The interview is long so we'd like to keep the introduction short. Ajit Andhare - COO, Viacom18 Motion Pictures in this exclusive chat talks about the success of PYAAR KA PUNCHNAMA 2 (PKP2), how 2015 has been for Viacom18 and for the industry, paid news, box office numbers, satellite rights and many other things. Read on…
Many congratulations on the success of PKP 2. Did you expect it to be such a big hit?
Of course we did. That's why we did the second outing. What most people forget is that while we were making PYAAR KA PUNCHNAMA, we were greenlighting a film with absolutely no star cast, no precedent, nothing. But we understood that this film (PKP 2) essentially connected with the youth, which is why the first one also got such a fantastic response. Even if the numbers were not very large, it acquired a cult status. We realized now that the market has grown, we'll get a much bigger response because the youth segment itself has grown. We expected to get a mainstream kind of response from the film and hence produced it in the first place. So it was expected to over deliver.
But no one expected the kind of numbers it has got.
You can say that, but films don't work in cookie cutter styles. So what happens is once films work, it's very difficult to put your finger and say where it'll stop. Most of our films have broken through. QUEEN opened at less than 2 crore on Friday and delivered a 10 crore week end and it broke through. Before that, a film with that kind of a cast would not be thought would do a 60-65 crore plus. So typically when a film breaks through, they tend to surpass the expectation which people generally have with them. The important thing is that if you are doing a film and if you have a material which has potential, then there are chances that it will break through and surpass the higher expectation.
'MANJHI's piracy before the film's release did hurt us'
Can we expect more PYAAR KA PUNCHNAMA's in the future?
We are certainly looking at more franchises. The whole idea was to develop this franchise further. So you will see more sequels but I think it should be given its due time because this is a sort of a film which does need a gap before you revisit it.
Many female fans are saying that you should have a female version also.
We've heard that a lot and I must say that's a very credible route to doing a sequel. But what people must actually remember is that the demographic of the theatre going audience is heavily skewed in favour of males. So you know that when you are about to crack a joke in a room full of males, it should be a pun or a satire or a leg-pulling one on the other gender. It has chances to do better rather than swinging it around.
How has 2015 been for Viacom? Is it better than 2014?
It's been an outstanding year. We have two slates - one is the Hindi slate and other is the Paramount English slate. Our Hindi slate has had a phenomenal success rate. All of our films have delivered except one, maybe. But apart from that every film delivered. Many people would call RAHASYA, MARGARITA WITH A STRAW and MANJHI niche but they made an impact which was greater than what was perhaps expected from them. Then GABBAR remains Akshay Kumar's highest (earning) film of the year. There were bigger films like SINGH IS BLING and what not. BABY of course came up but the highest film remains GABBAR IS BACK. If you go by the best thriller of the year, it's again our film which is DRISHYAM. It ran for more than seven weeks and even when the corridor had films like BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN and BAHUBALI, that film made its mark. Again, it was not a pure star (film), it was a star married with content, which is exactly the course Viacom always takes. We followed that up with PKP 2, which is a cult youth film now. So the Hindi slate has clearly delivered. If you look around the industry and see the success rates amongst stars or studios or producers, I think we have delivered more. I hope it's not an exceptional case and the trend continues. It's been an outstanding year for our Hindi slate. We had less number of films in Paramount but we had big films. We had TERMINATOR, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE franchise and some smaller films like SPONGEBOB. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 5 delivered great results despite being in a tough corridor. Our Paramount slate has also paid off. So overall if I had to look at box office success and appreciation in terms of how our films were loved and liked by the audience, I think on both counts it's a year to be really proud of.
Has the number of current projects gone down since 2014 wasn't a great year for films?
From an industry perspective, this year many films have been epic failures. At the same time, many films have done well. So you have both shades this year. You have content-lead films reaching new levels. They are no longer 50-60, they can reach 150 crore also as shown by TANU WEDS MANU RETURNS. The first part (TANU WEDS MANU) was our film. So I would say that it's actually been a good year. Good films have been rewarded, well made films have been rewarded and where star power has matched content, those films have really been over-rewarded or rewarded handsomely. So it's been a good year and a lot still remains. You have several big releases lined up right now. So a lot can be written when the year is fully done. Overall, it's been a year where deserving films have found success.
Did MANJHI's piracy before the film's release hurt you?
I'm sure it did. It was pirated way before its release. So it absolutely did hurt us. We were hoping for a much bigger run through in the subsequent weeks. It did pretty well in the first week. But I think a lot of audience had consumed it in a different way. Therefore it did impact us. But the point remains that even in that situation; the film reached that level of box office collection. The kind of appreciation that the film and Nawaz received, made us very content.
The box office numbers are quite dicey. You have many different sources with different numbers. So how does one know what are the actual numbers?
'Film business has become far more rational, scientific and true to what the film is with the advent of social media'
I think the problem is unnecessary affliction with the numbers a film has made. Do we know how many cars of a brand sell in India? Do we know how many cases of a certain shampoo brand sell in India? There are many categories but nobody counts all that. The problem is the entire writing on Bollywood is very trade led and it's highly misinformed. Even when people conclude that a film has done well based on box office, it is very inaccurate. You might have a film which has done a box office of 150 crore but what about the cost? So I think that discussion is best left to businessmen and investors and industry people who are in that business. That's really confidential information. There's no reason for anyone to speculate on that. And they will never have a proper handle on it and will only try to second guess numbers. Numbers are unnecessarily chased here in terms of how the trade writes about it. There's no accuracy because of multiplicity of information. I don't know why that should be done because you have to talk about the whole picture which shouldn't be in public domain. Our focus should be how the film was received in theatres by the audience. This whole tendency to actually quickly know box office leads to various numbers making the rounds. Having said that, while there might be some confusion when the film is on because there are many interests trying to keep the film afloat, once the film has lived its life, there is a fair degree of clarity on what the film achieved. If you let the dust settle, the picture actually emerges. The problem is during the run of the film, people want to get ahead and know the exact numbers and that's what leads to confusion. It's a very tough subject. Even today, there are many that we regard as cults and classics but what was their box office run? We don't know. So it is a tricky area unless we organize ourselves as an industry like broadcasting has done. They have clear ratings and those ratings are visible to the makers. Unless there is a common industry measurement of box office collections at the ticketing window, the speculations will remain.
As a production house, it is important for you to have many hits or is it important for you to release films on a regular interval?
First of all, we are not a production house. There's a distinction between a production house and a studio. A production house simply produces for a budget. There are many production houses. A studio fundamentally is the risk taker. It's the one which is the investor. It does the job of marketing, distribution, worldwide syndication of all the rights. It is the right owner which also produces the film. The industry needs to first make the distinction between producers and studios. As a studio, to answer your question, we are in this business to deliver returns to the shareholders. We should be profitable. We are not trying to pander to any kind of emotional sloganeering that we're here only to make great cinema. We're here to make cinema which works and which recover money more than its cost and therefore is able to reward the investors who back those things. So it's a very clear and straightforward business mindset. I think cinema shouldn't be made with any other mindset if you are looking at it as a commercial and profitable enterprise.
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