THE DREAM TEAM
Releasing regional and indie movies, and giving unique screenplays a chance has ensured DISNEY UTV delivers hit after hit. Meet the team behind the country’s most successful, trendsetting production house. By Karan Anshuman
Even to the reluctant moviegoer, the UTV logo is ubiquitous. Over the years, the company has created and fine-tuned production processes, broken newground in marketing and distribution, and emerged as the leading producer of movies in India, a position cemented with Disney’s acquisition of it in 2012. The country’s finest filmmaking talent and actors have associated with it at some stage or the other, and one has to look no further than Disney UTV 2014’s slate that encompasses myriad genres across their Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Hollywood movies. The year is significant with films like Rajkumar Hirani’s PK, Prabhu Deva’s ABCD 2, and the Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif starrer
Jagga Jasoos, that will release under the Disney brand. On the subject of striking success with the studio’s foray down south, Amrita Pandey, vice president and head of distribution, says that they started cautiously with a couple of Tamil films, with the brand eventually growing to associate with some of the biggest South Indian stars such
as Suriya and Mahesh Babu. “The studio’s goals go beyond profit and traverse uncharted territory,” says Pandey. “The key is backing and ensuring mainstream releases for movies like The Lunchbox, Ship of Theseus, and Shahid, after the success of iconic films like Rang De Basanti, Khosla ka
Ghosla, and Barfi!.” In terms of distribution, ‘content anytime, anywhere’ is the mantra. A big Hindi film today releases in 5000 theatres worldwide simultaneously (50+ countries), followed by play on video on demand, pay TV, airlines, hotels, DVD, online, and free television, in multiple languages. Digital distribution is key too, and a dedicated team takes care of this.
With only 52 weekends, a limited number of screens, and an unprecedented growth in the average releases every month, it is critical for Disney UTV to find the right balance in their numbers. For now, they’re looking to produce 18-20 films a year. However, commercial plans don’t always dictate production. If the core team green-lights a film, the strategy evolves.
But all this comes later. Senior creative directors Rucha Pathak and Manish Hariprasad, who oversee projects from concept to release, delving into every aspect including budgeting, casting, music, shooting, and post-production, describe the script as the cornerstone of every venture and the basis for selecting the movies. Market research and analysis help, but green-lighting ideas are often down to how well a screenplay reads. They also champion stories that enthuse them at a personal level, just like ones they instinctively know will click with the audience.
Pathak, a dance aficionado, campaigned for ABCD and was rewarded handsomely when the star-less (yet commercial) film succeeded at the box-office and prompted Disney UTV to pursue a sequel. Hariprasad has mentored films ranging from No One Killed Jessica to Kai Po Che to Chennai Express. He says working with star directors like Rohit Shetty is relatively easier than hand-holding new talent through processes because his role transitions to being a consultant and a sounding
board. “Even the best in the field are very open to feedback on scripts and marketing ideas,” he says. “Co-productions and profit-sharing in big-ticket ventures are not to be seen as compromises, rather a cost for working with the best.”
But not all stories and scripts are written from scratch. Amar Butala, creative director at Disney UTV, feels there is often a vacuum of good writers with fresh ideas, and he invests his time scouring international films to remake in Bollywood. There are no fixed criteria—subjects are evaluated on their originality and potential acceptance (after tweaks) by local audiences—and that’s why the current slate is fairly eclectic. It includes two French films ( Priceless [starring Audrey Tatou] and Love Me If You Dare [with Marion Cotillard]—love stories, a staple for Indian tastes), Disney’s own You Again, My Girlfriend Is An Agent From Korea, and Vettai (Tamil, action-masala).
No matter what the source material, there is always a tremendous amount of work required at the writing stage to make it “Bollywood friendly,” says Butala, starting with the addition of songs and dance, tempering the material in terms of sex and violence, and simply making it less esoteric and more accessible in others. “It’s a bit like taking a hamburger, and transforming it into an aloo tikki burger!” adds Butala.
