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Reliance aims for the stars in Bollywood deal joint venture

Last updated on: June 26, 2008 20:42 IST

Indian billionaire industrialist Anil Ambani has joined up with the family of Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood actor, to set up a joint venture to make films.

The tie-up between Mr Ambani's Reliance Big Entertainment and Bollywood's "first family" comes days after it emerged that the billionaire's group was in talks about a film-making joint venture with Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director.

"This is in line with our strategy to tie up with the leading Indian and international creative talent, which we believe will help our company build a new-age, future-ready global media and entertainment company," said Rajesh Sawhney, president of Reliance Big Entertainment.

Mr Ambani's foray into the domestic and global media and entertainment industry through Reliance Big is the first serious attempt by one of India 's largest industrial conglomerates to penetrate the sector.

This year, Reliance Big made its first splash, announcing in Cannes that it had signed deals with the production firms of Hollywood stars Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, George Clooney, Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt and film-makers Chris Columbus and Jay Roach to make films generating revenue of up to $1bn.

The piece de resistance came last week when it emerged that Mr Ambani was in talks with Mr Spielberg for a possible joint venture with the DreamWorks team to start with funding of up to $1.5bn in debt and equity. The deal was the biggest by an Indian media and entertainment group.

The deal with the Bachchan family will round out Reliance's initiatives, giving Mr Ambani India 's biggest names.

Mr Ambani and Mr Bachchan and his family are old friends. This deal formalises that relationship for the first time. Under the deal, Mr Bachchan, his wife Jaya, his son Abhishek and daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, have agreed to join the joint venture, which is expected in the first year to start with funding of $200m-$300m, people familiar with the matter said.

"The idea really is to produce content using the creative talent of four members of my family," Mr Bachchan said. "We will bring the creativity, Reliance will bring the funding, we will function through an SPV [special purpose vehicle], which will be holding the intellectual property rights, and we will share the profitability on that in perpetuity."

Mr Sawhney declined to comment on the funding but said there was already an agreement to make seven films that would begin release in the first half of next year. The venture would also work across media, taking in television and other forms of content.

Joe Leahy in Mumbai