General News | 5 August 2008 13:03 CET

India eyes Nigeria as new market for films

By Neelam Verjee

The Indian film industry would get a chance to capitalize on the export of its professional expertise.

London: First, Bollywood had its eye on Hollywood—and vice versa—so the world's two largest film industries began inking deals to share stars, studios and resources.

Now, India is looking a notch below to the third largest player: Nigeria, which churns out 2,000 movies a year and likens itself to where Bollywood was a decade ago. And its nickname fits right in to complete the triumvirate: Nollywood.
In October, a delegation from India's film fraternity plans a trip to Lagos, Nigeria, to forge closer links. The Indians hope to tap a new overseas market for their movies, while the Nigerians are trying to better organize their production houses and gain more technical expertise, as they look to evolve along the lines of India's fledgling studio system.

B.R. Chopra, the Indian director and producer of movies and television serials, including Mahabharat, has joined forces with the UK-based Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) to create new revenue streams from Africa's most prolific film industry by helping build its distribution networks and share ideas.

Chopra and his son Ravi Chopra are among the representatives who will meet top Nigerian film-makers, including Zeb Ejiro, whose directoral credits include A Night in the Philippines and Extreme Measure, along with members of the government and financial investors.

“This is a real chance for Bollywood to play a major role in shaping the Nigerian industry,” says Mohal Kaul, director general of CBC, a membership of Commonwealth nations that promotes trade and investment. “Nigeria has realized that as far as the quality of films and professional knowledge goes, they need to improve on that.” Kaul noted that a tie-up would present the Indian film industry with an opportunity to penetrate new markets, as well as to capitalize on the export of its professional expertise. He added that culturally, Nollywood and Bollywood were linked through themes explored and values espoused in the films.

The $500 million (Rs2,115 crore) Nigerian film industry came into being in 1992 with Living in Bondage, a crudely made home video that served as a morality tale to ordinary Nigerians, and went on to sell more than 500,000 copies in VHS tapes, making it Nollywood's first-ever blockbuster. Productions from Nollywood, which is the oil-rich country's second biggest employer, are usually home-made affairs and are shot on a hand-held camera in one, or two weeks at a cost of around $15,000.

A film is likely to sell between 25,000 and 50,000 copies, with witchcraft coming in as most popular theme among audiences, closely followed by religion, family conflict, corruption, romance, prostitution and HIV/AIDS.
The industry has been tipped as one of the forces that will help to define Nigeria's growth this year, according to the US ad agency JWT (formerly J. Walter Thompson), which credits entrepreneurship and digital technology for the rapid growth of the industry over the last 13 years, despite challenges such as minimal budgets and hostile working conditions.
Observers have suggested that the Nigerian film industry currently resembles the Indian industry a decade ago, prior to it being awarded industry status, which resulted in legitimizing funding sources, and a surge in investment and talent.
Even so, despite the ready audience in the Indian diaspora, distribution networks are weak and the industry remains largely unorganized.

“This presents a huge opportunity for the Indian industry to create distribution networks for the Nigerian industry,” says Sanmit Arora, an Indian investor in the Nigerian film industry. “It could also mean collaboration on film projects between the two industries.”

Talks over the tie-up between Bollywood and Nollywood come as CBC's global investment arm prepares to launch a $100 million film fund, in conjunction with B.R. Chopra, to attract international investment into Indian film productions.
“This venture is important because of the positive impact it would have on Nollywood and Nigeria,” says Matthias Obahiagbon, chief operating officer of the Nollywood Business Forum and a filmmaker himself, specifically citing production, distribution and technical support. “It will encourage investment and collaboration in Nigerian films.”
CBC sent out information memoranda to potential investors this week, primarily UK investment funds, and aims to have raised the full amount by December, according to Kaul.

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