Gastronomic analogies don’t matter to Shikha Kapur, vice president and head of marketing, the only core team member who deviates from the uniform love-for-the-script and uses a cut-and-dry approach to her job. “We treat films like products,” she says being perfectly practical in what her colleagues see as a nebulous intersection of creativity and commerce, “so the typical segmentation, targeting, and positioning process is undertaken to market them.” Based on the specific genre, her team uses benchmarking and market research to position a film and find the target audience, a process that, contrary to belief, begins the moment a project is commissioned. Public relations, creative visualisations (posters, teasers, trailers), media alliances, and brand integrations start early and intensify progressively about 10 weeks before release.
“The studio’s goals go beyond profit and traverse uncharted territory. The key is backing and ensuring mainstream releases for movies like The Lunchbox and Ship of Theseus.” — Amrita Pandey
But of course there is no fixed formula to even marketing cinema. Kapur has handled the extremes in the mass-niche scale from a Chennai Express to Ship of Theseus and this is the sort of challenge she relishes. While
Chennai Express’s blitz was designed to mount the film in a manner that would drive a significant percentage of all moviegoers to theatres, Ship of Theseus was a different story. They conceived a remarkable digital campaign called ‘Vote Your City’ that was essentially a crowdsourced release plan. Despite low marketing costs, Ship
of Theseus was shown in 24 cities across India, as opposed to the original plan of five metros.
The stage is set for Disney UTV to run the show in Bollywood. When asked what future plans are, Siddharth Roy Kapoor, managing director, has a simple, earnest answer, “To keep making great films. That’s it.”
Siddharth Roy Kapoor was always drawn to the movies. Despite a family taboo on the topic of taking it up as a career (“my grandfather lost his shirt making movies in the ’40s”), he wormed his way into the entertainment field after an MBA and a stint in the FMCG space. At a time when the industry’s ecosystem was fragmented and the idea of an integrated solution to take movies all the way from conception to exhibition did not exist, he instantly bought into Ronnie Screwvala’s vision of setting up a true blue studio that was inspired from the Miramaxes and Fox Searchlights of Hollywood. When he made Kapoor an offer to be a part of it, he responded with an “I’m on!” and took the first flight back to Mumbai to join Screwvala.
A decade later, with The Walt Disney Co. acquiring UTV, Roy Kapoor still maintains the studio’s genre-agnostic attitude, one not limited to scope, budget, and stars. He’s proud of the fact that people—even those in the trade—are unable to categorise the type of films Disney UTV produces. Once he and his core team buy into the director’s vision, they do whatever it takes, in terms of production and
“When the audience sees our logo, they know they’re in for something interesting. More often than not they’re happy with what they’ve paid for.”—Siddharth Roy Kapoor
distribution, to realise it sans compromise. “And personally, that’s my favourite aspect of film making—creative discussions with the writer and director on drafts of the script; that gives me joy,” he reveals. From Rajneeti to Udaan, from Jodhaa Akbar to A Wednesday, from ABCD to Paan
Singh Tomar; every year there is a conscious effort not to slot the studio in any way. “When a member of the audience sees our logo,” he says, “they know they’re in fors omething interesting. More often than not they are happy with what they’ve paid for.”
Disney’s proclivity for family values, fun, and inclusiveness intersect with traditional Indian values, and movies that meet criteria are all set to make their debut under the Disney brand. Meanwhile UTV will continue to make cinema that pushes the envelope and try and pre-empt what the audience is looking for.
Roy Kapoor feels that to continually achieve this and build a major studio in an industry that has always been fairly incestuous is in itself a significant achievement. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who made a mark in the media and entertainment space and changed the way cinema and television is done in this country.”
From left: Disney UTV’s Rucha Pathak, Amar Butala, Shikha Kapur, Manish Hariprasad, and Amrita Pandey.
Siddharth Roy Kapoor