Indian distributors are discovering the attractions of independent foreign films. Udita Jhunjhunwala reports.

Although non-Indian films only had a 4% share of India's $1.5bn box office in 2006, most of which was taken up by US studio releases, there are signs the multiplex boom is opening up the market for independent foreign films.

At this year's Cannes, a host of dynamic Indian distributors will be shopping for non-Hollywood product. Ideally, they aim to acquire all rights to commercially viable titles that can pass the country's stringent censorship rules and be dubbed into English and local languages such as Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. Some will also look to national support bodies, such as Unifrance, to contribute to import and promotional costs.

Big producers are also stepping into acquisitions. UTV has joined forces with local distributor Palador Pictures to release more than 1,000 arthouse titles across various platforms. While Adlabs, which recently teamed with Percept Picture Company to acquire rights in three Indian territories to Sony's Spider-Man 3, will still be looking to acquire big US films and Asian genre titles at Cannes.

Notable distributors on the Croisette include:

Innovision Communications
This 25-year-old film import and distribution company is looking for award-winning arthouse films. It has previously picked up French titles Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra and Les Visiteurs, and a couple of Danish films. 'European films receive more publicity and material support via their consulates and film commissions,' says Innovision managing director Inderjeet Singh.

Multivision Multimedia
An offshore company which established operations in India in 2005, Multivision has released titles such as Crash and Bandidas in India. Its next big non-studio release is Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion. Although French films lead the list, the company is also bullish about Korea, Japan and China. 'We avoid extremely violent films, and dramas and comedy do not work once the film is dubbed,' says director of India operations Ajay Gupta.

PVR Cinemas
A subsidiary of leading exhibitor PVR, PVR Cinemas was set up six years ago to acquire product to support the company's cinema circuit. 'Having our own cinemas helps us promote products,' says PVR Cinemas COO Ashish Saksena. The company acquired Sky Fighters and Paris, Je T'aime last year.

'We are experimenting with non-Hollywood foreign-language films to see if we can expand our base of customers,' adds Saksena. At Cannes, the company is looking for French films, as Unifrance is proactive in providing support.

This video distributor has recently entered production and theatrical distribution and acquired Indian rights to UGC's The Stone Council. The company has a library of more than 200 international titles, about half of which are foreign-language, which it aims to exploit through its film club, DVD and new media platforms. 'There are big audiences for foreign film festivals, so the market is there but it's very fragmented,' says Shemaroo assistant vice-president Sumann Gon.

Star Entertainment
Founded in 1985, Star has theatrically distributed more than 125 foreign features in India including Austin Powers In Goldmember and Rob-B-Hood. Typically they recoup by exploiting these titles through theatrical, video, TV, VoD and Iptv.

'Few non-Hollywood films do well in India other than action films or those with big stars and big budgets,' says Star managing director Jiten Hemdev. The company recently acquired 20 films from Italy and is looking at titles from the UK, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Korea.

WEG India
Also an active seller, WEG will focus on buying this year as it intends to ramp up acquisitions, particularly of big US movies. 'The market for US productions in India is much better now than it has been in the last few years due to the multiplex boom,' says WEG's Avinaash Jumani, who has previously acquired films from New Line and Lakeshore.