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Making Waves

Raju Chadha, Chairman, Wave Group, in conversation with Soumita Sengupta

Can you tell us how Wave Cinemas functions?

The work culture at our organisation is open and extremely collaborative. Ours is a difficult business because you deal with audience sensibilities that are difficult to predict or second-guess. Accordingly, it is very tough to be correct on every call. Our focus is now on being involved at every step of the content’s life cycle. You will see this in our move to integrate our businesses across the value chain. We started with distribution, moved to exhibition and are now getting into production. We also believe in working as a team and with like-minded people. Thoughts and ideas that stem from professional experiences are always very welcome at Wave.

Usually, people start with production, move to distribution and then exhibition. You reversed the process.

We got into the film distribution business way back in 1999. Subsequently, we wanted to build an exhibition arm and drive integration forward. I guess we could have begun with exhibition but if we don’t get any movies, what would we exhibit? That’s why we started with distribution and then got into the exhibition space. We built our network, we built a base and then entered the exhibition space. Production happened only a couple of years ago with the realisation that a) we needed a steady pipeline of films for our distribution and exhibition business. We also wanted to spread our risks across verticals in the entertainment business.

Why did it take you so long to produce movies?

For the first few years, we focused on getting the downstream businesses of distribution and exhibition right. After understanding the industry better and building internal capabilities, we felt the time was right to enter the production stream. Also, fundamentally, distribution carries the highest risk. You take a risk on someone else’s conviction. By integrating production, we wanted to be involved in the creative process and also reduce our financial risk.

How do you plan to expand your business?

On the production side, we have a big line-up this year, which starts with Revolver Rani, followed by Saat Uchhakkey. Then there’s one film tentatively titled Bad featuring Randeep Hooda and Richa Chadda; then the Arshad Warsi-starrer Legend of Michael Mishra and two films with Pooja Bhatt – Cabaret and Jism 3 – which are at the development stage. We are also distributing Gang of Ghosts and co-producing two films, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore and Chaar Phutiya Chhokre. We are in the process of firming up our slate beyond this year. From a strategic point of view, we want the first few years of the production business to stabilise and then integrate them fully with our distribution and exhibition business

How do you green-light a project?

It is a combination of two factors – the creative merit of the film and the commercial feasibility. If we believe a project works on these two parameters, we green-light it. We also look at the people we would be working with on that project. This is very important because the relationship with your partner influences the work. We work with people who not only understand the creative side of our business but can also appreciate the economics associated with a film.

We have been in the distribution space for a very long time and understand its nuances inside-out. But we got into production only recently and have chosen to work on clutter-breaking or message-oriented films. For instance, Kya Dilli Kya Lahore is a film based on the relationship between India and Pakistan. Another project, Chaar Phutiya Chhokre, is about human exploitation.

How do you take calls on distribution?

At Wave Cinemas, we have a distinct advantage. Our work culture is like that of the corporate studios but we also maintain deep personal relationships with our work partners. People come to partner with us due to our respect for people and relationships. We distributed films like Kahaani, Murder 2, Ready, Special 26, OMG, Chashme Baddoor and D-Day. We also distributed Ready overseas. Earlier, we distributed films like Gadar-Ek Prem Katha and Devdas. So our portfolio has always had quality films that did good business. Our deep experience and vast network give us a clear edge in most markets over our competitors.

When you finally green-light a script, what do you look at in the pricing and budgeting of the film?

Right now, we are only looking at small-budget and medium-budget films. Once we establish ourselves in production, we will move to the bigger-budget category. The good thing is, content-driven films are working irrespective of their cost of production or star value. The commercial side has to balance the creative side. No one wants to make a film that doesn’t make money! However, I also plan to produce or back films that support religious consciousness or social causes. As long as the message is delivered to the audience, the profit motive can follow. But agar paisa ban jaye, toh bura bhi nahi lagega!!

There is a rush of new talent in our industry. How easy or difficult is it for them to approach Wave Cinemas?

It’s very easy to reach out to us. We are committed to a hectic line-up but if some exciting scripts come our way, we do meet writers and directors quite easily. We don’t underestimate anyone. Even in the distribution space, we look at all our films objectively. It’s not like we give star-driven films preference and less to those with new faces. At the end of the day, it’s our business and we have to be confident of the product we deliver to the audience.

You started your distribution and exhibition business long ago. Looking back, how have things changed?

The first film we distributed was Jaanwar in 1999. After that, we did Gadar Ek Prem Katha, which became a super hit as well. Although corporate houses have entered the business, I believe solo distributors are still going strong. Earlier, I didn’t really look after distribution, which was taken care of by my elder brother (Ponty Chadha). I would involve myself with the exhibition business, though. Over the years, distribution and exhibition have clearly become more organised and professional.

We have enjoyed distinct advantages in our businesses. We were among the first companies to get into large-footprint distribution. The first mall to come up in North India was ours and it housed Noida’s first multiplex. Things have changed since then, with aggressive competition in the business. Even in a changing environment, Wave has been consistent in all its businesses and that is why our distribution business has flourished with good returns and no losses so far.

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