SHOOT­ING TO FAME

Marwar - - Contents - Text Joseph Rozario

For Shrikant Mohta and Ma­hen­dra Soni, there is no busi­ness like show busi­ness. Armed with lit­tle else ex­cept a pas­sion for cin­ema, the cousins have scripted an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney of suc­cess, ac­claim and fame to turn their com­pany, SVF En­ter­tain­ment, into the big­gest en­ter­tain­ment pow­er­house in East­ern In­dia.

For Shrikant Mohta and Ma­hen­dra Soni, there is no busi­ness like show busi­ness. Armed with lit­tle else ex­cept a pas­sion for cin­ema, the cousins have scripted an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney of suc­cess, ac­claim and fame to turn their com­pany, SVF En­ter­tain­ment, into the big­gest en­ter­tain­ment pow­er­house in East­ern In­dia.

SWITCH­ING OVER FROM THE BUSI­NESS OF MAK­ING rakhis (an or­na­men­tal thread that serves as an amulet which sis­ters rit­u­al­is­ti­cally tie around the wrists of their broth­ers on Rak­sha Band­han) to some­thing as glam­orous as pro­duc­ing films may seem hard to con­ceive, but for Shrikant Mohta and Ma­hen­dra Soni it hap­pened as if by divine in­ter­ven­tion. Not only did the cousins’ foray into film­dom hap­pen against all odds, but suc­cess greeted them from the get-go. The growth has con­tin­ued un­abated for over two decades since and to­day their com­pany, SVF En­ter­tain­ment, is the largest film pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion house in East­ern In­dia.

Col­lege kids to film dis­trib­u­tors

The Mo­htas orig­i­nally be­long to Bikaner in Ra­jasthan, but have been liv­ing in Kolkata for the last three gen­er­a­tions, where they own one of the country’s big­gest rakhi man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies. Rather than pick up the ba­ton, as is the usual prac­tice among Mar­waris, Shrikant Mohta and cousin Ma­hen­dra Soni de­cided to turn their ef­forts in another di­rec­tion, which led to the foun­da­tion of Shree Venkatesh Films (now re­named SVF En­ter­tain­ment), which has grown phe­nom­e­nally over the years, earn­ing the so­bri­quet ‘Yashraj Films of the East’. So how did it all be­gin? “We started way back in 1995,” says Shrikant Mohta, who is 43 now and the cre­ative mus­cle of SVF En­ter­tain­ment. “We were two young en­er­getic boys still in col­lege pur­su­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in com­merce when we thought we can be­come dream mer­chants, but with no idea on how to sell dreams, as till then we were only in­volved in our fam­ily

Many of SVF's films went on to be­come block­busters, earn­ing the house a plethora of awards, in­clud­ing na­tional awards

rakhi busi­ness. We flew to Mumbai to buy the dis­tri­bu­tion rights to Mani Rat­nam’s film Bom­bay, and against all odds, we suc­ceeded.”

With that SVF’s jour­ney into film­dom be­gan. The house has come a long way since then and, ac­cord­ing to Ma­hen­dra Soni, has dis­trib­uted over 1500 films so far, earn­ing the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the largest dis­tri­bu­tion house in East­ern In­dia.

An ex­cel­lent chem­istry

Mohta and Soni, in­ci­den­tally, share an ex­cel­lent chem­istry, which not only was the rea­son for them to team up in the first place, but also has stood their busi­ness in good stead. “Moni, as he is fondly called, is my first cousin, and we have been to­gether since I can re­mem­ber,” says Shrikant Mohta. “We went to the same col­lege, our wave­lengths match and we agree and dis­agree to­gether. We have a mu­tual re­spect and have the same vi­sion and dreams, as far as SVF is con­cerned. I think it was nat­u­ral for us to start off to­gether and go along the way.”

Twenty-three years later, their part­ner­ship con­tin­ues to fuel SVF’s growth, which now is an en­ter­tain­ment be­he­moth with in­ter­ests in film pro­duc­tion, film dis­tri­bu­tion, pro­duc­tion of tele­vi­sion con­tent, dig­i­tal cin­ema, mu­sic, new me­dia, cin­ema and equip­ment rental. While Soni heads SVF En­ter­tain­ment’s film, tele­vi­sion, dis­tri­bu­tion, cin­ema and mu­sic ver­ti­cals, Mohta over­sees the cre­ative and con­tent as­pects of the busi­ness.

