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Bollywood biggies go public

With Sensex soaring high, tinsel town denizens are joining the party in a bid to break from traditional funding.

india Updated: Apr 24, 2006 17:07 IST

With India's stock markets booming, tinsel town denizens are joining the party in a bid to break from traditional sources of funding.

Maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma is the latest to join the bandwagon of old war-horses of filmdom and the Gen X of the entertainment industry who are digging for booty armed with a shovel called the Initial Public Offering (IPO).

Varma, who has single-handedly set up Factory, a production house that churns out dozens of small-budget Hindi films, is taking his outfit public.

Even as he readies for the release of Darna Zaroori Hai on Friday, he has been trying to streamline systems at the Factory and prepare his organisation for an IPO.

If going public augurs well for Varma, Bollywood star Ajay Devgan and Kajol may also revive their plans of going public that they had shelved. The grapevine has it that even the three Khans - Aamir, Shah Rukh and Salman - are planning to go the IPO way.

Ram Gopal Varma, who has single-handedly set up Factory, is keen on floating an IPO for his company.

According to reports, as many as 30-35 Bollywood entities are hoping to raise cash from the markets.

While institutional funding has let filmdom down, the stock markets have increasingly become a non-traditional source of finance for Hindi films. A study by Yes Bank claims non-traditional sources account for upwards of Rs.3 billion of finance.

"It is a healthy amount considering that institutional lending for film production has failed to live up to expectations," says a trade observer.

According to Yes Bank, the inflow of non-traditional finance peaked in 2005.

Black and Mangal Pandey - The Rising were fully financed by non-traditional funds; still in the making Krrish and Marigold fall in the same category.

Film financing sources are categorised into two groups - traditional and non-traditional. The former comprises producer's contribution, distribution pre-sales and private financiers.

The latter is made of loans from banks and FIs; companies and production houses funded through IPO, or venture capital and/or institutional private equity; individuals funded through venture capital and/or private equity; music companies and TV broadcasters.

Since 2001, the Hindi film industry had seen a marked increase in non-traditional financing sources. It was led by IPO funding and institutional debt funding, other streams following in due course.

In 2001, five out of six non-traditionally funded films used IPO money. Last year, even as IPO-funded films were seven, the number of non-traditionally funded movies rose to 44, reducing its share.

IPO funding gained further impetus in 2005, with UTV having gone public and Adlabs funding four films.

"It could either mean that a larger number of projects are being funded through the equity route or given the need for stringent track record and much paper work the producers are either unable or not very keen on seeking institutional loans," a report by Yes Bank says.

Trading watchdog Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) provided the ultimate impetus to the caravans lined up for the ongoing gold rush by unveiling, for the first time in Indian corporate history, several major sops to the entertainment and media sectors.

Taking a cue from their filmi brethren, several television and music industry fence-sitters also joined the rush. A number of firms - from broadcasting, TV production and marketing houses on one side to music companies on the other - some of whom some were adopting a wait-and-watch policy, have taken the plunge.

Star, Sony Entertainment Television, Sahara, B4U, New Delhi Television (NDTV), Nimbus, UTV, Pritish Nandy Communications, Creative Eye, Venus, Tips - the list is long and increasing every week.

Analysts say the markets may not lap up all Bollywood offerings. But they are optimistic of their overall prospects.

"After all, some of the Bollywood stars are well established brand names. And if they do come up with an attractive, profit-making business mode, there is no reason why the investing public should not share their dreams," says an analyst with a brokerage firm.

Friday will decide whether the public prefers Ram Gopal Varma's creative offering - Darna Zaroori Hai - or the IPO of his production house.

A battery of stars will be seen in the "Darna Mana Hai" sequel that has four

Varma has announced that irrespective of the box-office fate of his horror flick, he will produce another multiple-plot horror feature - Darna Mangta Hai - in July.

Bollywood's original maverick filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who has ruffled many a feather of traditionalists during his prime, will unveil his Gangster on Friday.

Directed by Anurag Basu, the film is rumoured to be based on the life of Mumbai underworld don Abu Salem. It has garnered much attention following threats by the don.

The film stars Emraan Hashmi, Shiny Ahuja and newcomer Kangna Ranaut and will face stiff competition from Darna Zaroori Hai. May the best man win between this box-office clash of a neo maverick and the original.