's Perspectives
For better or for worse?
TV production houses and broadcasters are making a beeline for the big screen, but is it a good trend?
(Posted on 10 February 2004)

They make unlikely bedfellows, television and films. Especially so in India, where the entertainment industry is clearly demarcated. You have film people and you have television people, and the twain rarely meet. But the scenario is rapidly changing, and how.

Although some TV production houses have been moonlighting as film producers and have subsequently floated film production ventures, the instances have been sparse and spaced out. But what started as a trickle a few years ago is a regular flood now.

Television to films: the current trend

Television software production houses like Balaji Telefilms, Cinevistaas, Creative Eye, UTV, Metalight, Pritish Nandy Communications and Nimbus have already displayed their big screen capabilities; smaller fry like Optymystix, Contiloe Films and Miditech are in the scripting stages of their own silver screen forays.

Cinevistaas has pined its hope on 'Garv'

Cinevistaas produced Yeh Mohabbat Hai in early 2003, and another, Shhhh.... in the latter half of the year. While Yeh... was a bloomer, the thriller Shhhh… too sank without a trace. Undeterred, the production house is going ahead with an Indo American co-production Marigold, apart from another long pending Salman Khan starrer, Garv- Pride and Honour (earlier titled Sanghaar, then Satyamev Jayate).

Thriller genre has been popular with the first timers

Ditto is the case with soap factory Balaji. The 'k' factor has not extended its lucky run to Ekta Kapoor's Bollywood foray. While the Liar Liar rip off Kyonki Main Jhoot Nahin Bolta failed, Scream and Psycho inspired Kucch To Hai, starring Tusshar Kapoor did ho-hum business. The film production arm is getting ready to launch its next venture, a thriller Krishna Cottage.

The vertically integrated company, Metalight, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Singapore-based Production Facilities Pvt Ltd, which also owns TV software company InHouse Productions, released three films Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar, 3 Deewanein and Satta last year. Unfortunately, despite spending Rs 170 million on production, marketing and distribution (Rs 90 million for Dil Vil... and Rs 40 million for each of the other two), none created much action at the box office. Despite the setback, the company plans to announce three more movies soon.

Most television production houses are yet to meet with success

Mytho-maker Creative Eye has plans to launch its 3D Plus technology extravaganza Aabra Ka Dabra in mid 2004. The company has also roped in Oscar winning director Roger Christian for a joint production, Behind the Painted Veil. On the other hand, Nimbus that scored an ace with marketing the ICC World Cup on Doordarshan, isn't as lucky with its silver screen forays. Although its regional venture,a Marathi movie Ek Hoti Vaadi, which released in December 2001, won a lot of critical acclaim, the dismal state of the Marathi regional cinema took its toll on the box office collections.

Its long-in-the-making mainstream movie- the Rs 160 million (Rs 160 million) Sarhad Paar starring Sanjay Dutt, Tabu, Mahima Choudhary- is still in limbo. Another regional production, the Suresh Krishna directed Telugu multi starrer Idhi Maa Ashoggaadi Love Story didn't meet with much success. But according to the industry sources, the company should be ready to make some big announcements real soon.

PNC's transition from being television content provider to cinema content provider

One television content company that has succeeded in its cinematic foray is Pritish Nandy's PNC. The company's first offering Samar in 1999 won the President's Award for the Best Film. While 2000's Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi and 2001's cult crossover film Bollywood Calling met with mixed response, 2002's Kaante broke box office records. The Lucky Ali starrer musical Sur was appreciated for its music, but what really set the ball rolling was 2003's first surprise hit Jhankaar Beats. PNC's movie list thus far includes Sur, Samar, Kuch Khatti Kuch Meethi, Bollywood Calling, The Mystic Masseur, Kaante, Jhankaar Beats, Mumbai Matinee and the latest hit Chameli.

Movies coming up in the next three months are the long pending Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, which is a love story set against the backdrop of political turmoil during the Emergency; Shabd starring Aishwarya Rai; the frisky sounding Popcorn Khao Mast Ho Jao, directed by Kabir Sadanand and Struggler.

Not to be left behind are the broadcasters, who are either investing in silver screen ventures or are floating companies for their arc light forays.

A period film 'Gadar' went agains all norms but yet turned out be a success

Zee Telefilms' film division is an already established venture. Its debut venture Gadar- Ek prem Katha did big business,and now the company has tied up with Rajshri Productions for distribution. Matching it step for step is Sahara media communications. Unfortunaltely, its previous ventures like Feroz Khan's Janasheen failed to create even a ripple at the box office. According to industry rumour, Sahara has planned a whopping 50-movie project. The latest on this front is that the company has tied up with K Sera Sera and Varma Corp in a Rs 350 million (35 crore) deal. The deal envisages production of ten movies in a period of two and half years.

