This week, Steven Spielberg had his first close encounter with Bollywood, as Mumbai’s film industry is called. The director was in India‘s film capital, in what was his first trip to the country in 30 years since he came location-scouting in 1983 for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, accompanied by his wife Kate Capshaw, DreamWorks co-chair Stacy Snider and other executives.
Spielberg’s visit, hosted by billionaire Anil Ambani whose Reliance Entertainment is an equal partner in DreamWorks Studios since 2009, was reportedly to celebrate the success of Lincoln. While the film won only two Oscars after garnering a dozen nominations, its box-office collections of over $200 million have more than compensated for that modest showing.
Ambani, the younger sibling of India’s richest person Mukesh Ambani, along with wife Tina, a former Bollywood actress, hosted two events, one at a five-star hotel and the other at their home Sea Wind in South Mumbai. Both parties drew Bollywood’s A-list crowd of film makers and actors.
In a Q&A session following an interview with Indian superstar Amitabh Bachhan, Ambani asked him as to how he felt about not getting more Oscar trophies for Lincoln, to which Spielberg reportedly replied that the nominations were “award enough.”
The film maker, who last shot in India in 1977 for Close Encounters of The Third Kind, is reportedly planning to co-produce a movie with Reliance, according to the Times of India newspaper, that will be set in Kashmir, on the India-Pakistan border, a region whose scenic beauty is marred by ongoing strife.
The partnership with Reliance which has so far involved a cash infusion of $525 million by Ambani, has proved to be a boon for DreamWorks after it parted ways with Paramount. The two sides first met in Cannes and inked the deal after a year of tough negotiations. In 2009, Reliance Entertainment paid $325 million for a 50% stake. Last year, the Indian company forked out a further $200 million to fund the studio.
Ambani’s links with Hollywood go beyond his deal with DreamWorks. His Reliance Entertainment has struck more than a handful of alliances with the likes of Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films, Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment,George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions, Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, and Julia Roberts’ Red Om Films. At home, Reliance is a heavyweight in the movie business, involved in production, distribution and exhibition, among much else.
For two years in a row, Ambani and wife Tina have been showing up in Hollywood at the Academy Awards along with their business partner Spielberg. Last year, they secured 11 nominations for three of their JV’s movies, The Help, War Horse and Real Steel. This year, Ambani even skipped the birthday celebrations of his mother Kokilaben Ambani that was held the same weekend as the Oscar ceremony.
Aside from schmoozing with the Bollywood crowd, Spielberg is believed to have made the time to do some local shopping. That included spending nearly an hour, along with Snider, at the salon of high-end jewelry maker Nirav Modi who features among India’s new crop of billionaires. While Spielberg apparently took a shine to Modi’s jewels that sell for $20,000 upwards and feature rare diamonds, he didn’t actually buy any. He filmed them extensively with his iPhone and left with the promise that wife Kate would return some day.
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Author: Naazneen Karmali, Forbes Staff