Mak­ing movies

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of their dis­tri­bu­tion busi­ness, the cousins for­ayed into film pro­duc­tion in 1996, with the re­lease of their first film Bhai Amar Bhai, un­der the com­pany’s film pro­duc­tion arm, SVF Films. Here too suc­cess greeted the duo from the very out­set, and the good times con­tinue to roll. “We have pro­duced over 100 Ben­gali films so far—in fact, we are at our 118th pro­duc­tion to be pre­cise, as of now,” says Ma­hen­dra Soni, quan­ti­fy­ing. “Fur­ther, we have re­cently an­nounced more than 25 new pro­duc­tions to be done in the span of the next two years.”

Many of SVF’s films went on be­come block­busters, earn­ing the house a plethora of awards, in­clud­ing na­tional awards, the Cen­te­nary Award, YouTube’s Golden But­ton Award, the Sil­ver Pea­cock and the Golden Leop­ard. “We have been con­ferred five na­tional awards and have also re­ceived the Cen­te­nary Best Film Award for Meghe Dhaka Tara, the ICFT-Unesco Fellini Prize for Cine­mawala and the Sil­ver Pea­cock for Apur Pan­chali and Cho­toder Chobi. Be­sides these, we have been the re­cip­i­ents of nu­mer­ous awards, both na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally,” says Ma­hen­dra Soni.

Chokher Bali (2005), which was ac­claimed na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, de­fied lan­guage bar­ri­ers and went on to bag three na­tional awards. Rain­coat, SVF’s de­but Bol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion, was hailed as the ‘Best Fea­ture Film in Hindi (2005)’,

and Mem­o­ries in March was de­clared ‘Best Fea­ture Film in English, 2010’. Chi­tran­gada won Special Jury Award/Special Men­tion, 2013, and Cho­toder Chobi was ad­judged the ‘Best Film on So­cial Is­sues, 2015’.

Apart from these, SVF has also pro­duced a string of other block­busters like Sa­sur­bari Zind­abad, Prat­i­bad, Saathi, Bond­hon, MLA Phatakesto, I Love You, Po­ran Jay Joliya Re, Chi­ro­dini Tumi Je Amar, Ja­mai 420, Dui Prithibi, Chal­lenge, Au­to­graph, Ra­jkahini and Ama­zon Ob­hi­jaan, to men­tion a few.

Mu­sic on the go

Si­mul­ta­ne­ously with film dis­tri­bu­tion and pro­duc­tion, SVF En­ter­tain­ment ex­tended its pres­ence in the Ben­gali mu­sic arena also, en­ter­tain­ing lis­ten­ers around the world with pop­u­lar Ben­gali mu­sic, as well as songs span­ning other gen­res. SVF Mu­sic, the mu­sic busi­ness of SVF En­ter­tain­ment, has over 800 songs in its reper­toire to­day, in­clud­ing ac­quired songs, which are avail­able on OTT and web stream­ing plat­forms the world over. Sig­nif­i­cantly, SVF’s YouTube chan­nel—a favourite with view­ers for the lat­est and hottest Ben­gali num­bers— boasts over 1 mil­lion sub­scribers and 80 mil­lion video views, which makes it the top des­ti­na­tion for Ben­gali mu­sic.

Foray into tele­vi­sion

Em­bold­ened by its all-round suc­cess, SVF En­ter­tain­ment ven­tured into TV pro­duc­tion in 2004-5 un­der its tele­vi­sion con­tent pro­duc­tion arm, SVF Tele­vi­sion. Here again, thanks to Ma­hen­dra Soni’s un­der­stand­ing of the au­di­ence, he was able to turn Mu­sic In­dia, Sangeet Bangla and Sangeet Bho­jpuri into lead­ing chan­nels within their re­spec­tive seg­ments. Un­der his guid­ance, SVF has so far pro­duced over 10,000 hours of TV con­tent, span­ning 27 shows and nu­mer­ous episodes of pop­u­lar se­ri­als like ‘Po­tol Ku­mar Gaan­wala’, ‘Bhutu’, ‘Ma­hanayak’, ‘Maa’, ‘Bo­jhena Shey Bo­jhena’ and ‘Goenda Ginni’ (aired on Colors Bangla, Zee Bangla and Star Jal­sha chan­nels). SVF Tele­vi­sion’s pro­duc­tions have con­sis­tently won awards across var­i­ous cat­e­gories.

Close on the heels of its foray into tele­vi­sion, SVF En­ter­tain­ment started its dig­i­tal cin­ema arm in 2007, af­ter ac­quir­ing ex­clu­sive rights for the in­stal­la­tion of the ‘Qube’ dig­i­tal sys­tem across cin­e­mas in East­ern In­dia.

