PS3, in 2008 and hopes to turn it into the linchpin of a multimedia franchise. UTV is also partnering with Richard Branson's Virgin Comics on a line of superheroes based on Indian mythology.

UTV can expect plenty of competition, with many big Indian media players now seeking out foreign partners and new markets. With Viacom's backing and marketing muscle, Network 18 is also building a media and entertainment empire. Apart from its fast-growing film operation, it is already one of the biggest players in Internet content and TV broadcasting, where it has teamed up with NBC Universal and Time Warner as well as Viacom. With its dominance in TV news, it could soon play News Corp. to UTV's Warner Bros. Deep-pocketed Reliance ADAG, one of India's biggest conglomerates, is going into satellite broadcasting, launching 45 radio stations, and recently established a second film production company, Big Motion Pictures, to complement its majority stake in Adlabs.

It's difficult to predict where the deal making will end. Hollywood, which has been going global for the past several decades, now earns more than 60 percent of its revenue abroad. While it's tough to imagine Indian films ever developing as broad a global market, the PricewaterhouseCoopers projections show the ticket sales for Indian productions rising fastest outside India, even as its increasingly wealthy middle class heads to the box office at home for more unconventional fare. Meanwhile, Bollywood seems set to continue its development as a financier and marketer of global products—whether created at home or abroad. As the muscle of the new media titans like Screwvala increases, it won't be long before they truly become household names—in India and beyond.
© 2007 Newsweek, Inc.