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Some splash, some ripple

As "Swimming Pool" opens in Delhi this week, MANJULAA NEGI gives an insight into the commerce involving the stimulating cinema.


TO AN ordinary mortal struggling to earn bread and butter on the streets, it does seem inconceivable that someone out there is willing to put in money to the tune of several lakhs (perhaps crores in some cases) in importing, distributing and exhibiting a foreign film and then lose more than 50 per cent of it? However, one makes the fine distinction between cinema that is brought down from Hollywood and films that emanate from other well-known filmmaking nations like China, Germany and France. Why would a sure-shot losing proposition attract anyone at all? That is the question that one seeks to answer when foreign films like "Chocolat," "Run Lola Run," "Taxi" and now "Swimming Pool" - undoubtedly, one of the finest thrillers to come out of Frenchmen Francois Ozon's repertoire - is ready for commercial release in India on this coming Friday.

Acclaim or profit

While the same film may have done phenomenally well in markets like the U.S., the U.K. and Singapore and garnered critical acclaim (it was one of the nominees for the Golden Palm in 2004 and also won the Best Supporting Actress for Ludivine Sagnier at the French Cesars) it certainly isn't any guarantee that the Indian cine-goer will appreciate it and it will succeed too.

"Well, one acquired the film a couple of years ago definitely with profit in mind and given its success abroad, but the delay in its release (partly because of the censors who began by demanding 14 cuts and then worked their way down to seven) is likely to affect its business here," admits Jiten Hemdev of Star Entertainment who is distributing the film in the country. "We had planned to release in June 2004 but the censors held it up because of scenes of nudity. But we went to the Tribunal and pleaded our case that the scenes were aesthetically presented and therefore should be allowed." But aesthetic or not, nudity means just one thing to the average Indian cine-goer. He is lured to the big screen not because of contextual correctness but because `it is nudity'. And in spite of that, there is no guaranteeing the film's success - not even a fine murder mystery like "Swimming Pool" which has the well-known French actress Charlotte Rampling playing the lead can hope to garner enough.

Says Aditya Khanna of Chanakya who has brought in such films previously and has had partial success with his products, "Film is largely a speculative business. One reason why independent producers bring in these foreign films is because they get them at throwaway prices. You will also find that a regular Indian distributor regularly finds newer pastures. The industry is inundated with people who think they have got it made. What they don't realise is that if a film has worked for some other distributor in the past, it doesn't necessarily mean that the same equation will apply to them as well."

Often (read roughly 97 per cent of the time) it doesn't turn out to be like that. Once in a while a film like "Chocolat" is brought in for profiling a brand. A big player like PVR which brought in the film isn't likely to fold up business and go home if the film doesn't work so it's alright if the film loses money, which incidentally the Johnny Depp-Juliette Binoche starrer did. But it worked wonders for the branding of the multiplex. Which isn't what can be said for the rest of the smaller fish in the pond. Clearly they need to look before they leap.

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