“India has lowest success ratios despite producing maximum films”

Mahesh Ramanathan, chief operating officer, Reliance BIG Pictures, discusses film piracy, the fate of Bollywood animation movies, why screen writers in India are underpaid and other issues in an exclusive interview with Moneylife’s Ravi Samalad

Ravi Samalad (ML): Aamir Khan’s ‘3 Idiots’, released by you is doing very well. What are the latest collection figures and how much more do you expect from the film, from the domestic and international markets?
Mahesh Ramanathan (MR):
One of the critical success factors was the wide global release Reliance BIG Pictures had for ‘3 Idiots’. We released days and dates for the show in advance at an unprecedented 2,126 screens worldwide, the widest for any Hindi film ever. For this movie,  we also achieved the status of the widest-released Hindi film in North America.

By the time we go to print, the film would have grossed about Rs400 crore worldwide. ‘3 Idiots’ is the highest-grossing Hindi film in the 36 countries it was released, except for the UK where it is the fourth-highest money grosser to date. This is no mean feat. The film can truly be called a universal super-hit. It is important to note that the numbers are just the theatrical collections of the film worldwide and other revenues from key rights like home video, broadcast, terrestrial TV and Internet are yet to be monetised. We have an all-time blockbuster with a long tail and we are sure the film will be adored by generations of cinema lovers for years to come. ‘3 Idiots’ will also accelerate the rapid globalisation of the Indian film industry. The business benchmarks set by this film will inspire filmmakers in India. An estimated 70 million filmgoers in India (6% of the population) have watched the film. Imagine the business potential and the impact a film would have on the Indian film industry if it is watched by 15% of our population!

ML: Piracy has been affecting the film industry. What are the steps Big Pictures is taking to tackle this problem? There were some steps like digital delivery of content, are these helpful in curbing film piracy?
We have taken strong measures to curb piracy for our films. The measures have significantly contributed to their long run at the box office. We have raided premises and hot spots in Mumbai and Rajasthan—targeting duplicators and locations where pirated DVDs are hawked. In the last month, over 10,000 DVDs of our hit films have been seized and over 15 pirates caught red-handed and arrested.

As far as online piracy is concerned, we regularly knock off over 1,200 links, 35 blogs and over 125 forums each time a film releases. Vigilance on regular offenders lasts six-eight weeks post release of a film. You cannot watch our films on popular sites like You Tube. Our efforts have paid off and our films are one of the least downloaded films over the Internet. For films like ‘Paa’ we stopped over six lakh illegal downloads within 48 hours of its release.

However, more work needs to be done on the physical sale of pirated content. Ideally an industry initiative is better rather than a few leading companies protecting their own films. For us, at Reliance BIG Pictures, our marketing efforts ensure people prefer watching our movies in theatres. Our advanced piracy-tracking mechanisms have successfully traced the source of illegal DVDs to prints playing at theatres.

Ultimately, it is our belief that the battle against piracy would be won by technology rather than by lawsuits and arrests.

ML: You bought the rights of Hrithik Roshan starrer ‘Kites’. How much did you pay for it or what was the arrangement? Do you think ‘Kites’ would be able to match the successful run of ‘3 Idiots’?
We acquired the rights from Filmkraft. Rakesh Roshan is one of the most successful producers in the history of Indian cinema. The appeal of ‘Kites’ is global. The marketing and distribution footprint of the film would be wider than any film produced out of India as an English version of the movie is also being prepared for an international release.
There is an air of expectancy around ‘Kites’ as it is Hrithik’s first mainstream release since 2008. Audiences in India should lap up his performance. Anurag Basu’s track record as a director will also help ‘Kites’ break fresh ground. ‘Kites’ is the most awaited film of 2010 and will live up to expectations. {break}
ML: Industry body NASSCOM has projected that the animation business in India would cross $1 billion by 2012. However, during 2009, not many animation films were released in the country. So do you think it is possible to achieve the milestone as per NASSCOM’s projection?
India is a late adopter in creating animation properties. Animation in India has largely followed a risk-free outsourcing model. ‘Hanuman’ broke the mould and inspired animation studios to invest in creating intellectual property. But animators are unwilling to take the risks associated with creating characters and properties beyond Hindu mythology. Advertising films with good animation content continue to grow but we cannot expect it to be a locomotive to enable the industry breach the $1-billion mark.

Animation features in India are not marketed with the same conviction as regular films. Also, a proliferation of TV channels airing animation features dampen audience enthusiasm to visit theatres to watch these films unless the content is stand-out or cutting edge. This is a rarity in India. ‘Roadside Romeo’ was a good effort but the industry did not follow it up with new releases that would enable audiences to acquire a taste for watching good-quality animation films in theatres. The animation industry is growing but is yet to achieve critical mass in India.

