Goldmines Telefilms' Manish Shah denies hanky-panky deals with Sony India

MUMBAI: It seemed to be a day no different than any other for Goldmines Telefilms director Manish Shah as he got ready to go to his office in a rather non-descript building in the suburb of Goregaon west in Mumbai. At around 9 am, the film syndication specialist got a call from someone he knew that he had been mentioned in a newspaper report about alleged business malpractices at Sony India's MSM network. It intrigued him but not enough to pull him away from his daily schedule of placing calls to clients and to broadcasters about the films he had acquired and wanted to pitch to them.

Then he got a call from us at requesting to meet him. He agreed but wanted an hour and a half to himself before speaking to us. He ordered a few copies of the newspaper and spent time reading the Bloomberg report over and over again until we arrived. The Bloomberg report stated that Sony Corp was investigating possible irregularities in business dealings following an anonymous email to Sony Pictures Television world wide networks president Andy Kaplan. The letter, which reached Kaplan on 6 October, stated that “the head of MSM’s motion-pictures unit was colluding with an agent to raise the cost of movies that Sony bought to air on TV by as much as 35 per cent in return for kickbacks.”

And that agent was Manish Shah, who was once a television producer of both Gujarati and Marathi shows for channels such as Alpha Marathi (part of the Zee group), ETV Gujarati and Hungama before finding his mettle in buying and selling film rights to broadcasters and building a business in excess of Rs 100 crore. He hit jackpot with the regional films he acquired and dubbed them in Hindi, paying attention to creative detail.

Shah welcomed us in offered us a cup of coffee and then began speaking his mind, pooh-poohing the allegations made against him. Said he, “The allegations are absolute crap. There is no question about us being favoured or dealing in kickbacks. Rajani was an extremely tough negotiator; in fact she would hammer down my prices when I started doing business with Sony in 2004. So what are they talking about me being offered inflated prices in exchange for kickbacks? I meet Sneha only rarely; there was a time when I met her more often. But I meet the folks at Star India more for the film titles I own.”

Shah pointed out that Sony Entertainment – though a good client – is not amongst his biggest. “Last year Sony bought Rs 10 crore worth movies from me, UTV bought Rs 14 crore movies, while Star bought Rs 16 crore of movies. So what are you talking about? Last year Sony bought just three movies from me.”

He added, “I don’t know where this has all come from. Sony is investigating the matter, let them do that. I can only say that if any broadcaster has to look at the return on investment, my movies give the maximum ROI. Whether it is for Star, or UTV or Sony.”

Shah furnished tables and charts, which showed that close to 50 per cent of the FPC on Max was occupied by Goldmines syndicated films for about five days each week. “But it is these movies that are working for the channel and the network, giving them a good return on their investment. I know what works and the regional language films, which have a lot of action, humour and entertainment work. And I have given a substantial number of films to Sony, but my prices have been hammered by the acquisition people,” he said.

For Shah it is a clear business model. “I buy the movie, which gets the rating or is successful and then offer it to broadcasters for satellite rights whether it is Zee, Star, Colors or Sony. Whoever gives me the best deal, I offer the movie to them,” he proffered.

His company has been working with Sony and Zee since 2004, with Doordarshan since 2005 and with Star since 2006. “Once I have the rights, I am the owner of the movie and so I decide who will get it based on price,” he said. “But this process does not involve kickbacks at all so how can I get kickbacks? Broadcasters today are smart and they know which movie will work for them and they want it at the best price. I totally deny any of allegations that have been made against me.”

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