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Mumbai firm eyes Tolly quality pie

The big screen is big business. Even in Bengal. Joining the line of “organised” producers taking the Tollywood plunge is Maple Films. The Mumbai-based company is set to start rolling with a docu-feature, slated to hit the floors by August.

To revive “the golden age of Bengali films of the 60s and 70s”, the company — involved mainly in the service sector, with insurance, healthcare and finance in its portfolio — has its sights set on producing around four to six Bengali films a year. “Urban films” — led by high-quality scripts and production design — are priority.

“We are looking at commercial films to appeal to domestic markets, as well as off-beat films targeted at non-resident Bengalis, to begin with,” says K.K. Bhaumik, chairman, Maple. The “greenhorns” in the entertainment industry, after their formal launch in the city on Wednesday, are confident that, by 2006, things will look up in local cinema, despite the current slump. “We believe that the industry is doing badly now due to poor-quality products,” says Debasish Mitra of Maple.

Maple Films is eyeing a significant piece of the industry pie. Cinema, according to company-quoted figures, accounts for “24 per cent” of the “Rs 17,000-crore Indian entertainment business”. The margins in this business are much higher than those in other fields.

In terms of viewership, too, Maple is bullish. Besides the domestic market, the international Bengali and Bangladeshi markets have “massive” potential, if the product “clicks”.

Two films are on the anvil for 2003. Sangeeta Datta, a UK-based filmmaker who assisted Rituparno Ghosh in Chokher Bali, will be directing the first venture, a semi-fictional look at the festivals of Bengal. The other will be a feature venture, which has not yet been finalised.

“We are looking at new, upcoming directors, as well as established ones. We want to work with people who can work professionally, sticking to deadlines,” adds Bhaumik.

“Festival films” are to be a regular. “Surveys conducted on preferences of Bengalis abroad have shown they are keen to watch such films. And not just on Durga Puja. They want films about the smaller festivals, like charak and jamaisashthi,” explains the chairman of the three-year-old company. An independent distribution network is not to be launched immediately, so the film unit is considering alternative routes to make their films available to foreign audiences — including television and video release.

Maple Films is also interested in producing television, travel and children’s films, though the main focus is feature films. An international platform for Bengali folk music is also part of the company’s plans. Hindi movies may follow, but only once it has established itself in the regional markets, including possible ventures in the Northeast.

To boost production values, studios — for shooting and recording— and open-air theatres figure in Maple’s second phase of operations. Tie-ups with the government and co-productions with foreign agencies are also a possibility.

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