It isn’t often that you get to see a channel head donning a journalist’s hat and interviewing his competitor but we at indiantelevision.com, were treated to this one-of-a-kind interaction between Sony Pix EVP and business head Saurabh Yagnik and Times Television Network CEO English entertainment channels Ajay Trigunayat. Excerpts...
Yagnik: If not the CEO of one of India’s leading television networks, what would you have been doing?
Trigunayat: As a kid, I was fascinated with sports and always dreamt of being a footballer or a basketball player. But my genes got the better of me as most basketball stars are well over six-and-a-half feet and I am just about five feet seven inches tall. Like most Indians, I too had the option of pursuing either engineering or medicine but started off as a copywriter with a take home of just Rs 500 before landing an opportunity to work for Pepsi in sales for a handsome Rs 5,500. So that’s when I slowly moved into marketing. After college, I was also keen on studying at the Oceanography Institute in Goa.
Yagnik: But you preferred to make bigger waves in the television broadcast space.
Trigunayat: (Chuckles) Yes, I also planned on becoming a rockstar but destiny had other plans.
Yagnik: We all would have preferred if you had become a rockstar (Both laugh)... I have been told that you are a complete workaholic and apart from work, spend your remaining hours at home with family. But, if and when you do get some free time, where would we find you engaging in some R&R?
Trigunayat: Yes, I certainly like to be very well organised and plan my weeks well in advance. But, I also do like to relax and take some time off with a couple of my close friends. I have two very close friends in Bandra; thus, out of the roughly four weekends in a month, I end up spending two with them. While I used to hang out at the bar in Marriot, it shut shop a few months ago. Still, I do like to try out new places and prefer scenic landscapes than being in a concrete jungle.
Yagnik: So, I guess the river is your water hole (laughs). We all know that you have single-handedly developed Movies Now into one of the leading English movie channels, but tell us something about your early days.
Trigunayat: I literally grew up on the Delhi University campus, as my father was a Professor of Physics at the institute. I did my schooling at St Xavier’s and since it was about 4.5 km from the university campus, I made it a point to cycle down, thus saving on transportation and getting that much extra money to splurge. The high point during school was when the seniors would ask us to rag the incoming senior batch, so it was fun to actually rag boys who were a few years older than us.
I got an Economics Honours from Kirori Mal College and was really active in sports like football and basketball. I was also very active in one-act theatre and really thought would get into the performing arts but destiny had other plans.
Yagnik: Where did you go to watch movies while growing up? Name a few of your yesteryear as well as current favourites.
Trigunayat: In the early days, we didn’t have much of Hollywood films coming to India, but I still managed to catch one or two movies every month at the Chanakya Theatre in Delhi. I grew up on Amitabh Bachchan and Shashi Kapoor movies that were regularly telecast on Doordarshan over weekends.
In recent times, I have enjoyed feel good flicks like 3 Idiots along with alternative cinema like Gangs of Wasseypur and Gulaal which really speak volumes about the kind of movies our filmmakers are capable of nowadays. I also enjoy old flicks like Deewar, Hum and Rang Birangi and some of Govinda’s masala movies like Deewana Mastana and Coolie No.1.
Yagnik: Speaking of movies, how can we miss out on the women from Bollywood? So, who among the current lot do you find attractive?
Trigunayat: (Chuckles) There was a joke going around in college when Qurbani released that in the song Kya Dekhte Ho… Surat Tumhari Feroz Khan lies to Zeenat Aman as she is attired in a swim-suit.
But from the current crop of actresses, I believe Katrina Kaif is the most gorgeous and she looked stunning in the song sequence Kamli from Dhoom 3. I would like to mention here that a couple of younger actresses like Parineeti Chopra and Alia Bhatt have been doing some brilliant work on the silver screen and I am just looking forward to seeing Highway.
Yagnik: What about Hollywood... Your favourite movies, directors, actors…
Trigunayat: I simply love the work of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron; they are magicians on celluloid and can capture the essence of their scripts very well on the big screen. I also love some of the work done by Alfred Hitchcock, Michael Bay and Christopher Nolan. I like action movies and thrillers and movies with drama and this is reflected in my choice of favourite directors.
Among the actors, though Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are considered all-time greats, I strongly believe Christian Bale has raised the bar a few notches with the kind of roles he has done in the recent past. I mean his transformation from a person suffering from insomnia in The Machinist (2004) to the larger-than-life character of Batman to a retired boxer training his brother to become a professional in The Fighter (2010) to putting on weight for his Oscar-nominated role in American Hustle (2013). I also like Matthew McConaughey and he’s really improved a lot with movies like The Wolf of Wall Street and Dallas Buyers Club.
Yagnik: Let’s talk a little shop now; please share your thoughts on the breakaway success of Movies Now, which has become a case study of sorts for the industry.
Trigunayat: I will be honest; though we never imagined the channel to be so successful, we did a lot of planning to be accepted. We launched in 2010 and were confident that we would be the only channel in the space to leverage the high definition content that we had in our library. We couldn’t manage to raise funds when we were planning to launch the channel around 2008 because of the market crash in September and October and then again, due to the escalating oil prices in the Middle East.
We were looking for a Joint Venture and had the option of either doing it with the Times Group or 9X Media. We went ahead with the Times Group, taking into consideration its rock-solid reputation and large network. I had personal money going into the venture as well. On the content side, we struck deals with NBCUniversal, 20th Century Fox Film Corp, DreamWorks and Paramount Pictures. The deal signed with NBC Universal allowed us to have the rights for all Spielberg movies post 1997 and then with the deal with DreamWorks, we got Spielberg movies prior to 1997 as well. We further consolidated our library by inking deals with MGM and signing content from foreign studios to get martial arts movies on Movies Now.
Yagnik: You’ve now become quite the lady’s man with the launch of Romedy Now. How’s the channel coming along?
Trigunayat: Well, brevity is the soul of wit, and with Romedy Now, we wanted to say that a woman likes two things in her partner - he should be humorous and romantic. The response to the channel has really been phenomenal, but the matrix could have changed had we also got better placement and push in distribution as currently, we are available in only 65 per cent of the market and are yet to bring on board some of our best content.
We have grown in our reach as well; from a 0.25 per cent reach in week 1, we have moved up to 3.6 per cent in the market, beating competition like Star World, AXN, Zee Café and Comedy Central.
Yagnik: Finally, which is your favourite holiday destination?
Trigunayat: There is no favourite destination as such, but I love to travel to new places and recently, I’ve been thinking of offbeat destinations like Iceland. More than anything else, let me tell you that I will be heading to Brazil in July as I have managed to get tickets for one quarter-final, one semi-final and the final of the FIFA World Cup 2014.
Yagnik: And before we end this conversation, please could you tell the readers what you told me in private that Sony Pix is your favourite English movie channel destination (both laugh)...