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International Sales Agent of Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries): UTV

by Sydney Levine
January 17, 2011 1:30 AM
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Dhobi Ghat means "washing area" which explains so much more of this beautiful film than "Mumbai Diaries".



The washing area epitomizes the man who washes and delivers laundry to a reclusive artist and also to a rich young American Indian photographer who meets and spends a night with the artist. The Mumbai Diaries epitomize a woman whose video diary is discovered by the artist when he moves into his new apartment, an artifact she left behind, and the photographs of Shai, whose father owns buildings in the neighborhood where the story of these four people takes place. This is a very special, unusually "western" story, not like the usual commercial fare produced by and starring one of India's biggest stars Aamir Khan whose 3 Idiots was India's biggest grosser and whose Laagan was nominated in the Best Foreign Lanague Film category for the 2001 Academy Awards.

This film was the debut of Karan Rao ♀ who produced Peepli Live in the World Cinema Competition at Sundance 2010 with rave reviews. She worked as assistant director on Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding, winner of Venice Film Festival's Golden Lion. Not only is this her first film, but the actors, aside from Aamir Khan who plays the artist, are all newcomers as well. Monica Dogra is a Maryland raised musician labeled an Ambassador of 'The New India' and was actually cast through Facebook. Her fame after graduating NYU's prestigious music performance program led to Carnegie Hall and today her band S+F has been named one of India's favorite bands by VH1. Kriti Malhotra produces and directs MTV's StyleCheck, a sashion based show. Prateik is the son of Bollywood stars, was trained as a professional criketer and has moved toward film via TV commercials, has played a cameo role previously, and is now poised to break into leading roles as a result of Dhobi Ghat.

Also unusual is that the composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, composed the music for 21 Grams and has won two consecutive Academy Awards for Best Original Score and consecutive Golden Globe Nominations for Babel and Brokeback Mountain.

But the most unusual aspect of this deeply moving film is that the direct Karan Rao is the wife of Aamir Khan.

I wrote this script a few years ago with two ideas as starting points...One grew out of the personal experience I've had as a tenant in Mumbai, having had to shift to a new apartment almost every year (due to short term tenancy laws). Every new apartment I moved to always felt a little warm from the last occupant, leading to the idea that I was in some strange way connected to the people that had lived in the space before me and would thereafter. What if they had left behind somehing that revealed to me their life and secrets? The second idea was to examine whether it's really possible in a country riddled with class and caste prejudice for an upper class girl to have a relationship with a boy from a disadvantaged background.

Aamir Khan's story of the film is the best part of the back story of this film and I quote him here verbatim:

When my wife Kiran told me that she was working on a script I was most apprehensive. One of these days the script would be complete and I would have to read it. If the script did not work for me then things would get most uncomfortable between us. Every time she mentioned she was working on it I prayed that she would not complete it, and in time would abandon it. Doesn’t sound like a very supportive husband I’m afraid, but I am known to have a strong survival instinct.

Well, finally the day did dawn when she confronted me with a spiral-bound file.
I figured I needed numbers on my side, someone to back me when I gave it a thumbs-down. With that in mind I suggested we travel to Coonoor where my cousin, and filmmaker, Mansoor lives. "Mansoor and I will hear the script narration together", I said. I have often used Mansoor as a shield, as he has me.

So, Mansoor, Tina (his wife) and I sat down one afternoon to hear the first narration of Dhobi Ghat. From the first scene itself the script just sucked me in. I was falling in love with the characters, loved the dialogue and voice of each person, was struck by the fine, silken threads that made the narrative and was moved to tears by the end.

All three of us loved it, and I fell in love with K, once again.

Kiran has been an absolute delight to work with. As a producer and as an actor,
I feel most safe in her hands. She has clarity, sensitivity and an ability to bring the best out in her team, which makes her a leader I am happy to follow.

I recognize superior talent when I see it and it always makes me happy and it inspires me. When I see that talent in my life partner it makes me feel very
proud and secure.

Kiran’s choice of cast and crew has been most invigorating for someone like me who has been working in films for over two decades. As a producer it is very rare to work with a team, ...ALL of whom are so talented, passionate, committed and with the right attitude towards cinema.

Thank you guys.

Readers, please excuse the length of this article. The film was exceptional, what is going on in the Indian film world is intensely interesting to me as well. I wrote about UTV as an international sales agent during Cannes.

