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Lagaan leaps over the Great Wall

Mumbai, Oct. 28: Lagaan is to debut in Chinese cinema halls soon, becoming the first Bollywood film in recent years to do so.

“It is going to be released in theatres in China, though the date has not been finalised,” said a Sony spokesperson. Sony is the distributor abroad for Aamir Khan’s Oscar-nominated home production, but Columbia Tristar, with which Sony has tied up, will distribute the film in China.

“The film will be sub-titled in Chinese, but we are yet to decide how many prints will be sent, or how many halls it will release at. The details should be clear by end of next week,” the spokesperson added.

With this, Lagaan scores another breakthrough. Beijing, with its strict censorship laws, still does not welcome every cultural export with open arms.

“This is one of the first major Hindi films to be released in China,” says Chandra Kant Mehta, a leading film exporter. “Previously, there were four-five films, like Akayla,” he adds, but they were not high-profile ones and did not leave much of a mark.

Lagaan, expected to bring in big money, will also be an ambassador in China for the Indian film industry. Because several film exporters are seriously looking at the neighbouring country as a new — and huge — market for Indian films.

Thanks to these exporters, Beijing has been opening up to Bollywood, slowly over the past one or two years, with videos, VCDs and screening on television of Indian films trickling in.

“We started to export Indian films to China in April, but in videos and VCDs,” says Mehta, one of the first to have looked at the market. “Before that it was even more difficult. The Chinese authorities would accept only the negatives of the movie, which they would develop into 35 mm films,” he says, adding one of his employees is now in Beijing to negotiate a deal with the government, through which the films have to be passed.

“We are hoping to release 25 films on video within three months in China,” says Mehta. “We only get $2,000-3,000 per film now.”

But with Lagaan, the industry is hopeful that other films will also have a big screen showing and bring in bigger profits.

Madhu Entertainment and Media Pvt Ltd, too, is looking at China’s green pastures. One of the early birds, they spoke to Chinese authorities one-and-a-half years ago, but began the export eight months back.

The export house feels Chinese authorities mainly object to the violence in Indian movies. The previous system of having to submit the negative of the film was another deterrent, it adds.

Films remain India’s chief cultural export, the market doubling last year and growing phenomenally this year.

The UK, the US and the UAE are the main markets for Indian (Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam) films. The export of Indian films to the US and the UK is estimated at $10 million. Given the “universality” of Bollywood and China’s huge population, who knows where China will figure in the coming years'

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