Television
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"Focus will be on fiction programmes on TV this year" : Anshumaan Swami - Applause Entertainment CEO

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The company turns one, a week from now. The applause, however, is yet to make itself heard. 37-year-old Anshumaan Swami, the CEO of Applause Entertainment, however, is in no hurry. The assurance that the accolades and bouquets will follow surrounds him like a halo. For the present, this former advertising professional is living a busy schedule, exacting his meticulously picked team to come up with the right script, the perfect event and backing the best project….

While feature films, regional and Hindi, have kept the Kumarmangalam Birla backed venture in the spotlight for the year gone by, Swami promises that the year ahead will have Applause devoted to television in a big way.

The projects have already been finalised, and the first quarter of the new fiscal should see a couple of shows seeing the light of day on leading mainstream channels. In a freewheeling interview with indiantelevision.com's Aparna Joshi, Swami gives the impression that the media industry is just getting ready for Applause….

Applause Entertainment's one year of existence has been a quiet one, except for the release of a regional feature film. For the team, how has the first year been?
Although we launched officially on 13 April 2003, we began technically in January last year. I started with just small bunch of clerical staff, did a lot of head hunting for people for nearly six months before starting work in earnest.

In the meanwhile, we also bought the rights of a movie from the UK called Anita and Me. We released the film here with the objective of announcing to the industry that we are here to do business. Our objective was to entrench ourselves well into this market which is very quicksandish in nature. You see, the TV sector is fairly far more organised than the feature film industry… there are a lot of people here who promise far more than what is actually delivered!

We also had a lot of research to back us up. We have a strategy cell which had conducted a study for the last two to three years, which told us this (films and television) was a business avenue that we should try and explore. Essentially, Applause came into being with a focus on television and not too many films, but with the thought that if there was a good project coming, we would take it up.

We started with Bollywood Tonight on Zee Cinema, which has been running for one year and four months. Most of the staff of 38 in this office is involved with Bollywood Tonight - it's something that keeps all of us together. Next came the spiritual programme Urja on Zee TV, as well as the Good Health Show every Sunday.

So, you have actually been making more TV shows than feature films, though the movies are the ones that are more apparent.
We have 11 programmes on air now, four of which are for a channel in Singapore.

Our Marathi programme on Alpha Marathi (Vaadalvaat), one on Vijay called Bhairavi are channel drivers. Purely keeping with the constitution of the company, I have tried to do some regional, some overseas work, but remember, we started from scratch.

The first Hindi feature film project we took up was Dev. I essentially like to work with people who have a good corporate understanding. I met Manmohan Shetty of Adlabs, who was working on this project called Dev. I liked the idea of working with him, and after the initial project study we decided to take the plunge.

With Sanjay Leela Bhansali it took six to eight months to decide that we would do Black.

"Govindji (Nihalani) is doing an out and out commercial film (Dev) for the first time, and more than me, it's he who will be doing the marketing of this film"


Govind Nihalini and Amitabh Bachchan on the sets of Dev

But the first film to come out of the Applause stable has been a regional one.
We did one film in Telugu, which is yes, officially, the first film to come out of Applause. It was scheduled to release last June, but something or the other kept pushing the launch date till January this year. Consequently, it was delayed by seven or eight months, largely due to the fact that we didn't know the language.

I can't say we have been very successful on this one, but we have already started work on the second film in Telugu, as now we have both a feel of the audience as well as the market. The Telugu film Tapana was a small budget film. We are now also exploring the possibility of getting into the Bengali market, purely for the love of cinema in that language.

Was that also the reason you launched in the Telugu market first?
No, that was because my marketing team had done an exhaustive survey of the markets and found broad indicators that we could target that market successfully. We have now made one digital film in Bengali that's meant for the festival circuit, but we would also like to get into commercial Bengali cinema. You see, you cannot rush into a feature filmmaking venture. There's so much excitement and power that draws you, but you cannot afford to get blinded by it. You have to be a good batsman and judge that not every ball is meant to be hit.

So, what's on Applause's plate currently?
We are working on scripts of two more Hindi feature films (after the Nihalani directed Dev and the Bhansali directed Black), where we would be playing the role of 'pro-active producer'. This term, employed in the US, implies companies getting the script together, calling for a director, actors and putting it all together.

Of course, I may not be able to do my proposed Bengali film pro-actively, there we will be talking to established as well as new directors.

What is the Applause vision for the next few years?
You see, the film industry is like the fashion industry where the variables change very fast. It is not the same in the television industry though - it has its paces, regulations and formulae put into place.

What we target is two or three films per year. One regional film per year, definitely, subject to all the variables involved.


A still from the Telugu film Tapana

"I can't say we have been very successful on this one, but we have already started work on the second film in Telugu, as now we have both, a feel of the audience as well as the market"

Will these be big budget or small budget films?
Whatever the scripts demand, the budgets will be allocated accordingly.

Do you also set timetables for the shooting, post production and ensure that the film is released within a set period?
The time taken to decide on projects takes six to eight months for us. You have to sweat it out on the table, rather than sweat it out on the sets, that's what we believe. We have tried to put in as many stages as possible without hampering the creativity of the project. We have tried to put systems in place, by which we don't waste too much time in the studios.

Budgets have to be controlled. We had an accident on the Black sets, but in two weeks' time, we were back on shoot, all because of planning and the man hours spent here and there to put it all in place.

People may say corporates are cold and calculating. But before we start making the film, we even plan the marketing of the film so that it turns out a cohesive effort.

What are the innovative marketing techniques you plan to employ for your feature films?
Apart from in film placements, we are essentially looking at developing scripts that have inbuilt in film placements. When I talk of marketing a film, I am basically talking about positioning. You cannot make a film, I believe you have to make an audience for it first. You have to work the logistics backwards - if it's a multiplex film, think how many shows the film can run on the 100 screens in 35 multiplexes in the country. Accordingly, a certain number of prints have to be brought out. This is what should determine a film's budget.

Govindji (Nihalani) is doing an out and out commercial film (Dev) for the first time, and more than me, it's he who will be doing the marketing of this film. I could tell you about the promotions of Black in some months' time, when the film is ready for release.

Applause started with the intention of getting into television. What's new on that front now?
We have submitted proposals to three leading channels and in the forthcoming year, we are hopeful of having at least three to four programmes on air, all fiction. We will also be concentrating a little bit more on the overseas market. I have a team that will be working on various channels across the world.

We are trying to understand their needs and how we can meet those…like The History Channel, for example. But that's a relatively slow process and I don't see us moving very fast on that one.

We are also interested in the Gujarati television space, but we are also clear that we don't want to get into commissioned programmes, as on the Sun Network.

Is there also anything new you are trying out on television this year?
The focus and concentration will be on fiction programmes this year. We would rather deliver products that stand out than go in for quantity.

We have a long way to go on television. What we are looking for is slots and solutions for various channels. We have been monitoring various channels - timings and TRPs of various shows. We are now trying to see if we can offer our suggestions and remedies for shows that could be taking a dip in ratings.

Are the broadcasters responding favourably to this innovative offer?
It depends on which broadcaster we are talking to, essentially.

 

"We are hopeful of having at least three to four programmes on air, all fiction"

You have also spoken of getting into educational programming?
Yes, we do plan to get into that. Not necessarily infotainment, as that can get preachy. You see, television is going to play a very important role in the coming days. We must come up with programmes which motivate, guide and bring about a feeling of patriotism, not just impart classroom education. The pulse polio campaign featuring Amitabh Bachchan is a good example of this kind of effective communication.

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