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August 9, 2000


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'We aim to make 10 Subhash Ghais!'

Producer-director Subhash Ghai recently created history when his production company, Mukta Arts, became India's first ever motion picture company to go public with the launch of its IPO.

Subhash Ghai's Y Siva Sankar was among the group of mediapersons with whom Ghai shared his vision and future plans.

One of which includes the setting up of a film and television institute which, he claims, will produce ten Subhash Ghais, apart from promoting India's most talented. Excerpts:

What sparked the decision to go public?

Two reasons: I want everyone to respect the film industry. It pains me when people brush it off as disorganised, full of black money and lacking in transparency. Second, I want to drive home the fact that showbiz is serious business. It means hard work, proper accounts and management. It is a complete business house in itself.

Another reason we're going public is we want to provide a responsible platform for talented artistes across India. We plan to set up a studio and film and television institute. As of now, there is no place one can get the proper training in acting, direction, production, photography, editing, etc.

The institute is my dream project and I plan to give it all my attention. It's an ambitious one, for which Mukta Arts needs finance. I have invested all my time, energy, money, talent and knowledge into Mukta Arts. I now want to share it with everyone. I want the public to become partners in my venture.

Does India need another film and television institute?

India has only two noteworthy film institutes: in Calcutta and Pune. The fact is, we need not two, but 50 such institutes. The existing ones are government-run and have certain limitations which have prevented them from keeping abreast with mainstream cinema in India and the world.

Small-time refresher courses and tutorial classes are no longer enough. We must be professional and competitive to match international standards.

The proposed studio and film and television institute will match those standards, and will be affiliated to the world's leading institutes. This will ensure that the future generation can measure up with the best in the world. The aim is to produce ten Subhash Ghais, ten (A R) Rahmans, ten Shah Rukh Khans, ten Javed Akhtars, ten Anand Bakshis…

Subhash Ghai Did your own experience trigger the decision to set up the institute?

To a large extent, yes. When I came into the industry, I didn't have anyone backing me. I was an outsider. Completely alone. The institute will not only embrace but harness and hone talented artistes who wouldn't otherwise have an in into the industry.

If you recollect, Mukta Arts had introduced Jackie Shroff, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and Mahima Choudhary — none of them have a film industry background.

The fact is, star families which have always dominated the Indian film industry can be daunting for any novice. There's nothing wrong with a family business. But I want the common man to benefit from this venture.

Do you think the film industry will ever have a transparent financial system?

I see no reason why it won't. If profitable Hollywood business ventures like 20th Century Fox and MGM Studios can function in an organised manner, why can't fashion ourselves along the same lines?

For the last 21 years, we at Mukta Arts have maintained transparency in all our actions. It's not just a matter of making films. We have an organised financial structure and a proper corporate system. We have never adopted the cash and black money culture.

Ours is a disciplined organisation. We have always completed our movies on time and within the stipulated budget. Our artistes are made to sign contracts before they are hired. So yes, ours is a legitimate, functional system.

That's why we're confident we can shoulder the massive responsibility of handling public money and we will act in the interests of our investors.

How will Mukta Arts deploy the funds raised from the market?

Of the Rs 1 billion we plan to raise, Rs 230 million will be invested in the studio and film and television institute. Our efforts will be aimed at generating enough revenue such that the project can be sustained over a long term. I'm sure the Indian studios will support us in this.

Subhash Ghai Earlier attempts by film houses to go the corporate way haven't been successful. Will Mukta Arts succeed?

I respect my predecessors for their attempts, successful or not. But I'd rather not indulge in comparisons. Each to his own vision and business model.

Mukta Arts, for example, is a 21-year-old performing company. We are NOT foraying into areas totally new to us, merely expanding our operations. We are NOT launching multiplexes or satellite channels. Our business model merely envisages the expansion of our existing operations.

When you create a business model, you study the market. You analyse successes and failures. You try to emulate the rights and avoid the mistakes. This is not to demean the companies that did fail. They tried to do their best. We will, too.

How has the film-making business changed over the years?

In the past, the business was uneven. Films were either hits or flops, with the box office being the only source of revenue. Today, the market scene is different. Now, there are various revenue-generating sources.

For example, in 1994, there were just four television channels in India. Today, there are 68. Add to that you have DVDs, VCDs, direct-to-home television, the Internet, sponsorships… That is why I say that today, the film-making business is scaleable and can be sustained.

Did the film-making business getting an industry status prompt Mukta Arts' foray into the capital market?

When the government granted industry status to the film business, the concerned minister told me: "We've given you what you wanted. It is now up to you to perform." The first thing we did then was meet insurance companies.

We found they were willing to back us, provided Mukta Arts performed well and our transactions were transparent. So we put all our cards on the table — paper work, bank accounts, balance-sheets, income-tax papers, everything. That must have convinced them that we meant business. And they agreed to cover the perceived risks.

In fact, the company that insured Taal now has a name for all cover initiatives for the film industry: the Cine Mukta Insurance Policy. That's a great honour for us. It reflects their confidence in the film industry.

Do you think Mukta Arts is trying to do too many things too soon?

I disagree. We're certainly not spreading ourselves thin. We're just doing what we have been for years: grooming talent, which the institute will now take care of. And distribution, which is part and parcel of any movie production house. We are also fairly experienced investors. That we have not always been successful is another matter.

Subhash Ghai What is the difference between Subhash Ghai the showman and Subhash Ghai the businessman?

Subhash Ghai the showman is a creative head. Subhash Ghai the businessman is the man who has shaped Mukta Arts into the successful company it is today.

Did you need to go in for a crash course in business management for your venture?

I didn't. But I'm a commerce graduate. And I learn more about the business every day. I may not be a master, but I am a great student. That's why I have reached where I have.

Which movie houses have you modelled yours on?

I draw my inspiration from the Rajshris, Gemini, AVM and Bombay Talkies. I have always admired their style of conducting business. They had dignity and look after their banners.

What would you say is Mukta Arts' core competence?

It is our content, our creativity. Ours is the business of creative people.

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