Studio mentality helps UTV soar

Co. has prod'n pacts with two H'w'd majors

UTV: India’s most eligible media partner?

The company was formed 25 years ago by Ronnie Screwvala with a focus on TV and started by making shows for pubcaster Doordarshan. Ten years later it was partially absorbed into News Corp. and Fox, but the company regained its total independence and has broadened into a stock market-listed media and entertainment conglom. Still headed by Screwvala, its activities today range from buying airtime to movie production and distribution.

The company likes to boast that it was the first in India to adopt a recognizable “studio mentality” with its film production activities. That meant emphasis on script development, budget and time management and international distribution.

Small wonder that it now has production arrangements with two Hollywood majors — Disney and Fox Searchlight. It also has a pact with Will Smith’s shingle Overbrook (which in turn has a deal with Sony, effectively giving it access to a third Hollywood major). It is collaborating with Fox on Mira Nair’s “The Namesake.” It has close relations with Disney, since selling its Hungama kids channel to the Mouse House last year.

The company says it is in the forefront of the “Indian new wave,” which sees greater emphasis on linear scripts and more realistic drama, and less emphasis on the “masala”-style song-and-dance routines. “We don’t have any masala movies on our slate — that could be good or bad for us, but I’ll take that chance,” Screwvala says.

Still, the company’s youth movie “Rang de basanti,” aka “RDB,” featured the requisite musical numbers. But the pic — which features a message that disaffected youth can make a significant difference if they become involved in issues — was credited with effecting changes in Indian society when it was released last year. “RDB,” which was chosen as India’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful, became a symbol of the Indian new wave.

UTV has reupped with “RDB” helmer Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra for three more films including a big budget homecoming drama starring Hrithik Roshan and a three part “Indiana Jones”-style adventure. The company is able to fully finance its own pictures from its own resources. “That’s difficult for Hollywood companies to understand. To me Hollywood partners bring global distribution, not production investment.”

The company recently spent $50 million getting into the games business in a big way through the acquisition of two companies. Future partners will have to be able to deliver gaming and merchandising.

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