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

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR -

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

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