Rahul Puri (RP): There are many families that have dominated this industry for so many years and here comes one man, who in ten years becomes one of the pre-eminent brands in the industry. There are only a few people who have that kind of foresight to create something unique.
Regardless of what people might say, Mukta is a unique company. We straddle all the sectors of business. We are exhibitors, distributors, and film producers. And now we are educators and that gives us a very unique perspective of the range of issues in the industry. Very few people understand the bandwidth it takes to continuously push forward.
Anyone who works with Subhashji is blessed in many ways because there is so much wisdom to learn from. It’s been 12-13 years and I now have my own ideas to take the company forward. And Mukta is going to focus on what we are good at and how do we make things look as wide as we possibly can?
Take Iqbal, for instance. There was dumb boy and you could have made it in a different way. But we were very clear about the idea, to make the movie as universal as we possibly could. And that was the philosophy to drive our films. Obviously, we now have two other very large pillars. There is Whistling Woods in education, which we are deeply committed to, not necessarily from the capital point of view but from the human resource point of view. Not a release goes by that does not have Whistling Woods alumni associated with it.
Now Mukta is looking forward to the exhibition area. We are almost up to 50 screens now. The idea is to have 100 screens. Everyone in the exhibition space is chasing all those big multiplexes but we are chasing the fact that the average cine-goer cannot afford `450 to watch a movie. So how about going to Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore and giving them comfort in terms of food, luxury and projection for `150?
Jai Hind is our prime property in Mumbai and you cannot get a ticket there because the loyalty factor has been built and affordable ticket rates. Families can afford to experiment on the kinds of films that they watch and it doesn’t have to be only Shah Rukh or Salman films. They can watch Marathi or Telugu films, they can watch a wide range of films without it burning a hole in their pocket. They can also buy their kids popcorn, pay for parking and do that every week.
BOI: Nowadays, most corporate companies are moving to the digital platform. Do you plan to do the same?
RP: We have launched our digital venture called Connect One. It is content creation with a digital studio and multi-channel network with YouTube. Through Whistling Woods, we have an excellent relationship with YouTube. The thing with Connect One is that we are creating a whole of content but you need those one or two standouts, where you will take a big director and make a really interesting 15-20 minute film or web series, all those are in the pipeline. There are a couple of businesses that we are looking at for funding in the web platform space.
BOI: Subhashji, are you planning to enter the television space as well?
SG: We have tried television but a film company cannot have a separate television division. It is very difficult to be on it 24 hours a day or if you have a five-year gap like Rajshri and they did it. But we weren’t able to do that because it is an altogether separate business entity. I am talking about the past, he is talking about the future. If you look at Mukta Arts, we created a market for newcomers with Hero. When I made Karma, piracy was rampant and cinemas were empty but Karma brought in the audience.
I designed the whole film, technically. I designed my story in that way – tight close-ups and long shots, nothing in between. If it aired on television, people would have said, ‘What rubbish!’ When they watched it in cinemas, they said. ‘What a great film!’
Second, I brought in insurance, Mukta Cine Policy. I had to convince them, saying it would benefit you. That was during Taal. I also fought for recognition in the industry. I said, you have to give recognition. I brought in IDBI finance; I showed them the entire design on how to give finance to a producer, how it would benefit them in return.
Mukta Arts has achieved three things – We brought in the Dolby System with Khalnayak; we brought in the 5.1 sound system with Taal; and we brought in 11.1 with Kaanchi. Mukta Arts was the first filmmaker to advertise on the Internet. We did that with Trimurti, and people were shocked and wondered why we were advertising on the Internet. It was Mukul-Anand’s idea but we were the first people. Taal was also the first-ever Indian film to be marketed online. There’s not a single technology I have not tried out because I am very techno savvy.
RP: About television… I am not prepared to say ‘no’ to TV because, very soon, the digital space is going to dramatically change the notions we have of television and digital.
SG: Today, the mobile has turned into a television set.
RP: For instance, AIB (All India Bakchod) is doing a simultaneous show on Hotstar, Star Plus and Star World, in English, Hindi and Hinglish but ultimately it is a digital show. The brand is built on digital, which is now big enough to sell on television. What we are trying to do with digital is to create some kind of franchise that reaches beyond the digital medium.
