TV producer Colosceum's new drive

MUMBAI: Lalit Sharma has one ambition that keeps him up all night, it's the drive to take his production house Colosceum Media into new vistas. The smiling soft-spoken bearded CEO whose charge has built up its reputation as a top notch producer of non-fiction and reality shows would like to balance out its portfolio by diversifying increasingly into TV dramas and series for Hindi GECs, shows for international TV channels, and digital content.

For the first, he has a challenge – albeit not un-surmountable - on his hands. For a large part programmers in Hindi GECs are a cautious bunch – they put producers in defined boxes and are loathe to give opportunities to untried and untested producers, even though they have experience in other genres. “Oh! He is into non-fiction; he does not have the requisite fiction production experience,” is oft heard in programming circles in channels.

The production house has found a way out of this Catch22 situation. Over the years, it has partnered with fiction producers or creators by pumping in funds and looking after the production aspects of each show. For example for its latest endeavor, Dehleez, which came to a close in June 2016, Sharma found a willing listener in Star Content Studios boss Gaurav Banerji who allowed him to partner and co-produce it with Farhan Salaruddin's Fortune Productions for Star Plus. A romantic courtroom drama it ran for 104 episodes at 10:30 pm, and pulled in consistent ratings for the channel.

But Lalit wants more of fiction. “We were heartened by the success of Dahleez and would like to produce more shows in the fiction genre. We have a few concepts for which we are currently in conversation with a couple of Hindi GECs,” he says.

The Rs 45.55 crore (year ended 31 March 2015) turnover TV production studio has made its reputation as the producer of flagship shows such as MTV Roadies, Splitsvilla and Masterchef which are almost iconic. But unknown to many it has almost been churning out ad films, documentaries, regional content and even mythological shows.

Its ride into television started way back in 2007 when founder Ajit Andhare armed with little but a dream to get into production drew up a business plan and approached TV18 promoter Raghav Bahl and got him to provide him with seed capital. Ajit had little TV production experience. A 10 year veteran of marketing behemoth Hindustan Lever, he had risen up the ranks to become regional brand activation director APAC for its parent Unilever. Through the years, he had worked on brands like Sunsilk Clear, Dove, Lifebuoy, Lux, among many others.

While at Hindustan Lever, he had creatively brainstormed and conceptualized a concept that would end up on television as a TV show Wheel Smart Srimati on Doordarshan.

Ajit utilized the seed capital Raghav provided him for his project well. He roped in in Rajiv Lakshman (yes, he of Roadies fame and the other half of the twin brothers) as chief creative officer. He then brought in Lalit, (who had close to nine years experience and was working in Star India as AVP operations) as his COO.

“Even though Colosceum was funded by Network 18, we were adamant on not making it a network production house, which turned out to be the biggest challenge,” shares Rajiv who has since parted ways from Colosceum, and today runs another outfit with his brother Raghu.

Team in place, Ajit and Rajiv decided to approach Hindustan Lever with a pitch to produce Wheel Smart Srimati. The well-established Miditech and Endemol Colosceum were also in the running, but finally Levers decided to opt for Colosceum. The production house went on to make a success of it.

But even then its big challenge was to get a show on private satellite TV. “The break came when we made Splitsvilla for MTV, the first romance reality show,” expresses Sharma.

And then there was no looking back. Within seven months of inception, Colosceum had five shows on air Wheel Smart Srimati and Duniya on DD, Jai Sri Krishna and Bandhan Saat Janmon Ka (on Colors), and of course Splitsvilla. For its fiction, mythologicals and drama forays, Colosceum partnered with other creative boutiques such as Moti and Meenakshi Sagar, and Shakuntalam Telefilms – a tack it follows to this day.

But the next big break at the company came when it was commissioned by Star to produce a top global format franchise – Masterchef India for Star Plus. Over the years, other shows followed on which it was a co-producer such as Jamunia and Meera on NDTV Imagine, Shakuntala on Star One, now Like Ok, and Bani Ishq Da Kalma on Colors.

It was in 2013 when Ajit decided to head out and venture into film making under the banner of Viacom18 Motion Pictures. By then, most of the shareholding was in the hands of private equity funds.

And the mantle to run the shop fell on Lalit. Rajiv also moved on to his joint venture with twin brother Raghu Ram. “I love experimenting with my career, Colosceum had attained stability and it was time to move on,” says Rajiv.

Lalit brought in Jayesh Gokulgandhi as CFO, Girish Balan as VP-productions & operations and Kaveri Mehrotra as creative head. Today, a core team of 28 employees is responsible for the 200-250 hours of non-fiction content that it churns out. while the crew is hired according to the projects. The company’s rolls swell depending on the number of projects it has on the floors. For each non- fiction production, it recruits between 200-300 crew and for fiction between 60-100. For shows like Roadies which it has been producing since Season 8, it has partners and line producers nationally and internationally who are available for it on call.

According to Lalit, the company has an appetite to produce three non-fiction, two or three regional fiction, two to three niche content and three to four fiction shows in the Hindi GEC space annually.

“We work like a family, the entire team has dedication and passion at its core.” shares Lalit. ”Our co-productions are like collaborations where we come together to create the and produce the show. We have different revenue share models with our co-production partners,” explains Lalit.

The Colosceum team has got plaudits from all and sundry. Its shows have won awards. But more than that is the praise that its broadcast partners shower on it. Says MTV India creative and content director Deborah Polycarp: “They produce Splitsvilla and Roadies for MTV from season 8 and have proved to be a passionate team. Colosceum puts in determined efforts behind every show that they produce. Evidence of that is the fact that Splitsvilla is amongst the top rated shows.”

Lalit, on his part, is looking forward to the next season of Roadies which is slated to come on air in January next year.

And taking Colosceum into the digital content space. Says Lalit: “We are pulling up our sleeves to create some path breaking content online, with the same impact as our shows on television.”

Adds Kaveri: “We create youth content for any space, be it digital or broadcasting keeping their environment in mind. It has be out of the box and something which will have a creative hook.”

Additionally, what’s exciting the team is a project, which is being drawn up on for an international broadcaster. “We can’t talk about it right now,” says Lalit. “But it will be a show that will take Colosceum to the next level.”

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