Bollywood future in boardrooms
Year 2003 was the turning point in a process that began in the mid-90s, says Saibal Chatterjee.
Corporate entities have well and truly taken roots in the Mumbai film industry. The year 2003 will go down in the annals of Indian showbiz as the turning point in a process that began in the mid-1990s.
The principal difference between the early stirrings of corporatisation and the current sense of decisiveness that is driving production tie-ups lies in the profile of the key players.
A little less than a decade ago, actors like Amitabh Bachchan (who tied up with Uday Kotak), Anupam Kher (in collaboration with S. Kumar's), Sunil Shetty (who grandly announced retirement from acting) and Jackie Shroff, among others, had forayed into the domain of entertainment brand building but without much success.
Bachchan's much-hyped ABCL ran into severe financial rough weather as it ran up huge debts, Kher's celebrity management and television production company went out of business after brief moments of glory, Shetty flipped and flopped until he reinvented his outfit and launched Popcorn Entertainment and Shroff received a huge setback as a result of the lukewarm box office response to his first home production Grahan. Fortunately, all of them are still in the reckoning not only as actors but also as entertainment entrepreneurs.
Bachchan is gradually clawing his way back into the film production scene, while Kher is already in the thick of the action once more. Shetty's Popcorn Entertainment has tied up with Galaxy Entertainment Corporation, which is co-owned by the Ruias of High Street Phoenix and Purnendu Chatterjee of the multi-industry Chatterjee Group (TCG), to produce Khel. Shroff, on the other hand, is all set to bounce back with Kaizad Gustad's Boom, produced in collaboration with the entertainment division of the Hinduja Group.
Clearly, the players as well as the playing field have changed since the 1990s, and so have the ground rules. Bollywood has been granted industry status, bound scripts and structured shooting schedules have come into vogue and banks and financial institutions have begun to invest in movie projects.
But above all, blue-chip corporate houses have turned their attention to film production. In the process, they have shown the rest of the industry the virtues of industrial planning and discipline.
While these corporate outfits are aware of the high casualty rate at the box office - only a small percentage of Hindi films released each year rake in the moolah - they have been exuding confidence about making a difference, in the long run, to the way films are made and exhibited in India.
The economics of the film business has changed with the opening up of several revenue-earning avenues: the advent of multiplexes, the potential of VCD and DVD rights, a growing demand for satellite telecast, and a rapidly expanding overseas market.
Entertainment is indeed the new sunrise industry. Nothing establishes that more than the pedigree of the new players who have jumped into the showbiz fray. Kumaramangalam Birla of the Aditya Birla Group has a personal stake in Applause Entertainment, which is co-producing Govind Nihalani's Dev along with Manmohan Shetty's production company, Entertainment One. Applause Entertainment has also announced plans to enter the regional filmmaking sector, especially in Tamil Nadu and Bengal.
Ratan Tata's Tata Infomedia has an active film production arm, Cutting Edge Entertainment, which is bankrolling Aitbaar, an Amitabh Bachchan-John Abraham-Bipasha Basu starrer directed by Vikram Bhatt.
Both Dev and Aitbaar are well on course. Dev, launched in March this year, is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Aitbaar, which went on the floors late last year, is also likely to meet its end of the year release deadline.
NRI entrepreneur Purnendu Chatterjee, head of TCG, has floated Crossover Films to fund movie production. The company has already financed two films, Priya Ruth Paul's The Perfect Husband and Parvati Balagopalan's Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula, featuring Milind Soman, Tanuja and newcomer Meera Vasudevan.
TCG began its Bollywood innings with a 50 per cent stake in Pritish Nandy Communications. While its PNC stake has now been whittled down to 22 per cent, the company still owns 45 per cent of Galaxy Entertainment, which runs a chain of eateries and bowling alleys.
One major spin-off of the process of corporatisation is the increasing number of joint ventures in the film production sector. Ketan Mehta's upcoming magnum opus, The Rising, is being funded by as many as three high-profile companies, Entertainment One, Bobby Bedi's Kaleidoscope Films and Maya Entertainment, owned by the director. In Hollywood, such collaborations are a common enough practice.
The world's eyes are on the Rs 3000-crore Indian entertainment industry. It, therefore, makes perfect sense to play the game by the rules that the world follows.