Vikram Malhotra, COO, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, shares his strategic vision and the goals his company wants to achieve, with Sagorika Dasgupta
On Viacom 18 Motion Pictures’ Line-up
We have got a structured slate that covers domestic films releasing next year, films that are under production and will go into 2013, as well as films that we will make through our alliance with Paramount Pictures and some other Hollywood studios. So I will avoid guessing on the total number of films that will be released by our studio. We have a busy time ahead. There’s the January release of Players and another 12 to 13 domestic releases next year and possibly an equal number of Hollywood films. For us, the Hollywood and the domestic business run as two independent units, integrated at the top and commercial functions. But it allows us the bandwidth and the flexibility to manage the market and distribute all these films domestically and internationally effectively.
On The Advantages/Disadvantages Of Multiple Releases In One Calendar YearIt’s very exciting to have a diverse set of releases across genres and cater to an audience at a regular frequency. It’s all about the ambition that the studio has. The capability and bandwidth to not just creatively manage a film but also ensure that each film gets more than its due when it comes to marketing and execution. We have a strong operating team both on the creative and production side, as well as the marketing, distribution and exhibition side. But more importantly, the team has got that fire in their belly and every time they go ahead with a release, they make it a big success.
From a strategy perspective, our films are timed so that there is enough room to stabilise and push each film. Players is a mainstream masala entertainer, followed by Kahani on March 9, which is an urban sensibility film for the younger audience. This will be followed by Blood Money on March 23, a mainstream hardcore commercial film. Then we have Bittu Boss on April 20, which is a rom-com for the younger audience. So we have a pretty diverse line-up.
On Leading A Team
I love what I do. I am engaged with every project. There is a very strong leadership team that works very closely with me, whether on the creative and development side or the distribution, marketing and the commercial team. My role in the corporate motion pictures business is a strategic one, on the kind of projects we associate with, the commercial viability of those projects, making sure the partners behind these films are right and then providing a marketing perspective to the team. That’s the role I play.
I am notorious for my creative and marketing inputs, which come more at a tactful level than at the micro level but I enjoy doing that. So in the morning, I could be talking about a new film with my partners in Phantom Films, followed by a discussion with the marketing team on Tom Cruise’s visit to India, followed by a set of promos we plan to do for Playersand then rounding off the day with a music session. We are constantly challenging each other to do newer, better and bigger stuff. It works as a beautiful relationship to the individual skills and collective capabilities that we bring to the table.
On The Importance Of Maintaining Relationships
One has to understand corporate firms are not aliens. Studios that go under the ‘corporate’ label are not animals that have escaped the zoo. A corporate house is an organisation that is structured and works in accordance with certain processes. It is governed by a dedicated management. That makes almost every organisation in this industry a corporate. An actor is an individual but if that actor runs his own production company, he is as corporate as are any of us. It is important to understand the definition of ‘corporate’. And we pride ourselves on enjoying strong relationships with our partners on every front.
Look at our partnership with Anurag Kashyap and his films. At this point, we are engaged in six different projects. We have a great rapport with A-list actors like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn. So clearly on the development side, we have relationships with writers and music directors. For us, trust, consistency and commitment to a relationship are very important. I won’t hazard a guess on what the take of our peers in the industry is but for us, relationships are one of the founding pillars of making a film.
On The Importance Of The Economics Of A Film
Every film carries its own balance sheet. Budgets are a factor of what the subject is and who the people involved in the film are, and then it’s evaluated by the film’s commercial potential. Not just what you see or hear in the papers but a potential, which is latent and may have a potential tomorrow. So the commercial viability and risk-assessment of a project is extremely important. It allows you to determine the budget or recovery of the commercial viability and to put a risk determination to the budget. From there on, you determine what you need in terms of marketing and distribution and figure out if the intended target is a reality. So you have to understand what kind of investment is done and at what stage of the production.
On The Criteria To Take Up A Project
First and foremost, it’s the story and the concept because today that is the largest criterion for the success of a film. If you have a story, you decide if it has the potential to connect with its target audience. Second, it is the director because in my opinion, the director is the captain of the ship. You cannot have two creative visions for the same film. Yes, a star can add value to a project and enhance it, but the vision of the project has to be the director’s. Then comes commercial viability, which means it could be the cast, the target audience, what the kind of budget could be, what are the marketing possibilities and so on. This is what influences the decisions we take to back a project.
On Making Experimental Cinema
We are more into non-conventional sensibilities. So firstly, there is the mass sensibility, which is the lowest common denominator, which speaks to the 8 to 80 audience, with a film like Players. Then there are films that speak to focused sensibilities. Pyaar Ka Punchnama – middle urban youth; Shaitan – urban India youth; Bbuddah…Hoga Terra Baap – Bachchan fans; That Girl In Yellow Boots – niche urban city class; Kahani – women family audience, and there are non-conventional sensibilities like Department. It is a masala film but it’s not the usual kind. Chashme Buddoor is a David Dhawan comedy but it is not one of his usual stuff.
So for us, it’s a very clear strategy – to balance our portfolio. It allows you to make the bigger budget films, which carry a certain potential but also more interesting, non-commercial films that have a limited potential. It helps us to tap different audience segments, which is the intention behind the deliberate strategy that we follow.
On Not Working With The Khans
We would love to. And I would like to believe that the feeling is mutual. Unfortunately, we currently don’t have a project where we could fit them in but, yes, we are at an advanced stage of discussions with one of the Khans. It’s not as if there is hesitation. We are waiting for the right timing, subject and commercial viability. It is just a matter of timing and a story that will come.
On Their Work Module
We don’t follow the acquisition and distribution model; we follow a process where we are engaged in every step of the journey of a film. That’s our model and we pride ourselves on being a fully-integrated studio as opposed to a studio, which is only into marketing and distribution or only into acquisition and distribution. For Players, we have been involved in the casting, production, music, special effects, marketing and distribution. So it is a very hands-on market for us.
On Regional Cinema
It is an interesting area but we will look at it only in 2013. We would first like to re-establish ourselves in the Hindi national space in 2011 and 2012. We do have a keen eye on the regional markets like Punjabi, Bengali and Marathi cinema, which are witnessing a lot of growth in numbers and quality of cinema. I wouldn’t call the South Indian film industry a market as it runs a parallel market to ours. Are we interested there? Absolutely, but we are looking for the right partner.
On Their Next Release, Players
We were very quiet about the film initially and we kept the entire look under wraps. Then there was a big multimedia spread unleashed for the film. Online, print, outdoor and on-air, which started with a print campaign in a daily. So we carpet-bombed the film across various media. It has an ensemble cast of seven characters activating various touch points, which now include masala promos and music, which has been a strong point for us. The music is already catching on in a big way with the theme songs being unleashed. The digital space is also buzzing with an online treasure hunt, which is integrated media marketing for the film.