I have been receiving emails from readers with many compelling ideas for the Vision India 2020 series. Particularly interesting are opportunities in Healthcare and Green Transportation. I will get to those later in the series.
In the next few columns, however, I want to discuss some opportunities that build upon the concepts we have discussed already. In particular, let me draw your attention back to two previous columns, Renaissance and Elixar.
In Renaissance, we built a venture around the concept of preserving heritage buildings and rejuvenating them through a hospitality enterprise.
In Elixar, we built an animation film company using Indian stories and backdrops and focused on the historical and mythological genres.
As we researched those two opportunities, a third opportunity became evident: a regular film company using similar “period” stories set in exotic locations all over India to bring alive the classical Indian way of life for Western audiences.
My model for Framed Ivory Films drew from a combination of prior experiments. Merchant Ivory Films, for example, often focused on Victorian and Edwardian Britain, and made period films based on stories by Forster and others. Pradeep Sarkar and Sanjay Leela Bansali made Parineeta and Devdas, respectively, in Bollywood. Rituparno Ghosh made a rather poor rendition of Chokher Bali in Bengali. Deepa Mehta made the splendid Water. Ashutosh Gowarikar made the lovely Jodha Akbar set in Rajasthan. Meera Nair made an atrocious Kamasutra with beautiful cinematography.
None of these films, except Kamasutra, were in English, and my observation was that with the growing global interest in India, an audience was developing worldwide that wanted to experience the magnificent India. The “poor India” was already well-known through the City of Joy-type stories.
I wanted to focus Framed Ivory on capturing the India that had style, culture, architecture and color, but with films that did not have seven songs and a three- to four-hour run time. The stories also had to be told in a fast-paced, Hollywood style, for which, like Elixar, we brought in screenwriters from Los Angeles to work with our Indian production team.We came up with a simple formula: each of our films had to be within a $2 million budget, and had to gross a minimum of $20 million, a 10x return on investment.
At the back of my mind was Meera Nair’s delightful comedy, Monsoon Wedding, which was made on a production budget of $160,000 and grossed over $30 million at the box office. The film was in English, and I believe that opened up Indian film to a whole new audience that another powerful film, Water, made in Hindi, was not able to access.
We also used several tricks, the most important being “dubbing”. Many Indian actors and actresses spoke English with a heavy accent. For films to be commercially successful internationally, they needed to be understandable. So, we did what Rituporno Ghosh had done with Aisharya Rai and Raima Sen in Chokher Bali – dubbed their voices such that clean, polished Bengali came out of Rai and Sen’s beautiful mouths. Well, in our Framed Ivory films, clean, accent-free English flowed out of the mouths of the Indian actors and actresses without hesitation.
For stories, we went first to the territory where I was the most comfortable: Bengali classics. Tagore, Saratchandra, Bankimchandra, Tarashankar, Sharadindu, Bimal Mitra. Even modern writers like Bani Basu, Sunil Ganguly, Budhhadeb Guha and others had written period stories worth filming.
We also got original screenplays written against the backdrops of Rajasthan, Agra, Lucknow, Ujjain, Hyderabad, the Himalayas, among others.
Finally, Indian actors and actresses were playing on the world stage, telling stories of their culture.
In 2010, we produced one film. It was based on Bankimchandra Chattarjee’s Debi Chaudhurani, my all-time favorite classic featuring a profoundly enigmatic bandit queen. The two-hour English-language film was directed by Sandeep Ray, who realized his father Satyajit Ray’s dream of making a film based on that story. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and grossed $43 million.
In 2011, we did two films. One was Sharadindu Bandopadhyay’s Zinder Bandi (Prisoner of Zind) and the second was Bankimchandra’s Kapalkundala. Each grossed a neat $35 million.In 2012, we did Bimal Mitra’s Shaheb Bibi o Golam, Saratchandra’s Srikanta, Bankimchandra’s Rajsingha (set in Rajasthan), Dinabandhu Mitra’s Nil Darpan (set against the backdrop of the Indigo revolution), and Narayan Sanyal’s Sutanuka (set in Khajuraho). The five films grossed a total of over $250 million.
We were working with several major directors from India and abroad, and each brought their own nuances, while staying within the basic framework of tightly edited two-hour English-language films with Indian period settings that showcased the rich heritage of the culture.
By 2015, Framed Ivory Films had become an international sensation. We clearly had a following, and it became easier and easier to market because we could always count on a core audience that waited for our films. To an audience tired of consuming the same ol’ Hollywood fodder, we brought something unique, exciting, and rich with layers of texture that only an ancient culture such as India could offer.
In 2020, we look back and see that we have created a new genre of cinema and built a billion-dollar film enterprise that has unveiled India – an unknown India – to the world. Others are building upon our work with English-language thrillers set in India, espionage films, adventure films … you name it. The Chinese, meanwhile, have their own version of Framed Ivory. They call it Ivory Dragon.
A call to Indian entrepreneurs everywhere, Vision India 2020 challenges and inspires readers to build the future now. In this “futuristic retrospective,” author Sramana Mitra shows how over the next decade, start-up companies in India could be turned into billion-dollar enterprises. Vision India 2020, which encompasses a wide range of sectors from technology to infrastructure, healthcare to education, environmental issues to entertainment, proves how even the most sizeable problems can be solved by exercising bold, ambitious measures. Renowned in the business world, author Sramana Mitra conceived Vision India 2020 from her years of experience as a Silicon Valley strategy consultant and entrepreneur. Well aware of the challenges facing today’s aspiring entrepreneurs, Mitra provides strategies, business models, references, and comparables as a guide to help entrepreneurs manifest their own world-changing ideas.
This segment is a part in the series : Vision India 2020