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Ajit Andhare: I would want to make the argument that satellite is more important than theatre

December 1, 2015 11:14:52 AM IST
By Pankaj Sabnani, Glamsham Editorial
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Do you have the dilemma of going ahead with a great script which may or may not do that well at the box office or going ahead with an average script with a huge star which has a great chance of getting the numbers at the box office?
Absolutely. So what this year has shown is that even if a film is very well packaged, with star power or in terms of promotional campaigns, you can't pass beyond the weekend. You might deliver an opening but the word very quickly comes out today especially with social media. Saturday and Sunday will clearly tell you what is happening. So those days of saying that a film will work at the box office because of a star, are long gone. For us, they were gone four years ago but I think for the industry, people are still catching up with that. We have always backed films which have content first and then the appropriate star value in them. So when we did QUEEN or when we did TANU WEDS MANU RETURNS, we had star power behind the film. We had R. Madhavan and Kangana Ranaut in them. When we did KAHAANI, we had Vidya Balan in it. When we did MADRAS CAFE, we had John Abraham in it. It's not that we're not working with stars but we are making cinema which balances content with star power. We did make DRISHYAM with Ajay Devgn where we married a great plot & story with Ajay in a very different role. So we are very conscious of that. There are times when scripts are good but you don't have talents attached with it. Our constant endeavor is to achieve the right balance where you get a good script and a reasonable balance of star power and content so that the film will be able to more than recover its investment. That's the goal that we have to meet.


Has film marketing become easier with digital & social media or has it become difficult?
I think the film business has become far more rational, scientific and true to what the film is with the advent of social media because you simply can't get away from scrutiny of the film as the overall product that consumers consume in theatres. Audience will prevail and audience will prevail on Saturday itself. It's good for filmmakers who make good cinema. But where you are trying to package a film or sort of slip in a product, there it's not going to be perhaps that helpful. You can see the trend very clearly. There are films after films which got fabulous opening numbers, but you can look up what they did in terms of their lifetime collections. So I think digital has clearly made sure that use of opening is short lived and the power of content is what the film will eventually do. Look at the case of BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN and BAHUBALI. These films had fantastic content and that's why they reached the level that no film had reached before. Digital is favourably influencing cinema and sort of bringing the truth closer home to the audience and to the makers as well.

'Digital is favourably influencing cinema and sort of bringing the truth closer home to the audience and to the makers as well'

What would you like Viacom18 to be known as? A studio with blockbuster hits which may or may not be good in content or a studio with good content driven films?
I think that vision is reflected very clearly in our films. We would like to do films which are content driven as well as powered by star power. We think of films as a pole vault in which a person takes a pole and takes a high jump. So we believe that when the person is making that big run towards jumping from that high hurdle of the cost of the film, the sprint that he makes is actually the content and the pole that he has which he uses to jump over, is the star power. So if he makes a very decent sprint and at the same time the pole gets him across, then your film will go on the other side and win you dividends. That's the way we want to drive films and that's been our vision. So it has to be a marriage of both. Stars are extremely important because people watch cinema for stars but it's important that they feature in films which have meaningful content. When I say meaningful, it may not be serious or dry or standing for a cause. Good content can be good content in many ways. It has to be an entertaining film and work for the audience that is paying in the dark room and when the audiences leave the theatres, they should be happy and they should be recommending people to watch that film. That's important for us and we like to make those films.

Is there a dilemma which you face when some scenes are asked to be removed by the censor board in order to give it a UA or a U certificate?
That is a battle because the films are exhibited on different platforms. Some platforms like theatre have to go through a censor certificate while some of the other platforms have a different requirement, if not censor. So I think one has to be sensitive to that and one has to go with the body which has been assigned to do its job. As long as there is a reasonable dialogue between the various stakeholders, you can find a meaningful solution. But yes, it is a challenge. When you want to do theatrical products, you want to push the envelope. Art always prospers as the cusp of pushing things. And when you push those boundaries, you would perhaps cross it in limits which have been set up in the manner you express yourself. It need not be one dimensional. You could say things which perhaps a society finds a little too forward looking or very challenging to its own ethos. You have to walk that thing carefully. Cinema is the most creative format of expression in terms of what is consumed by the mainstream audience. At the same time, it is vital for cinema to have other revenue streams such as satellite which have grown very big. Today a film like BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN is watched by 7.5 crore people on TV while only 3 crore people watched it in theatres. So you can't ignore a product which is finding twice the size of audience on a TV channel and make it purely with a theatrical outlook. You have to make it amenable to telecast on that platform as well. You have to make certain adjustments and conform to the guidelines and we are very happy to do that. But it does become a challenge at times.

What's your take on paid news? And is it true that some production houses came together to kind of end it?
The cost of marketing has been going up. That's a problem we've been trying to tackle in various ways. One of the things is the cost of print media. Editorial used to be ‘not for sale'. That whole context has changed today. That is not just bad economics; it's also terrible from the integrity point of view in terms of what is going to the audience. Even without getting into the commerce, as a principle, it's terrible. You can't have a paying consumer being shown something which is being paid by somebody else. Anyone who has got anything to do with journalism or any form of media industry can't argue in favour of paid editorials. Editorial is supposed to be editorial. There is a problem there but it's become a trend which is around for a while. It has to be fought and we are trying our best to collaborate and see what best we can do to try and set right some of these malpractices which have seeped in.

'Editorial used to be not for sale'

There were some reports stating that the revenues from satellite rights have gone down. Is that still the case?
The market forces basically play on the basis of supply and demand. Broadcasters' interest in film content for a certain period waned a bit and that reflected in the prices. The prices in their view had gone up significantly. So they have looked to cool it off. But the fact remains that in the long run, films are going to be a very important form of content if you have to build TV viewership. BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN had 7.5 crore TV viewership while in theatres only 3 crore people saw it. So you might have time to time corrections, but films will be the high ticket content, the high value content, the high interest content, because viewers want to watch films. The broadcasters will need to pay fair value. I would in fact argue that today why should the value you realize from satellite, not be higher than theatrical because the number of people consuming your film on TV is twice or thrice of the number of people watching the film in theatre. Many say that the prices are high but I would say that the channels have also penetrated deep inside. They are making advertising revenue from that. So this is a constant area of push and pull, which will remain. But the prices are down and we hope that correction comes up soon.

But are satellite revenues very important for you as a studio?
If my product is being consumed by such a large number of people, which channel is most important? Media business is ultimately about consumption. You can skew it any which way and put advertising in between but ultimately advertising will come if there are people consuming content. So if you apply the fundamental and say that people are consuming that content, then that content must have value. It must reflect in the pricing if the consumption is so high. So I would want to make the argument that it's more important than theatre because the audiences have all moved. They are not coming to theatres because they are getting it free in their homes. Who will pay for that?

What are your future projects? Can you speak a bit about them?
This year we saw tremendous success for the Hindi slate as well as the English slate. We are also keen that we add the success of regional slate to this overall story of Viacom18 Motion Pictures. We are working on that and a few films are in the pipeline. We have POSTER GIRLS which will release in February. There are a few more regional projects which we are trying to produce. Besides that our Hindi slate has FORCE 2 and some other projects which we will announce soon.

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