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India seeking more cooperation with Singapore

Published by The Straits Times, Singapore on 2004-10-21

India is seeking to develop co-production arrangements with Singapore in the film, digital animation and broadcasting industries, Mr Jaipal Reddy, India's Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said yesterday.

"This is part of what both countries see as growing economic and cultural relations with each other," Mr Reddy said, after meeting with his Singaporean counterpart, Dr Lee Boon Yang. He added that both officials had agreed that specific proposals for a formal pact would be drawn up soon, but he declined to disclose a deadline.

Singapore's foreign direct investment in Indian companies - particularly in the technology and infrastructure industries - is expected to double this year to US$3.2 billion from the figure for 2003. It is already the largest Asian investor in the Indian economy, and the third biggest overall after Mauritius and the United States.

Mr Reddy said that he saw other prospects for greater Indo-Singaporean cooperation, particularly in the entertainment business. Noting that many Indian films use overseas locales, he said that producers should be encouraged to look at Singapore for filming purposes.

"This is a place of great natural beauty," the minister said, "and it enjoys the advantage of being nearer to India than some of the other locations favoured by Indian filmmakers."

Indian producers typically choose to shoot outdoor scenes in picturesque spots in Switzerland and other European countries, particularly those with mountainous landscapes reminiscent of Kashmir, once greatly popular with filmmakers. But the Himalayan territory, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, has seen terrorist activities rise in the last two decades, forcing filmmakers to abandon projects there.

With an industry that churns out more than 1,000 feature films a year in several languages, India is the world's biggest movie producer. While the main centre for Hindi movies is Mumbai - or Bollywood, as it's popularly called - films in Tamil are produced in Chennai, Telugu films in Hyderabad, and Bengali movies in Kolkata. The Indian film industry is estimated to generate more than US$2 billion in revenues annually.

Mr Reddy emphasised that he would also seek broadcasting of Tamil and other ethnic language documentaries through special channels set up in Singapore. Tamilians form the bulk of Singapore's native Indian population, which constitutes around 10 percent of the country's four million people.

Mr Reddy underscored the desire of the ruling Congress-led 14-party coalition known as the United Progressive Alliance, to continue to liberalise the Indian economy, whose current gross domestic product of US$675 billion is growing at the rate of around six percent annually. He also left the impression that FDI in Indian media - currently limited to 26 percent in current-affairs publications and 74 percent in technical journals - could be increased.

A task force of federal ministers was currently examining the situation, he said. Several foreign publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have unsuccessfully tried for years to print Indian editions. But it was only a few months ago that the International Herald Tribune - which is owned by the New York Times - managed to circumvent Indian laws through an arrangement under which a Hyderabad-based company Indian company began printing the newspaper under its own aegis.

Mr Reddy - who is privately known to favour the removal of most restrictions on the media, both domestic and foreign - also said yesterday that the government-owned Indian radio and TV network known as Doordarshan would soon create 20 additional radio channels, especially in India's 15 regional languages, and perhaps another 40 TV channels.

The idea, he said, was to extend more educational and cultural programming in a nation of 1.1 billion people where there are only 80 million TV sets - many of them still black-and-white - and where the overwhelmingly poor population cannot afford to subscribe to cable channels. Cable channels now exceed 100, and by next year their number is expected to quadruple, siphoning advertising revenues from Doordarshan, which makes a US$200 million loss each year on a budget of US$800 million.

"We shouldn't only be serving India's upper middle classes," Mr Reddy, himself a product of such one such family, said. Doordarshan reaches 90 percent of India's population, he added, making it the world's biggest terrestrial TV network.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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