With its A-list stars, air kisses and endless red carpets, the Cannes Film Festival is not famous for thrift. That could change today as a host of Bollywood producers descend on the Riviera, hoping to woo global audiences with cheap Indian movies spiced with dashes of Western talent.
Among the titles looking for distributors is Teen Patti, a thriller featuring Sir Ben Kingsley, the British actor perhaps best known for playing Gandhi, and Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood star, as mathematics professors.
The film, which is set in the world of high-stakes gambling, has been made for $7.5 million (£5 million), a pittance in Hollywood terms. It was shot in Mumbai, London and Cambridge by the producer Ambika Hinduja, a member of India’s wealthy Hinduja family. She says that the project is “globalised cinema” a genre epitomised by the darling of last year’s festivals, Slumdog Millionaire, made for £15 million, but which went on to take £225 million at the box office.
Like Slumdog, Teen Patti has dialogue in English and Hindi and an austere budget. “Teen Patti has been made for a world audience,” Ms Hinduja said. “Producing it in India lowered costs, which helped us assemble an array of global talents.”
As well as Sir Ben, who is thought to be the first Oscar-winner to act in a Bollywood film, Western contributors include Hughes Winborne, who won an Academy Award for editing the Hollywood blockbuster Crash.
Other modestly budgeted Bollywood films have equally lofty ambitions of broaching cultural barriers. The romance Kites pairs Hrithik Roshan, one of India’s most bankable leading men, with Barbara Mori, an actress who has a massive following in Latin America after appearing in Mexican soap operas.
With dialogue in Hindi, Spanish and English, it is hoped that the film, which was shot in New Mexico and cost about $30 million to make, will draw audiences in South America as well as South Asia. The budget was kept in check by doing all the post-production work in India, a route increasingly being taken by Hollywood to slash costs.
The film will be released in two versions: a full-blown Bollywood rendering with song-and-dance numbers for India, and a much shorter international edition without the dancing, to appeal to overseas sensibilities. Several other East-West collaborations are likely to be discussed at Cannes, including Kambakkht Ishq, a rom-com starring Akshay Kumar, India’s favourite action hero, and the actress Kareena Kapoor.
It marks the Bollywood debut of Sylvester Stallone, who appears along with Brandon Routh, who played the last cinematic incarnation of Superman, and Denise Richards, a former Bond girl. “For us to have Rocky, Superman and a Bond girl in one film — it must be destiny,” said the producer Sajid Nadiadwala.
Hits Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977) Budget: $11m; US box office: $178m. Stars were offered a cut of the profits as payment. The movie became the second-highest grossing film Halloween (1978) Budget: $325,000; US box office: $47m. This teen horror flick starred Jamie Lee Curtis, then unknown.
Blair Witch Project (1999) Budget: $35,000; US box office: $460m. Shot entirely on a handheld camera in the woods of Maryland using unknown actors, the horror film was marketed primarily on the internet And misses . . . Waterworld (1995) Estimated budget $175m; US box office gross: $88m.
An infamous flop, the tale set after the melting of the polar ice cap only clawed back production costs with video sales Cutthroat Island (1995) Budget: $92m; US box office: $10m. The pirate movie listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest US box office flop. It bankrupted Carolco, the production company behind Terminator 2. Town and Country (2001) Budget: $90m; US box office: $9m. This comedy, starring Warren Beatty, had an original budget of $44m.