I guess, 20 years ago, he wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told him that someone would offer him money to remake Hero. Now look at the trend. People are investing big sums for brand recognition. We have to understand that today, India has become an advertising-driven market. So I am not referring to regular television, like the saas-bahu daily soaps. I don’t think that is the space for us. We have always believed in owning our content and creating our own IP.
BOI: Who will you cast?
SG: Salman Khan…. I will not say any more than that. (Laughs)
BOI: You had launched Deva on a very large scale. What went wrong?
SG: There are always circumstances. I am not going to blame anyone, neither am I going to blame myself. Although it was a diamond necklace, a profit-making project for Mukta Arts, it didn’t happen. Everything was going wrong. He was not able to focus properly. I also was not able to make things right. I went to him and said, we can make a film any time but if we can’t make a film according to the script, then let’s just shut it down. He agreed, we never had a fight or anything. I went to his house and he agreed. It was sad.
BOI: How does it feel when Karan Johar or Rohit Shetty says they want to remake your film, Ram-Lakhan?
SG: (Laughs) I felt good that money is coming in.
BOI: Apart from that… are you possessive about your films?
SG: First, it is a huge compliment if someone like Karan or Rohit comes to me with a request like that. Plus they are giving you money and respect. What else could you ask for?
BOI: Has anyone else approached you with a similar request?
SG: Yes, a big producer who I will not name offered me `9 crore for Khalnayak.
BOI: But you want to make Khanlayak again…
SG: (Laughs) I want to remake all my films but it’s a very different culture today, to even produce a film. The business is different, he (Rahul) is the future. He is taking care of everything and he is the decision maker. Naturally he will use the Mukta library and all his resources. Humne toh bana diya and now I will be making only different films.
BOI: Priyadarshan and Abbas-Mustan are still signed with you.
SG: Yes, four years ago. I signed Anurag Basu, Anees Bazmee, Priyan sir and Abbas-Mustan. After I gave them the signing amount, our industry experienced a sudden boom so within a year, each one of them was earning five times what they were earning before. They told me, ‘You are a poor producer, you won’t be able to afford us, so let us work outside.’ All of them are signed with us. They have the amount and now it is their decision to work with Mukta.
BOI: You mentioned directors, what about actors?
SG: (Cuts in) I had signed Katrina for three films and we have made just one film with her to date. I had signed Shah Rukh for three films and have worked with him in only two to date. I signed many others for three films but haven’t worked with them yet. It is up to them to decide whether they want to work with us or not.
BOI: When you talk about this and also the immense contribution that Mukta has made in terms of so many path-breaking things. Yet sometimes it is not recognised for what it is. So what do you feel in terms of the industry as a fraternity?
SG: Or industry is just like the stock market. Like if your last film is a super blockbuster everyone will recognise your other good films and remember them. But if the film is a flop everything will be forgotten. I remember how my very good friend Ronnie Screwvala’s UTV had a bad run but everyone has a bad phase. He was in a very bad situation but since his film Rang De Basanti worked and I still remember at that time during the 6pm shows the 9 pm shows were housefull. This was on a Saturday. I said to him, ‘Ronnie tere saare paap dhul gaye’. He said nahi mera bohot paisa pehele gaya hai and I know he had a lot of debts. I said to him, ‘I know how it is but yeh picture teri chal padi hai aur tera plane yahan se chal pada hai and sky is the limit now’.
RP: Selling, no! We have a very aggressive plan regarding what we want to do with Mukta A2. We see a lot of opportunity in the exhibition space, as we see all these big guys consolidating and building their fortresses. But they are focusing on a slightly different niche than what we have planned. A2 is unique. A lot of exhibitors tend to consolidate when they start but we are spread out in the country.
Also, we will soon be opening in Bahrain and have picked up good cinemas. All our properties are above industry standards. In terms of scaling up, all the benefits come in terms of economy and advertising and all the stuff that flows in naturally. This time next year, we will be going past 100 screens and we will probably be the fourth- or fifth-largest exhibitors in the country.