ML: Post-Hanuman, the animation film industry is in a rough patch as none of the films have managed to recover their production cost or have not been successful at the box office, how do you see the situation going further?
The below seven-years generation currently growing up watching animation content on TV will be receptive to full-length animation features in theatres five-seven years from now. That is the time Indian animators can capitalise if they develop creative strengths. In the meantime, animation films have little theatrical potential and producers have to rely on home entertainment and TV rights to recover most of the production cost. Also it is important to produce animation films of the right scale—essentially Rs5 crore-Rs6 crore features on 2-D instead of ambitious 3-D projects with stereoscopic sound. There is a view that technology of today enables 3-D features to be produced cost-effectively, but I would not bet on any animation film realising revenues beyond Rs10 crore-Rs12 crore for a producer. Since we would continue to be in a market-creation phase for the next five years or so, any film which spends over Rs10 crore on production costs will find it difficult to recover its investment. Another model the industry could consider is co-productions on a co-investment model between animation studios. This will take care of the supply side that is essential to create and sustain audience interest in animation while reducing the risk exposure of animators.

ML: Can the Indian film industry match the benchmark set by ‘Avatar’? Is Big Pictures considering making a 3D movie?
To put things in perspective, Hollywood caters to a global marketplace and is a $100-billion industry. Bollywood in comparison is just $2 billion in size. That is almost what ‘Avatar’ will gross worldwide! Our films are targeted at the 30 million strong NRI populations living in 148 countries across the world and not to a world audience. It is impractical to expect a Hindi film out of India to match up to ‘Avatar’ numbers. Bollywood is miniscule by Western standards but is rapidly growing in influence worldwide. Bollywood is India’s calling card. The stature and importance of brand Bollywood is beyond the business that our films do abroad. However, in India, we are sure to see an increasing trend of box office collections. India is an under-screened country. With the growth of multiplexes, the business potential of a film is increasing by the day.

Currently 3-D screen numbers in the country do not justify production of 3-D movies but this is a trend that is sure to catch on in India in the future.

ML: According to reports, The Film Writers Association of India is coming up with a ‘model contract’ for writers to get a better deal. Do you think this system will bring relief to Bollywood writers who are usually underpaid?
Screenwriters represent the heart of filmmaking but there is a dearth of high-quality writing talent. This reflects in our films. We have one of the lowest success ratios in the world though we produce the maximum number of films in the world and have the highest box office admissions. Most good writers want an immediate transition to direction and I am not sure if remuneration is the driver.

Like remuneration for directors, I would expect the writer remunerations to also be skewed in favour of successful writers with a good body of work. The ‘model contract’ is not a solution to the writer’s ills but we need institutions that would create and train young writing talent. This will transform the success ratio of the industry and then there would be no problem in remunerating the writers better as producers would have a clear understanding about expectations regarding a script.
ML: How many regional films will you be rolling out this year?
Abohomaan’ directed by Rituparno Ghosh and Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s acclaimed ‘Janala’ are our Bengali releases of 2010. We also have ‘Singam’ with Tamil superstar Surya and ‘Kutty Srank’ with Malayalam star Mamooty. The maestro, MS Sathyu, has directed a Kannada film after many years for us called ‘Ijjodu’. We have the privilege of working with Mani Ratnam on ‘Raavan’ which will release in June 2010 in Tamil and Telugu. Our Punjabi film ‘Chak Jawana’ starring Gurdaas Maan is eagerly awaited as well.
ML: How many films are you planning to release this year?
We will be releasing over 14 films this calendar year.




7 years ago

on reliance big pictures some shit on how india has lowest success rate of bOllywood despite max productions

“Around $1.7 trillion of write-downs in toxic assets still expected”

Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley maintains that recovery in global economies remains weak. While sounding cautious on Asian revival, he remains positive on India

In a frank discussion on global economic trends, Asian markets and the Indian economy, the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, Stephen Roach, submitted that global economies still remained at a delicate point and that recovery would take a much longer time.

He was sceptical of the huge rally in the stock markets that caught everybody by surprise last year. “We had a very strong recovery in the stock markets in the final nine months of 2009. In my view, the markets got ahead of themselves in predicting the strong and vigorous recovery in the US economy. I have been consistently cautious on global economies in this post-crisis period and remain so. Even though the worst is over, it does not mean that we are in for a vigorous recovery.”

Speaking about the spectacular show put up by some Asian economies after the crisis, Mr Roach said, “There is more that needs to be done by Asia to assume the role as a growth engine and leader of global economic growth. The Asian model remains very much dependent on exports and external demand. India is an exception to that. But for the most part, Asia follows this model, which is difficult to sustain in this post-crisis period. Weak recovery in global markets means that external demand will remain under pressure for some time to come.”

He added that Asian countries need to rebalance their models so that they can sustain growth through internal demand also, highlighting India’s position in that respect. Indeed, except for India, the share of exports in the GDP of developing Asian economies has been steadily rising while that of domestic consumption has been on the decline. “India is a good example of what better balance can do. Asia is a region which is most dependent on global growth over the last three decades. It has not and will not decouple from the global economy until the export dependence diminishes,” Mr Roach added.

