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Hollywood, Health & Society launches global center in India

"The Third Eye" project will be based in Mumbai. (Photo/Chris Dzialo)

With more than a decade of experience and established partnerships, Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) has now gone global, launching a joint project in India to use the power of entertainment to improve the lives of millions of TV and film viewers in developing regions of the world.

HH&S, a program of The Norman Lear Center, based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has teamed up with the Asian Center for Entertainment Education (ACEE) to create The Third Eye, which will borrow a page from HH&S to serve as a free resource for accurate information for the film and TV industries on storylines dealing with important health topics.

The Bollywood venture, the first global center of the HH&S program, is already helping with inquiries on health-related topics for three major films and one TV show, said HH&S Director Sandra de Castro Buffington. A second center based in the booming Nigerian filmmaking industry known as Nollywood is scheduled to be up and running in the coming months. Both are being funded under a grant called Hollywood, Health & Society Global Centers for Health and Development in Nigeria and India.

“We are amazed with the response we’ve received in India,” Buffington said. “It’s a strong indication that entertainment education will work here. In a fast-changing world as India grows economically, it becomes extremely important to inspire and inform people about choices that can enhance their health and well-being, in tandem with the country’s growth.”

The emergence of these international entertainment capitals presents a unique opportunity for HH&S to help the development of storylines to improve people’s lives in the major media markets that serve the developing world.

The global centers will draw on the resources of HH&S — which will serve as the hub — and its Hollywood partners. Like HH&S, the regionally branded centers in Bollywood and Nollywood are being trained to conduct a sustained and systematic program of outreach to the industry to increase the accuracy and frequency of health and socially related topics in television, radio, film and new media. The centers will join HH&S in measuring behavior change and tracking audience engagement with programming.

Long known for its entertaining musicals and comedies, India’s film industry has also sparked a genre of “parallel cinema” that features serious entertainment, and The Third Eye project comes at a time when Indian filmmakers are eager to get more provocative kinds of stories for movies and TV into the mainstream.

“The Third Eye,” based in Mumbai, is led by Mahesh Bhatt, a prominent filmmaker who has worked across a wide range of movies, including sexy noirish thrillers, and Vinta Nanda, a writer and producer who is the director of the ACEE. Nanda is known for her  work on Tara, a groundbreaking TV series that depicted gender-based stories about the lives of contemporary Hindu women. In addition, HH&S will also work closely with Augustine Veliath, co-founder of the ACEE and veteran communication director for UNICEF in India, to ensure that the program in India meets its goals.

A recent online story in The Economic Times reported that Bollywood is poised to become a $5 billion industry in the next two years. The article quoted former Sen. Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, as saying that the film industry there contributes about $640 million annually to the Indian economy. It’s estimated that Bollywood produces more than 1,000 films each year, about twice the output of Hollywood.

“India is the biggest movie ticket market in the world, with 3.3 billion tickets sold every year,” Dodd said.

Television in India is also huge, with a wide range of programming and its own set of popular celebrity actors who are famous all over the country.

Buffington and HH&S program specialist Chris Dzialo recently returned from a trip to Mumbai, where they launched The Third Eye at the FICCI/Frames conference, a huge global meeting on the business of entertainment. They also met with Bhatt, Nanda and other local stakeholders involved in the project.

The Third Eye gets its name from a combination of the Hindu concept of an invisible eye that provides perception beyond ordinary sight and a term commonly used for the lens of a film or TV camera.

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Hollywood, Health & Society launches global center in India

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