By Saroj Mohanty, IANS,
New Delhi : Filmmakers and studios in India can look forward to breaking into the booming and yet highly restricted film market in China with a co-production agreement the two countries may sign and changing atmospherics as the new leadership in that country promises a more open economy, leaving the door ajar for business.
China follows a stringent annual "great wall" quota policy under which only a limited number of foreign films can be exhibited in the country. And, not surprisingly, Hollywood films get most of the quota, leaving Indian films to private viewing, mostly through DVDs of pirated copies.
In fact, trade and industry lobbies like FICCI have been demanding greater access for Indian films in China saying they can, besides enlarging the entertainment business market, to an extent correct the growing trade imbalance with that country.
Sources say the two countries have of late found the "strategic synergies" for a co-production treaty that aims to give national status to films from both the nations, and preference for screenings and shooting locations.
India has co-production treaties with Britain, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland and Spain.
Trade and industry sources say there are five ways foreign films enter China: films under the revenue sharing quota, movies under the flat free quota, co-productions, inputs for TV, especially movie channel CCTV-6, and imports for online video.
Among these, co-productions are exempt from the quota rule, which give filmmakers and studios a better chance at releasing films in that country if they can find a local partner.
China today is the world's second biggest film market after the US. Domestic box office receipts reached $2.13 billion (13.27 billion yuan) in the first 10 months of 2012, rising 40 percent from a year earlier.
China watchers say the film market is going to open further as the demand for entertainment by the middle class is rising.
Also, the once-in-a-decade leadership transition that took place earlier this month may augur well for overseas film makers. Xi Jinping, the new Communist party chief who would become president in March, is a "pragmatic" leader under whom opportunities could spin off as the country is looking to create stakes in Indian businesses.
And he is said to be a film buff, a fan of movies like Saving Private Ryan.
A high point of Xi's early political career was the building of a studio and elaborate film set in Zhengding in Hebei to help develop tourism in the largely rural province.
In February after he visited studios at Los Angeles China opened its market to more foreign films.
The change in policy came out of a 2009 case filed by the US at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) saying it was being kept out of the booming market.
Tian Jin, deputy head of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), said earlier this month that the increasing number of foreign film imports "shows that China has kept its promise to the WTO regarding opening up the film market and foreign films having a smooth channel into China".
Bollywood, so far obsessed with courting the diaspora, has begun "looking east" as a lucrative market, particularly after Vidhu Vinod Chopra's coming-of-age comedy "3 Idiots" reportedly raked in $2.9 million.
"The desire to go global has taken shape," said Ashutosh Gowarikar at the recent Doha festival.
Industry experts say joint productions could be the best way at the moment to take Indian films to China.
"Both the Asian countries have a lot of things in common. We see a lot of potential for collaboration," said Zhang Yimou.
"In China, a lot of young people watch Bollywood films. The Indian market is very attractive for our movies," the celebrated Chinese director said at the October Mumbai Film Festival.
Some Chinese filmmakers have indicated the need to win audiences in newer markets like India.
Marketing experts say films like "Chandni Chowk to China" and "My name is Khan" were produced and distributed by US studios like Warner Brothers which could help in cracking the Chinese market for Bollywood. Jackie Chan's "the Myth" was shot in location in India.
"When bees are in a process of seeking honey, what happens? Pollination happens. When people seek to make films, they make culture, and culture influences people," said Peter Shiao, chief executive of Orb Media Group, in the context of US-China co-production, at an Asia Society film summit at the University of California.
The same could be said about India and China. With more than 30 years of economic prosperity, China has begun focussing on its cultural space. At the recently concluded 18th party congress, delegates called for reforming and developing culture industry and strengthening its soft power.
Films are one of the most popular Indian exports to China and can build trust between the two nations and be a stakeholder in the evolving Sino-Indian cooperation, say observers.
(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at [email protected])