While B4U has a co-production deal with idream productions, the latest to join the feature film bandwagon is Star India, which has inked a deal with UTV for a three big budget film project, each estimated to cost around Rs 250 to Rs 300 million.

Shri Adhikari Brothers, notwithstanding the dismal performance of 1993's Bhookamp, plans to hit the Rs 9 billion film production marquee with Waajah… a reason to kill. The movie is scheduled for an early 2004 release.

Aspiration element aside, what seems to have fuelled the feature film drive is the multiplex trend. "Growth of multiplexes ensures that there is an audience for the movie. There are about 17 multiplex screens in Mumbai and four to six more coming up in a few months' time," offers Creative Eye CEO Dheeraj Kumar. Seconding his view is Optimystix producer- writer Vipul D Shah, "What really gave us a push is the multiplex trend but I guess there is a certain aspiration in every television professional to make it to films. My partner Sanjeev is an ad film maker and I am a writer and we have, since a long time, wanted to 'tell our story'. What was really the initiation point was that despite our movie being a small budget movie Rs 35-40 million, we were assured that it would be watched."

So apart from the availability of the screen, the possibility of a niche 'segmented' film being watched has increased. Therefore, a low budget movie has an equal chance of recovering its money alongside a big budget extravaganza.

As far as the broadcasters go, besides widening their area of expertise, they get the satellite rights of the movies produced.

What is even more puzzling is that despite not one success story to inspire, thus far, the production houses are driving towards big screens in droves

Agreed that making movies is a good business idea, especially since it is an Rs 40 billion plus film industry churning out over 200 films per year. But the question lingers - are production houses really adept at making films? What is even more puzzling is that despite the absence of even one success story to inspire thus far, production houses are driving towards big screens in droves.

After all, movie making is just another means of story telling and television software companies do seem to have the facilities. But there is a catch - production houses don't take into consideration the sheer fact that while television is essentially a close up medium, films comprise long shots and middle frames. Even in terms of production values, it's okay to shoot a daily or a weekly on just two sets but that's a strict no-no for films.

"The kind of skills that are required to getting a film off the ground, making it marketing it and distributing it are completely different from the television programme," says Zee Telefilms Ltd. Film Division CEO Nittin Keni.

A senior media marketing executive offers, "Movie business in India is a series of dream sequences. While television is all about budgets and deadlines, not necessarily a bad thing. But in a bid to make a movie on time, the television guys allow mediocrity to seep into the logistics. That's exactly the reason why most of the films from production houses have not done well."

The market isn't conducive for the mid budget movies

Also, another important aspect is that the logistics of filmmaking are completely different and so is the level of professionalism in the industry. It is an extremely rare occurrence that a film is completed on schedule and budget allocations are seemingly a myth. While a newcomer learns to adapt to the norms of the industry, television companies try to adhere to their television discipline, which goes against the grain of Indian filmmaking.

Contradicting this statement, an independent filmmaker and senior television executive commented, "Even a film has a budget constriction, but the reason why many of the TV production house films are failing is because they are slack in story telling. Be it Office Office or Munabhai MBBS, both have their moments of brilliance and that is what the film production houses should keep in mind."

As for the not-so-brilliant yet opulent movies that are crowd pullers, it is not just luck but calculated strategy that counts. In the current scenario, it is movies that are either Rs 300+ billion extravagant affairs that work well or it is the lower Rs 30-40 billion movies. The market isn't conducive for Rs 80-150 billion mid budget movies. Therefore, you have the likes of Pinjar, Waisa Bhi Hota Hai not getting enough business, while low budget ventures like Jism, Jhankar Beats work well. Incidentally, the films produced by Balaji and Cinevistaas were mid budget films.

The consensus is that producers should be able to assess the worth of their film and work keeping that in mind. Unlike television, faces and names help assess the value of the film. Hence you can't make a high budget film with small stars.

Does that mean that movies with good storyline and produced keeping the current market scenario in mind have chances of making it big? Not necessarily. What is also required is a great marketing push. The budget of the movie doesn't matter, what does is the marketing that requires Rs 10 billion plus.

That brings us back to the basics. Is the trend of television producers and broadcasters turning film producers a positive one? Looking at it purely as a business option - yes, considering the Hindi movie pie is forever increasing. Will this trend last long? Ideally, it should. TV software companies need to adapt the US entertainment paradigm, look at both media as equal opponents and bridge the chasm. As for now... let's wait and watch.

Also read:
Coming up next...
"Radio's share in the ad pie will grow to six or seven per cent in four to five years" - an interview with Zee Telefilms Ltd. Film Division CEO Nittin Keni





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