And now I want to write about UTV as a U.S. distributor and what is the distribution plan for this film, again unique. My discussion about this was with Lokesh Dhar, senior vice president, UTV motion pictures (U.S.A.). India's reception of this film won't be "normal". It is not commercial as expected of Aamir Khan's films. He is playing against stereotype here. The release is next Friday and it is an internaitonal day and date release. It will play in India in urban centers where there is a market with fewer prints. It is not a film for the masses in a country where movies enjoy an almost "basic need of survival" status. In the U.S., it is seen as a specialty film but not with the huge crossover potential of Slumdog Millionaire.

The World Cup Cricket Competition is being hosted by India for the first time in 15 years and so the release date has been put before this event which will have everyone's attention once it starts. January 21 is not good date in the U.S. because of the Academy Awards but there is not choice because India is the largest market for this film and it must go out day and date in order to combat piracy. Theaters in the diaspora are the same that show Hollywood films but the geography is in the cities with large populations of Southeast Asians. As everyone knows, America is not particularly partial to subtitles (and especially when they are not French!). India makes many films in English and in many other native languages but its people who get 2 weeks vacation a year are not prone to travel the world and so are also not very interested in other cultures on film. To be economically feasible, an art house film must keep its expenses low and so the audience remains primarily Southeast Asian with the P&A and release dates governed by the Indian diaspora audience. Crossover films are more the gravy added to the meat.

However, this film did play Toronto and London Film Festivals and has garnered good reviews, so it will show in New York - from the Village to the Upper Westside (in 3 theaters) and in L.A. in 5 theaters including the Culver Plaza, Laemmle in the Valley, Irvine West Park, an art house, in Covina and of course in Artesia where the largest Southeast Asian population lives. It will play in 72 markets in North America including art house locations. I urge my readers to see this film. Though Peepli Live is India's submission for an Academy Award this year, and though The Bengali Detective is the only Indian film in Sundance this year, in my opinion, this is the film which will touch audiences most deeply and will remain in their memories for a long time to come.


UTV Motion Pictures
Movies enjoy an almost 'basic need of survival' status in India. UTV Motion Pictures has worked consciously to ride on that phenomenon, pioneering not just newer films and story ideas, but also the very manner in which films are made in India. From novel plots and stories that one would think can never work in mainstream cinema, to pioneering the studio model in movie production, UTV has led positive change in the Indian motion picture industry. Today, UTV's Motion Pictures business spans the integrated model of creative development, production, marketing, distribution, merchandising and syndication worldwide. UTV's portfolio includes Hindi Movies, Regional Movies, Animation Films, international productions and co productions.
No surprise then, that our movies do just as well at the box office as they do at film festivals around the world. From Rang De Basanti to Jodhaa Akbar and from Raajneeti to Tees Maar Khan, UTV has produced some of the biggest blockbusters in Indian cinema. At the same time, films like Dev.D, Khosla ka Ghosla and A Wednesday! were among those that did not boast of a lavish budget or a power-packed star cast, and yet created history at the box office because of the inherent strength of their content. By the same token, Fashion, led by an all female star cast, bucked the trend of women oriented subjects not performing at the box office and grossed more than most big solo hero starrers in the same period.
Today UTV Motion Pictures has emerged as one of the largest production houses in the country. An unparalleled slate for the year 2010 -11 boasts of movies spanning across various genres from romance to action and from thriller to drama such as Prakash Jha's Raajneeti, Karan Johar's I Hate Luv Storys, Anurag Kashyap's Udaan, Aamir Khan's Peepli Live, Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish, Farah Khan's Tees Maar Khan, Raj Kumar Gupta's No One Killed Jessica and Vishal Bhardwaj's Saat Khoon Maaf.

UTV Corporate Bio

UTV Software Communications Ltd (UTV), India's first integrated global media and entertainment company, has seen recent rapid expansion, both in existing businesses and into new growth sectors. The entire UTV focus is on creating, aggregating and disseminating outstanding content - we are a creatively led company which believes in setting not following trends. UTV is in fact India's only diversified media and entertainment company with content creation abilities across platforms and genres.

The UTV group has expanded into 5 verticals, all of which allow for synergy across in terms of content development, communication and development of thought leadership. This also creates exciting opportunities for employees to move across businesses in order to broaden their experience and enrich their career.

These 5 verticals include the following:
Broadcasting
Games Content
Motion Pictures
Interactive
TV Content
Listed on India's premier stock exchange, The Bombay Stock Exchange UTV has subsidiaries with offices across India, UK, USA and Japan. The Walt Disney Company holds a strategic stake in UTV.

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