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Managing the business of films: Creating A Barista Of Cinemas
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September 28, 2007

Producer, actor, director Aditya Bhattacharya in a tete-a-tete with students from the Indian School of Business's Class of 2008, Ralston Sequiera and Vinay Rajpal Raj, shares his perspectives on Bollywood feudalism, piracy, Italian filmmaking and the need for youth-based niche markets in cinema.

ISB Insight: You have been in the film business for a long time now. The management of film business is very different today. How has it evolved since?

Aditya Bhattacharya: I don't think management of the film business has evolved at all. It is just that, at the moment, there are more people in the business, getting higher salaries and learning on the job. This is simply because most film specific professionals, say in the administration side, line producers, production managers, etc, are not people out of an institute like the ISB. They don't usually speak English, but they are very good at what they do.

Right now, we are in an awkward space, where we are still teething. The hardcore work is being done by the same people who did it eight years ago. We just have some more people who come in fancy cars, sit around, and make marketing projections, which are a lot of hogwash.

A lot of artists have benefited from piracy and have actually thanked it. What is your take?

That is actually a very myopic way of looking at things. I believe in the unique contribution of a film-maker towards the lasting value of the film in the market place. I believe thereby that a piece of the action needs to keep going back to the film-maker even after a hundred years or so. That cannot happen if piracy prevails. In piracy, the pirate makes the money and that's it.

If we want to replicate or get anywhere close to combat Hollywood, we have to absolutely maximise revenues form every single viewer around the world. Right now, I would imagine that we do not get to see about 60 per cent of our global revenue. That's a serious thing.

Does the whole economics of the film really depend upon the star?

Depends on the kind of film. If it is star-based film, then yes. I think it is an unhealthy and temporary thing. All the stars have raised their price. They know that sooner or later things will change so hard and so fast that they better get what they can now.

In the past when you saw a Basu Chatterjee film, nobody asked who is in it. He had his core audience. He made his film within that framework. Today, if you have a Mani Ratnam film, nobody asks who is in the movie. It does not actually matter. If he has big stars, yes, but even if he has one little girl and an old man, he still has his bible. It is terrifying for a filmmaker to be stuck in a situation where his casting has already been pre-decided. Yet, Shah Rukh is still the 'Window' of that world -- he is the brand, he can still fill up a stadium bigger and better than anybody else can. We have to continue to live with the fact that we are going to have some superstars.

You made an Italian film, Senso Unico. How different are the economics of movie-making in Italy?

It is much more protected. All European economies take benefit of this idea of fighting off American global power. So, they all have subsidies. All Italian and European television companies are told that they have a quota. This protects them but has harmed the industry. If somebody gave you a subsidy to make shoes, you would slowly not care about how good the shoes were, because you are not dealing with the real market.

If you notice, except for the French who have somehow continued to make exportable films, the others have actually suffered. Their cost is about 35 per cent more than Indian films of the same scale. This is interesting because somehow in theatrical runs, they manage to earn back from their successful films -- up to 10-12 million Euros from 55 million people.

However, they make very few movies, possibly 30-50 movies yearly. It is not a thriving industry. They actually look at India as a great hope. We can build twice the number of multiplexes and still be able to fill them. That is the statistical power that India has. The sad thing is that we don't make movies that the world wants to watch. How come we make 1,000 movies a year, and the Mexican films have more entry into America and the Oscars? I think our being a feudal industry is what has made us suffer.

What would you say are the entry points for management students to get into the film business?

I would say pick up areas which have not been dealt with by the traditional film business. For example, how would one do a theatrical release of a Hindi film in North America? We need innovative ways of maximising demand, merchandise, tie-ups, etc, with a science to it.

Minimising loss in terms of money, that keeps falling through the holes every time you are doing sales is another area. Then, one can work on how to make a global rights break up for a small film. Because if you have a smaller film, the traditional distributor is not going to release it theatrically, but if you have the rights to it; you can go ahead.

There are lots of opportunities for people who are looking form outside. For example, how do you service, how do you create urban youth-based niche markets etc. Is there a way of going into, or buying or hiring old cinemas in certain areas and creating something like a Barista of cinemas -- a cool place to hang out, and which plays a certain kind of movies. Obviously, filmmakers cannot think of all these.

Actor, producer, writer, director -- you have been all of these. Which role do you enjoy the most?

Filmmaking. It's a bit like, if you really like fast bikes, it is not enough to know how to ride it. You also have to know a little bit about how it works. It helps you to ride the bike better. I have been a producer by default because I have had to package and put together my films. I would love a time when I can have somebody else to do that. It's a very privileged and expensive business. I believe that if you are not responsible with the money, at a certain point, it will dry up.

I am glad that I did other things. I am looking forward to applying that knowledge to produce other people's films. I know how the bike works.

* This article appeared in the Indian School of Business's magazine, ISB Insight.

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