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National Story
A script made for ‘unhappily ever after’ endings?
Corporate cultures trying to manage creative processes are viewed with suspicion. And considering how they are destroying our film industry, it’s not without reason
Issue Date - 13/10/2011
For the most part, corporate cultures have been quite adept at creating highly efficient and result oriented business processes and adhering to them to ensure more predictable outcomes. Managing creative processes, on the other hand, has often been considered the Achilles Heel for professional managers. Therefore, when the trend of corporatization of India’s film industry began a few years back, there was reason enough to view the entire phenomenon with skepticism. And today, if we look back at the string of box office disasters that they have led to, those fears are justified.

Our most recent debacle in this regard is Mausam, the Shahid Kapoor-Sonam starrer directed by Pankaj Kapur and co-produced by Vistaar Religare (JV of financial services player Religare & Vistaar Entertainment), Eros International Media & Cinergy. The final verdict on its performance isn’t out yet, but it opened to around 40% bookings and initial word-of mouth is making it worse. The most interesting aspect of the movie over the last week has been the Twitter war that Shahid unleashed. Film critic Taran Adarsh had tweeted that Mausam’s numbers were below average, to which Shahid shot back saying, “So all those trying so hard to s***w Mausam can go s***w themselves.” Adarsh replied back saying that Shahid should introspect into the movie’s shortcomings rather than “maligning him (Adarsh) on a public platform”! In fact, one industry source tells us, “All of Religare’s projects are big flops and one suspects foul motives behind spending so much money into big films.” Other notable examples of such terrible flops or rank average performances come to mind. Raavan was one of the biggest of last year; reportedly bought by Reliance for Rs.1 billion. Reliance Big Pictures was also involved in Kites, another box office failure (both lost an estimated Rs.1 billion together). UTV’s Ronnie Screwvalla has a background in the entertainment industry, but he is now well known for deploying the corporate model. And last year, UTV Motion Pictures was party to another huge debacle – Farah Khan’s Tees Maar Khan (reportedly saved only by opening collection of around Rs.500 million) apart from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish (lost around Rs.350 million), which also failed to enthuse the box office. This year, the record has continued with Saat Khoon Maaf, which failed to enthuse audiences. PVR Pictures was involved in two big ones - Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se (lost around Rs.300 million) with Ashutosh Gowarikar Productions and also acquired domestic theatrical rights of Action Replayy (failed despite being a Diwali release & lost Rs.150-200 million). Their co-production Aisha with Anil Kapoor also flunked.

A number of large corporates have entered the industry in the past few years with disappointing outcomes. Aditya Birla group’s Applause Entertainment was behind the widely acclaimed Black and Dev, but the corporate house decided to exit the business in 2009. Mahindra Group’s Mumbai Mantra Media was planning to unleash a steady flow of 28 movies a year by 2010, but their website shows only four productions to date. The Bollywood film they brought out is Sorry Bhai and if you would struggle to remember the lead cast of the film or what it was about, we don’t blame you. PVR Pictures has now been merged with PVR Ltd. and have reportedly decided to refocus on film distribution. UB Group’s Vijay Mallya also opted out early. Managing films as verticals of large corporate houses often seems to be moving to a dead end. Then there are a number of corporates who have done brief stints in the industry and bid adieu. An insider in the industry makes a damning accusation, “Big corporations are almost like government organisations where the business head is looking for a share or a cut in return for accepting projects.”

Creditably, Reliance Big Pictures has hit it big this year with Singham & Bodyguard, but it is one exceptional name. One of the most commonly heard criticisms of corporates entering the industry is with respect to what we talked earlier about creativity and business logic. Noted actor, director & producer Anupam Kher believes in the corporate model, but also cautions, “It certainly brings in a certain amount of professionalism but not necessarily everybody who is in the corporate field has an idea about film making; they look at the steel or cloth business in a similar way as they would look at a film business.” Dialogue writer Javed Siddiqui echoes a similar view, “There’s no harm in getting backing from corporate houses if they start understanding the beauty of the film they’re working with.”

In addition, while the entry of corporates was supposed to enhance efficiency and profitability, the opposite seems to be more of the truth so far. Shubhoshekhar Bhattacharya, CEO, Planman Motion Pictures, comments to B&E, “Prices have actually shot up as a result of corporate entry. A film like Mausam would not have been given the kind of expenditure that it was given (Rs.400 million), if it was produced by say, a Yash Raj Films.” Other problems include poor knowledge of script selection, no idea of how to price the product well, et al. A lot of big ticket film makers are selling their products to large corporates in expectation of high prices, and an additional marketing budget of Rs.70-100 million is a given nowadays, further taking profitability out of the film’s reach.

One can say that these are early days, and corporates may get to better comprehend the creative process over time. But it is critical to keep managerial and creative processes separate and yet in sync. Selecting scripts, for instance, cannot be a business head’s job under any circumstances. And like some of the biggies did, it’s important to know when filmmaking is not your cup of tea and you must exit rather than retaining stiff upper lips that even the Brits find hard to maintain nowadays. Also, there needs to be a conscious effort towards rationalising prices and ensuring that costs stay within limits while focus on quality is retained. That way, they can get their money’s worth, and we can be saved from exposure to mood dampening ‘Mausams’ !

(With inputs from Akriti Singh & Nishita Mahajan)

Virat Bahri           

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