This year got off to a rough start but Queen has more than made up for it, so which is the next project that you are extremely bullish about?
Yes, Queen has been a landmark film that has delivered strong numbers. Our line-up for 2014 includes a mix of Hindi, Hollywood and regional films. First up are two films in the South, Anamika and Ne-Enge with Nayantara. Our next Hindi release Manjunath is the true story of an IIM graduate shot on duty. The film is slated to release on May 9. We have Margarita with a Straw, directed by Shonali Bose and starring Kalki Koechlin. Then we have Dharam Sankat Mein with Paresh Rawal, which is an adaptation of British comedy film Infidel, Mary Kom and Gabbar. There is a thriller with Sujoy Ghosh and sequel of our previous hit title, Pyar Ka Punchnama, in the pipeline. Transformers – Age of Extinction is all set to release on June 27, Hercules on July 25 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be in theaters August 8.
Has there been any considerable change in strategy since you stepped in—how closely involved is Viacom 18 with the creative process?
Our focus is to address profitability. We are here to make the box office success of our films translate into profitability. Film making involves great risk taking and that should also translate into proportionate rewards for those taking the risk. We need to address the eco-system and make the value chain more equitable than it is. The studio is very involved with the creative, the decision to green-light a film is predicated on how we see the content. We respect and trust directors we work with and believe they are the ones making the film. But without understanding content you cannot make an ensemble of films like Special 26, Kahaani, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Madras Café, Queen. We are a studio that understands and respects content.
In the days of Rs. 300 crore films, how significant is distribution?
Distribution is a core function and gives us great insights on what kinds of films should be exhibited where. Revenue understanding is the bedrock of film business and essential to assessing films and scripts commercial potential fully. The task of new market development by taking films to new regions is another key strategic task with distribution.
How has the traditional distribution of film-making in India changed and then again, have things changed for the better?
On the making side, we are now totally into bound scripts, line-wise budgeting, and therefore tighter schedules and zero overruns. On the distribution side, digital print has reduced the marginal cost of exhibition. Multiplexes have enabled greater segmentation as well as transparency.
What impact have studios made on the distribution system?
Studios are one-stop-shop for marketing and theatrical distribution worldwide which is a marked departure in terms of degree of transparency and authenticity over traditional distribution system. Studios are looking to monetise the films better through revenue streams other than theatrical. They are generating better returns on satellite as well as digital rights.
Is signing a multi-film deal with a star a safer way of moving forward or would you prefer to assess a project differently?
A multi-film deal is a sound way to engage talent and can benefit both if structured well. However, the project that the talent would be used in, needs to be assessed on its own.
How do you approach distribution of Hollywood films from Paramount Pictures (in India)?
English language entertainment is growing in India at a steady pace. While a majority of the share comes from multiplex-friendly cities/ state, for tent pole films, Tamil and Telugu markets contribute significantly. We are participating in that segment through our paramount slate. We have Transformers 4- Age of Extinction followed by Hercules and Ninja Turtles between June to August. These titles are approached like any major Hindi film with focus on what’s the best way to localise the content and marketing for maximum theatrical impact.
Considering that competition in the regional cinema markets has increased, what are Viacom 18’s plans for regional cinema, if any? Is there an inclination towards the south market, if yes, why?
Regional markets offer opportunity for growth as well as innovation. We are active in all key regional markets. In Marathi, there has been Zapatlela 2, 72 Miles Ek Pravas and Gangubai Non Matric and in Punjabi, Bhajji in Problem. We have made our foray into the southern market with Nee Enge Enanbe (Tamil) and Sekhar Kammula’s Anamika (Telugu) with Nayantara that are scheduled for release soon.
The advent of studios run in a corporate style has changed Bollywood in many ways for the better, but has it also created an artificial inflation (in the costs of projects)?
I think that phase is getting over rapidly. Studios must focus on return on investment and not simply participating or acquiring projects for top-line. If the industry has to grow sustainable it must find returns that can be reinvested in the business. That’s how an industry moves forward. The value chain needs to become more equitable.