Cautioning that recovery still remains weak, Mr Roach said, “The conventional view that got built into the markets was that deep recession means a sharp rebound—the classic ‘V’ shaped recovery. But I am not of that view at all.” He stressed that the lingering financial crisis, the synchronicity of the global recession and imbalances within Asia called for more caution and restraint. “IMF estimates suggest that by the time all toxic assets are written down, the total global write-downs will amount to around $3.4 trillion. Thus far, only half of that has been written down.”

He pointed to the delicate situation prevailing in the US to bring home his point about the tepid recovery process. “Unemployment in the US is in a horrible situation. Although figures suggest that unemployment is at 9.7%, the actual figure is much higher than that (about 11.4%), given that some workers are not even looking to get a job.”

Mr Roach, however, sounded more confident about India’s growth story. He even stated that for the near term, he remained slightly more bullish on India than China, given the more balanced nature of India’s economy. However, he highlighted some concerns that threaten to dampen India’s steady growth. “Dependence on foreign capital and infrastructure constraints need to be addressed immediately,” he said.

When asked about his expectations from the upcoming Union budget, Mr Roach said, “In the area of fiscal consolidation, I am hopeful that the government will target around 5.5% of GDP by the fiscal year ending 2011, which would represent about 1.3% reduction in fiscal deficit. This is the time for fiscal consolidation, when the economy is strong. There is a need to focus on a timely exit strategy.”

He was also hopeful of more announcements on the divestment front, tax reforms and infrastructure investments.


Newsviewer Exclusive
Zee may block signals to Hathway subscribers

The TV broadcaster alleges that Hathway has not been paying subscription fees since many months and it may have to terminate its content deal with the cable operator

Subscribers of Hathway Cable and Datacom Ltd’s TV cable network across Delhi, Mumbai and Pune may soon be unable to view channels from the Zee Turner bouquet. According to a release from Zee Turner Ltd, Hathway Cable subscribers from these cities will not be able to view around 33 channels offered by the TV broadcaster as Hathway has failed to pay subscription charges to Zee Turner.

“Despite the 21 days’ notice issued to Hathway on 15 January 2010, Zee Turner has exercised restraint in the interest of consumers, but the cable operator has been avoiding a resolution to the issue. Zee Turner is forced to look at the option of switching off the networks to protect the interest of its stakeholders,” said a Zee Turner spokesperson.

The channels that may go off air for Hathway customers include Zee TV, Zee Marathi, Cartoon Network, Pogo, HBO, CNBC TV 18, Zee Cafe, Zee Studio, Zee Cinema and 24 other channels.

Responding to an advertisement put up by Zee Turner in newspapers, Hathway’s president for finance and company secretary, Milind Karnik, said, “The advertisement contains the word ‘may’, which means that if we do not pay, then it will terminate the service. The negotiation is still going on. It (Zee Turner) is trying to create pressure by putting advertisements in newspapers.”

Last month, Zee Turner had issued a winding-up notice to Hathway, claiming pending dues of around Rs25 crore. According to media reports, Hathway’s Bengaluru division owes Rs3.5 crore to Zee Turner and its channels might not be available to these customers also if the operator does not pay up.

Zee Turner has also alleged that Hathway is not signing a new agreement even after it has been issued a public notice. The deal between the companies expired nearly a year ago, according to the Zee Turner spokesperson.

“Most of these agreements (for the Zee Turner bouquet of channels) expired in March 2009 and ever since, despite numerous efforts by Zee Turner, Hathway has not come forward to sign the agreements. Additionally, Hathway owes Zee Turner an amount of over Rs28 crore which is nearly six months overdue,” he said.

However, Hathway has a different explanation for the impasse. “There is a miscommunication of the deal amount between Zee Turner and Hathway, and that is the reason for not signing the deal. Once that gets sorted out, we are ready to sign the deal. We cannot quote the pending amount to be paid to Zee for Mumbai operations because in a few places, we have a joint-venture deal with other small cable operators,” said Mr Karnik.

Zee Turner also claims that there is widespread misreporting of subscriber figures in Hathway’s cable television business. “In the draft red herring (IPO) prospectus (of Hathway) filed with SEBI, they have mentioned that the total number of subscribers is nearly 2 million, and they are also advertising that they have 8 million subscribers; whereas for the cable business, they have declared only about four lakh (subscribers), thus concealing a large portion of their subscriber base,” said the Zee Turner spokesperson.

Earlier, ESPN Software (I) Pvt Ltd (ESPN) lodged a first information report (FIR) in the Janakpuri Police Station at New Delhi against Surinder Dhupal from Hathway for exhibiting and transmitting signals from ESPN without proper authorisation from it.

Hathway Cables is going through tough times; it had to wind up its cable TV operations in Chennai last year and is also facing operational problems in Tiruchirapalli. According to the red herring prospectus filed by Hathway for its ongoing IPO, Sun TV Network Ltd had filed criminal complaints against the company and its officers for copyright violations. 


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