Television

“While we want films to be our anchor, we are equally excited about digital & TV:” Ajit Thakur

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From transitioning from Unilever in London to the Indian media space, Trinity Pictures CEO Ajit Thakur was lucky enough to get mentorship from two of the best minds in the media space - Ronnie Screwvala and Ekta Kapoor. Having learnt a lot from Screwvala in terms of business in media and from Kapoor, the madness of creativity, Thakur couldn’t have asked for a better learning ground.

Since the time he came to India in 2007, he always wanted to make films, but then only landed up doing television stints with Sony and Life OK, which he found equally exciting.

With a specific agenda on films that is to create his own label, he then finally got a platform in Eros International (with Trinity Pictures) to realise his dream.

In conversation with Indiantelevision.com’s Disha Shah, Thakur speaks about his movie making passion, what Trinity Picture stands for, his journey from TV to films and more.

Excerpts:

What are the three core elements that you envisioned while launching the Trinity Pictures banner?

Since the time I came back to India in 2007, I always wanted to make films. But when I came here I realised that all the platforms were equally exciting. Even after having moved to films, I still believe that television is as exciting a medium. But I had done two very good stints in TV with Sony and Life OK, so I thought it was time for me to do something in films now.

My agenda was to be very specific – create a different studio and when I met Sunil Lulla and Kishore Lulla at Eros, they were both excited about it. Most importantly, they had the ideal platform for me to do what I wanted to do. So in February, Trinity Pictures was set-up as an in-house production house within Eros.

There are three unique things about Trinity. Firstly, as a company we will focus only on developing franchises films because I believe focus gets you success. Keeping in mind Indian and global box office trends, there is space for franchise films. In India, as of June the top two films are returning films like Tanu Weds Manu Returns and Furious 7. While India is slowly waking up to the power of franchises, Hollywood has been tasting success with it for more than a decade. Even if we do come across a great script, which we can’t convert into a franchise, Trinity will pass it on to Eros. Our focus is very clear.

Secondly, at Trinity we are not looking at ourselves as being just a film franchise studio. We will create franchises that can go across and beyond screens. It can happen that we develop a idea for digital, take it to TV and then to films. We are keen at making digital comics and character games for each franchise. One franchise might start with a comic and then become a film, while another might begin as a film and then hop on to the gaming platform. The possibilities are endless.

Thirdly, we will be the first studio to have an in-house writers’ room. We are hiring 10-12 writers and three are already on-board through this unique open application that we have. We will have all these writers developing concepts and ideas for us in-house.

From Yash Raj Films to UTV, many studios today have multiple film banners to cater to different genres. Why did Eros feel the need to launch a separate banner too?

I think it is not about the need for a separate banner as much as about the fact that all these films could have been done under Eros. However, when I presented the idea to Kishore, he saw the merit in having a separate identity to these franchise films. So, while Eros stands for certain kind of big films across genres, Trinity will stand for big films within the franchise space. And moreover, I believe it sits in well as a strategic thing from a market’s promise that both the brands can grow.

Eros is at the threshold of really aggressive growth in the next five years. It fits in the plan to have a second brand under it. More importantly, Trinity is not like the second label of other studios. Other studios use the second label to make small and alternative films; Trinity will cater to mainstream and big films.

From TV to films, what were the initial challenges that you faced and how have you adapted to the new medium?

There were no challenges, just opportunities. I am a curious person and for me it’s a process of evolution, so I don’t see them as challenges. Between Ronnie Screwvala and Ekta Kapoor, I couldn’t have asked for a better learning ground. My stints in broadcasting were also fantastic. I never thought I would do TV for so long but I did enjoy it a lot.

At Sony, it was a great learning curve. It was a place where I really felt confident for the first time as we did Kaun Banega Crorepati and Crime Patrol and a lot of alternative shows. At Sony, we moved away from the saas-bahu sagas and experimented with alternative programming, which worked. I had great support from Man Jit Singh and NP Singh.

Post Sony, Life OK was a dream job and I couldn’t have asked for more. From the foundations of Screwvala and Kapoor to witnessing growth as a person and professional, my Star India experience was fantastic. I haven’t seen a company with more talented people between Uday Shankar and Sanjay Gupta and all the colleagues I have worked with. I was learning everyday at Star.

Life OK is like my baby, but more than Life OK, it is about just how much I learnt from the Star system. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to get to that level of confidence. And I believe it was great I did that and then jumped into films. I wish I had given more time to Channel V but my dream was to make films. I am now applying a lot of my learnings from there. Finally, it is about content and how you create it.

Bollywood has a different set of dynamics and the only challenge has been to get to know big stars and directors and telling them that how somebody who has not made films before wants to make big films.

What was the mandate that was given to you for launching this new banner? Walk us through your responsibilities at Eros.

Eros is at a threshold of the next level in its journey. What we have charted out for the next three-five years is to become one of the leading global players in entertainment. Not just film entertainment, but also across digital, TV etc. Trinity Pictures fits in well with that plan for Eros to go to the next level. Eros’ top brass comprising Kishore, Sunil and Jyoti Deshpande believe that we can create four-five valuable franchises in films and beyond over the next three years.