Redefin­ing the cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence

Yet another area where SVF En­ter­tain­ment has been cre­at­ing waves is in the way the com­pany's cin­ema busi­ness, SVF Cin­e­mas, has been rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence in East­ern In­dia. Think of el­e­gant in­te­ri­ors, cush­ioned chairs and re­clin­ers with cup hold­ers, state-of-the-art acous­tics, 5.1 Dolby Dig­i­tal Sur­round sound sys­tem, 3D pro­jec­tion sys­tems and a high level of clean­li­ness—SVF aims to bring these in and be­come the best cin­ema chain in East­ern In­dia with its con­tin­u­ous en­deav­ours to usher in new tech­nol­ogy and pro­vide

pre­mium fa­cil­i­ties for lo­cal au­di­ences. With pres­ence in Kr­ish­nana­gar, Pu­ru­lia, Bolpur, Mo­gra, Giridih, Kolkata, Naren­dra­pur and Kalyani al­ready, the com­pany aims to ex­tend its footprint to ev­ery nook and cranny of the re­gion by both set­ting up new prop­er­ties as well as by up­grad­ing con­ven­tional sin­gle screen cin­e­mas into multi-use prop­er­ties with var­i­ous screens.

In step with the dig­i­tal era

Keep­ing pace with chang­ing times and view­ing habits, SVF En­ter­tain­ment has made its en­try into the world of mo­bile app-based con­tent also with the launch of ‘hoi­choi’, un­der the SVF New Me­dia ban­ner. An on-de­mand video stream­ing web­site and app, launched last year, hoi­choi reaches out to a wide sec­tion of the Ben­gali pop­u­la­tion world­wide. It of­fers the largest col­lec­tion of the best in Ben­gali en­ter­tain­ment, in­clud­ing orig­i­nal web-se­ries, Ben­gali movies and Ben­gali songs and has been wit­ness­ing a steady rise in pop­u­lar­ity lev­els. “It’s over­whelm­ing to see that un­der the lead­er­ship of my younger brother, Vishnu Mohta, Co­founder, hoi­choi in a very short span of time has be­come one of the most com­mend­able play­ers in the dig­i­tal con­tent stream­ing space,” says Shrikant Mohta. Hoi­choi hosts 11 orig­i­nal web-se­ries and more than 500 movies cur­rently, and in or­der to strengthen its port­fo­lio of con­tent, aims to add two orig­i­nal shows ev­ery month be­sides adding new cat­e­gories such as ‘hoi­choi Shorts’, ‘hoi­choi Films’ and ‘hoi­choi Doc­u­men­taries’.

Mis­sion and vi­sion

In view of SVF En­ter­tain­ment’s all-round suc­cesses, one won­ders what Shrikant Mohta’s vi­sion is for the en­ter­tain­ment pow­er­house. In re­sponse, he says, “Our vi­sion is to be the best me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment com­pany in In­dia. We started off as two dream mer­chants who had no idea of this busi­ness, but were pas­sion­ate about cin­ema. We wanted to cre­ate a vi­sion called SVF and we are striv­ing each day to bet­ter our last achieve­ment. We dreamt to be a 360 de­gree en­ter­tain­ment com­pany and we are slowly get­ting there.”

And to what does he at­tribute SVF’s suc­cess? “This suc­cess we at­tribute to a lot of ded­i­ca­tion amongst us two broth­ers and to Team SVF who are the pil­lars of the com­pany,” replies Mohta.

Con­sid­er­ing the enor­mous strides SVF has made in a mere two decades, the future holds much prom­ise for the com­pany whose growth tra­jec­tory has been ever on the rise. For all you know, Mohta could be right when he says the jour­ney for SVF En­ter­tain­ment has just be­gun.

Clock­wise from top right: A still from the tele­vi­sion se­rial 'Po­tol Ku­mar Gaan­wala' by SVF Tele­vi­sion; A still from the tele­vi­sion se­rial ' Bhutu' by SVF Tele­vi­sion; SVF Films' award-win­ning film, ' Chi­tran­gada'

SVF Films' award-win­ning films (l-r) 'Mem­o­ries in March' and 'Chokher Bali'

From top: Shrikant Mohta; Ma­hen­dra Soni Fac­ing page: Some of SVF En­ter­tain­ment's well-known films

From left: 'Marer Shagor' by Sa­hana Ba­j­paie from SVF Mu­sic; the 'hoi­choi' app

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