Reliance Entertainment still bets in Hollywood while DreamWorks struggle in box offic

Ravi budhwar

21 Apr 2011
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In early 2009, Reliance Entertainment stomped into Hollywood, sprinkling millions of dollars on a raft of movie deals with A-list stars such as Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Jim Carrey and Julia Roberts.

The next act was the purchase of 50% in Steve Spielberg's DreamWorks Studios. The Indian entertainment industry celebrated the moves, lauding Reliance for stepping out of the comfort zone of the insular Hindi cinema. Hollywood took note of the arrival of a loaded Indian conglomerate.

Nearly three years later, the Anil Ambani company is still waiting for its Hollywood gamble to pay off. Reliance's moves actually echo a movie tipped for a sackful of Oscar statues but returned empty-handed. The funding deals with stars to develop scripts are yet to fructify into a single movie and DreamWorks has been thus far struggling at the box office.

Phil Contrino, editor,, says a project that sounds good on paper doesn't end up being a hit. "Only audiences can decide that." This reality is often difficult for investors to swallow, he says.

Particularly worrying for Reliance must be the shoddy performance of DreamWorks, its biggest Hollywood investment at $325 million, at the box office. At the time of investment, Ambani said the partnership "is the cornerstone of our Hollywood strategy".

Mixed Fortunes

But the studio has had an eminently forgettable year, barely breaking even on Real Steel, which recently scaled $200 million worldwide. DreamWorks lost nearly $30 million on Cowboys and Aliens, panned severely by critics. Its Fright Night joined the list of underperformers.

Earlier, Dinner for Schmucks only managed to haul back its budget while the sci-fi thriller I Am Number Four's collections were, well, decent. The lone bright spot has been the sleeper hit The Help, made on a shoestring, by Hollywood standards, budget of $25 million, but raked in $189 million.

"We are yet to receive any feedback on Reliance making money from Hollywood," says trade analyst Amod Mehra. The entertainment industry is abuzz with reports that senior Reliance executives are disappointed with the way the Hollywood push has shaped up. "Reliance is still waiting for a game-changer in the US," says a Bollywood insider familiar with the matter.

Another person familiar with Reliance's movie operations hinted that there is friction between the company and DreamWorks because of the results so far. Reliance has also ended many deals with stars and is pulling out money from "unviable" contracts, the person said, asking not to be named.

A Reliance spokesman denied that there is any strain between his company and DreamWorks. "Everything is absolutely fine." He said though Cowboys and Aliens didn't do well, it was made up with The Help. The perception that the movie deals are not doing well is wrong, he said.

"Scripts take time and a three-year hiatus is pretty normal in Hollywood, considering how finicky the stars are about projects." The first project with Tom Hanks will be out next year and a script with Jim Carrey is ready, he said.

Doing Well at Home

Despite Reliance's assertions, Hollywood media company TheWrap recently confirmed that Reliance has stopped putting money into deals with stars. It quoted a veteran Hollywood dealmaker saying the company has "been unhappy for a while now".
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