Hollywood should bet on India over China in the long term, according to Chris Dodd, the Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Speaking to Business Standard on the sidelines of the inaugural Asian Film Summit at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, during September 6-16, Dodd said, “We talk about China a lot, but actually India, in many ways, is in the long run a better market because I think the Indian audience and the government of India have no problem accepting films that challenge institutions public or private, and tell stories that are edgy.”
Since taking the top job at the MPAA last year, Dodd, a former US Senator and Democratic presidential candidate, has focused on Asia as a rapidly growing market for Hollywood. Until recently, he said, India was not even a part of MPAA’s Asian portfolio. Since he took over, most of his travels have been to Asia, including a visit to Mumbai in March to keynote the FICCI FRAMES conference for the entertainment industry.
Dodd pointed out that India sells the most movie tickets in the world every year – 3.3 billion – and the Indian film industry was poised to hit the $5-billion mark in two years. He said co-production between India and the US offered “tremendous opportunities”, noting that Indian filmmakers knew how to produce high quality films at a low price, given that the most expensive Indian film had cost about $20 million.
But he cautioned that the country had to provide a “sense of predictability” to investors. “If it’s unclear what the rules are and they change momentarily, it’s going to be very difficult to get serious capital to show up,” Dodd said. He also pointed to the challenges of “navigating the Indian political and economic structure”.
That’s an area he is used to dealing with, having served as a co-chair of the India Caucus in the US Senate, as well as a long time member of the chamber’s Foreign Relations Committee, and he referred to his earlier conversations with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his time in the Senate.
Dodd said the film industry needed to employ a combination of technology and education to tackle piracy, noting that films were often “shared or stolen” within 24 hours of their release in India. He said filmmakers were making progress on the technological front: “I think they are getting more sophisticated, being able to create a product that is almost impossible to duplicate.” But, he added, it was also important to reduce the incentives for piracy. “Part of it is creating a price point so you can afford that product based on the incomes that exist in a place like India,” he said. Dodd also called for educating audiences that piracy would hurt not only multi-millionaires in the film world, but also “the technicians, the average people who work in the industry”.
While the Indian market offered a lot of potential, Hollywood had to learn to “walk before you run”, said Dodd. “The same models don’t work everywhere.” He felt Indian audiences had only recently started accepting American films. “There are no restrictions in India, you can bring in all the American and Canadian movies you want but there’s not much of an audience for them,” he said. “Now that’s changing, but in the past it was kind of its own world.”
Dodd is also beginning to discover Indian cinema. He admitted, he was “not as familiar as I should be” with Indian films. But he has a plan, he promised: “There are now theatres in Arlington, Virginia, that are just dedicated to Indian films, so I’m making it a point to see more of them to develop an appreciation for the films. That’s part of my learning curve.”Business Standard
- Dodd on China: ‘Walk before you can run’ (variety.com)
- China censors Chinese villains from Men in Black 3 (chinadailymail.com)
- In China, Foreign Films Meet a Powerful Gatekeeper (chinadailymail.com)