Hollywood Spent Years Wooing The King Of Bollywood. It Took Amazon To Land Him.
India’s top movie star is doing his best to keep busy. Locked down at home along with much of the country, Akshay Kumar has been shooting TV commercials with his niece operating the camera, working the phones to coordinate $4.5 million of pandemic relief pledges and fine tuning scripts.
declining offers from U.S. producers, reversed course and last year signed a deal to star in the upcoming Amazon Prime AMZN series, The End.
“You have to change with the times,” Kumar says during an hour-long facetime interview from his apartment, stopping occasionally to mediate a spat between his daughter and her older brother. “From screenplays and scripts to technology and the way of shooting and the audience. The zeros in my check have changed. Everything has changed.”null
The deal, which Forbes estimates is paying Kumar $10 million, has everything to do with the overturned balance of power in American filmed entertainment. Having seized the narrative in Hollywood, technology giants from the north have rewritten the rules of the movie business at home and, momentum in hand, are turning to India, the world’s second-largest movie market.
Indian moviegoers have long flustered the major U.S. movie studios, showing up for its biggest releases but showing a lopsided preference for local fare. India produces more films than any other country, and last year delivered a record box office of $1.3 billion. Hollywood fare sells—Avengers: End Game was the highest-grossing film last year—but Bollywood dominates, accounting for six of the ten top-grossing films.
Big Tech is looking past the theaters at a target-rich environment more suited to their business models. India is home to 1.35 billion people, most of whom are under the age of 35, a demographic that is expected to increase the business for online video almost three-fold to $4 billion in five years, according to research consultancy Media Partners Asia. Netflix and Amazon started streaming there in 2016 and launched Indian original content in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The pair are already putting out 10% of India’s original productions, according to a report from consulting firm Omdia, spending more than $500 million on local content in the past two years with an equal amount expected this year.
“Amazon and Netflix have been in a localization arms race for India,” says Tony Gunnarsson, one of the Omdia analysts behind the report. “Localization is hugely important everywhere but in Asia, it’s even more important. It’s not just about having content in the local language with subtitles or dubbing.”
Which makes Kumar a highly valuable asset—and one who can hold out for the richest of offers. The local superstar lands at No. 52 on this year’s Celebrity 100 with pretax earnings of $48 million, the vast majority of it having nothing to do with Hollywood.