Media major UTV has teamed up with ten acclaimed Indian directors to step into the world of movie co-productions. Combine the slate of productions with the newly launched divisions of International Theatrical Distribution as well as All-India Theatrical Distribution and the content provider has put in place a vertically integrated studio model for India.
Two major releases of 2004 have been co-productions from the UTV stable – ‘Lakshya’ – directed by Farhan Akhtar, budgeted at Rs 35 crore and Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Swades’, estimated at Rs 30 crore. “Our extensive production and financing experience over the last four years has given rise to an intuitive and in-depth knowledge of creating the right mixture for balancing creative interests with those of producing commercial films that satisfy audiences worldwide,” says Ram Mirchandani, GM, Motion Pictures.
UTV’s director line-up includes Bollywood stalwarts like Ram Gopal Verma, Prakash Jha and David Dhawan amongst others. Aatish Kapadia, who co-produces UTV’s comedy serial, ‘Khichdi’ is also in the league. The group has inked a strategic tie-up with STAR TV for the co-production joint venture, which is set to kick off in 2004 with four such projects. Referring to the partnership, Ronnie Screwvala, CEO, UTV says, “It’s a great synergy and STAR’s marketing strength will surely take these productions to greater heights.”
“We have a production pipeline of five to six movies a year and it’s a natural process for us to be in control of our own destiny with our own worldwide distribution in place,” clarifies Screwvala. “We can’t really emerge as a true studio model unless we control our own distribution. And within India, the artificial borders and territories have to disappear and national-level distribution and marketing needs to take place. This minimum guarantee model that forces everyone to reach the breakeven before the opening night has to disappear if transparency has to really arrive in the Indian theatrical business. It’s a gradual process where one will ultimately yield to the other,” he observes.
UTV has also announced setting up of a pan-India distribution network for simultaneous releases across the country. The project calls for setting up of infrastructure facilities in seven cities. Internationally, the group has established bases in New York for the North American circle and in London for the European market, though the rest of the worldwide activity would be carried out from the Indian headquarters.
Sridhar Sreekakula – a seasoned media professional with over 15 years of worldwide media experience, would be heading the North American distribution and development activities, while Sanjeev Mehta, having recently been at Kodak and Reliance, would be the chief of distribution network in India.
According to Mehta, 20 teams would be focussing on the worldwide distribution and they would be supported by multiple partners of equal number. Adds Mehta, “Hyderabad Blues II and of course, all our forthcoming productions will be the starting content for our distribution network.”
Overall investment has been pegged at around Rs 100 crore for almost all of the activities that would be funded partly through the considerable revenues soon to be generated from ‘Lakshya’ and ‘Swades’ in addition to the STAR TV co-production plans. “We have a very well structured and low-risk, high-return model in place and our business mix for motion pictures as a part of UTV’s other businesses of content, TV and broadcasting will always remain well balanced,” concludes Screwvala.