The second thing within that is to get the best talent to work with us directly. Traditionally, we have been following the acquisition model as well as producing our own films. Trinity will produce all of it in-house. The idea is to build relationship with talent because Trinity is a content production studio, which goes beyond just films. I am also helping develop content for Eros Now in space of original mini-series.

How are you going to use all the different mediums? What is your strategy?

The only difference between all the mediums is the target group that we are looking at. There is a certain target group that goes to theatres to watch films, a different group that watches digital content and a slightly different group that watches TV. More women drive television and more men drive films in terms of the demographic profile. That is the only thing I have to keep in mind.

All we are looking for is good ideas and once the idea comes, we slot it for television, films or digital and then we will move it around. The main beauty of franchises is that it is platform agnostic. We can take the same franchise across mediums. The key point is where we want to start from and the target audience.

Trinity is a multi-screen studio. Of course, we want to anchor ourselves in films but we are equally excited about digital and television.

Give us an insight into the working of Trinity Pictures? What is the team structure like?

It is a very small team. Till a month back, I was the only employee along with my assistant. We are taking time to find the right people. The aim is to have three teams comprising project managers, production heads and in-house writers. We already have on-board one of the top writers of Bollywood - Shridhar Raghavan, working with us as a consultant.

As of now we have three full time writers. On 22 June, we are holding our first writer’s assessment workshop, wherein 250 applicants have evinced interest. Hopefully by next month, we should have 10 writers on-board. We are also looking at scouting for writers in Delhi and Kolkata.

What is the potential that you see in building franchises in the Indian market?

Significant. Like I said, this year the top two grossing films have been franchises. Look at Hollywood in the last one year, out of top 12 films, 10 films were franchises. Moreover, from 2008 onwards it has been the same. While franchises have tremendous potential, it needs a lot more development. It is almost like television where you build characters, even if the story gets over, people come in for characters and that is what franchises are about. You invest in characters and once when people fall in love with characters, they come for the next film.

For example, Jurassic World has done the highest weekend ever in US. It is another returning franchise! The truth is all around this, but yes these are big films and you have to mount it well and get it right.

What genres will Trinity Pictures be looking at to build movie franchise? How many films you have pitched to the management till now? When can we see first movie going on-floor?

We are looking at full range of genres. We are looking at Superheroes, action - thrillers, spy and detectives, super natural horror, period and mythological as well as teens and kids. Within franchises, we want to explore everything.

We have an agreement on eight projects and we will hopefully lock four by next month. We are hoping that a couple of these films to go on floors by September-October and we will definitely have two releases next year.

Are Superhero films the best bet as far as franchises go or do other genres like comedy, thriller, horror have potential too?

Making superhero films in India is difficult. I think, Hollywood has set a benchmark that we have to really find a right idea to be able to compete with them. If you make something like a pale replica, it won’t work.

Will Trinity be making films that have a wider reach and appeal than just the Indian market?

Yes. The franchises have the potential to reach out to the global audiences because they are universal themes and not just Indians. We are looking at all markets like UK, US and the Middle East for our films.

Will you be looking at producing only Hindi films or is regional cinema also on the cards?

At Trinity, we want to first focus on Hindi films and we might look at couple of English language films. However, regional cinema is part of Eros portfolio. We have a massive presence in South and we are expanding in Marathi and Bengali. Eros will continue doing a lot of regional cinema, while Trinity will focus on Hindi currently.

Mythology as a genre has been working great guns on Indian television. However, as far as films go, Indian producers have so far failed to exploit the genre on the big screen. Will Trinity be looking at building on mythological films?

I definitely relate to mythology and historicals, but obviously they have to be at a scale that is very different for TV for it to be worth being a film. I have a couple of subjects but I want to make sure that the right investments and right technicians are available to make it happen. Mythology in films has to be much bigger. Moreover, the average filmgoer is younger, so just mythology pitched like that won’t work. You will have to make it larger than life to pull in the younger audience.

What is your target in the first year of operations?

To have four films ready, make two films till next year and also make one very big franchise. For the four films, the story is done. We will be now be getting into screenplay writing. Over three years, we are aiming to have four-five big franchises across mediums and are also hoping to create a mini-series that completely changes the way content is seen for digital.

What about the other talents like directors, actors?

Like I mentioned earlier, that films is not the only criteria at Trinity Pictures. Having said that, we definitely want to work with established directors for our bigger films. At the same time, I am also very open to new directors and writers. However, some films will need experienced hands. The great thing is that all the directors I have spoken to, have been very excited about what Trinity wants to do in terms of franchises, having a writers’ room etc. We are in discussions and negotiations with a few directors.

As far as actors go, we have not thought about it at the moment. Directors will finally decide on the actors. Our focus is to create good scripts and get good directors in.

Is Trinity Pictures looking to exploit the film franchises for merchandising, animation etc?

Absolutely. Like I said, gaming and comics will be a part of merchandising. We will also be looking at animation films but that will take some time. First, we want to get a couple of good films and franchises rolling… but everything will travel from one medium to another.

What kind of budgets is Trinity Pictures looking at for making films?

All kinds of budgets from Rs 5 crore to Rs 50 crore to even Rs 100 crore films.

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