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Fox closes shop in India

Bond has the license to kill, and he appears to have exercised it with terrible precision in India. The 007 film, “Die Another Day”, which ran in India from December 2002 to February 2003, seems to have led to a crisis in the Twentieth Century Fox in India.

Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry in "Die Another Day"
Fox, which has been in India for about 70 years now, has reportedly suspended operations in the country since December 2004. Bond may have been responsible for this. When the expenses on “Die Another Day” were audited, it was found to have grossed approximately Rs 20 crores, while the net collections by the studio were about Rs 5 crores. But the overall cost linked to this movie was found to be more than 50 per cent of this amount.

Paresh Manjrekar, Fox India’s Sales and Marketing Head, refused to speak to this correspondent saying that the issue was sub-judice. The Mumbai (new name for Bombay) labor court has stayed the order on the closure notice the company issued: Except for two employees, including Manjrekar, the rest of them on the rolls were asked to take a voluntary retirement scheme. A compensation package was worked out. Most employees opted for this; a few, however, went to court.

For over a year now, Fox had become selective about its releases. While it released about 16 movies in 2003, the studio chose to prune this number to about a dozen in 2004. Although some biggies, both foreign and Indian, were handled by Fox -- “Transporter”, “Daredevil”, “X-Men 2” and “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” as well as “Jhankar Beats”, “Pinjar” and “Tehzeeb” – only “X- Men 2” broke even and “Jhankar Beats” produced moderately encouraging results at the box-office.

Fox’s Indian branch seemed to proving too expensive for comfort.

This was happening despite the studio cutting down its workforce by roughly 30 percent as early as 2001, but the dubbing of Hindi, Tamil and Telugu titles introduced in 2003 merely pushed up costs. The anticipated returns never came.

A part of Fox’s losses in India have also been due to the high expenses incurred after pay scales were revised in 1996, and four retrenched employees had to be reinstated in 2002 following a court order.

A sort of a last nail in the coffin came with the recent resignation of Aditya Shastri from Fox India. He had the reputation of making Fox the most profitable distributor in the country. Shastri told this correspondent that he had had no problems working with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Fox, and that his employer was the one of the best he had known. However, he refused to divulge the reason for his exit, saying that it would be highly unethical of him to do so.

At the moment, there is only speculation about who would distribute the pictures that Fox had handled. Will Murdoch continue to distribute films in India? Will Fox, given its long presence in India, restart its operations with direct help from the studio’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Japan or distribute its movies through another Hollywood studio? The answers are not forthcoming.

But, the Indian viewer will certainly be left with a smaller choice of foreign pictures. At least for the time being.

(Posted on this website on February 27 2005)

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