As India’s multiplex scene exploded, a new player was emerging in the showbiz scene. Riding the multiplex building wave, UTV Motion Pictures was able to take on the Indian giants in Bollywood with its mix of mainstream and arty films with budgets that ranged from small to mid to lavish.
Siddharth Roy Kapur, CEO of UTV Motion Pictures, says the multiplex explosion helped the entire Indian film biz. However, the company has slowly overtaken others. Kapur prefers not to compare his company to industry giants like Eros Intl. and Yash Raj Films, as the former until recently mostly dealt with acquisitions and the latter distributes its own productions. UTV, on the other hand, combines its inhouse productions with acquisitions from shingles such as Aamir Khan Prods., with whom it partnered on fest hit “Peepli Live”; Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who is making the upcoming “Guzaarish”; and Farah Khan, who is directing “Tees maar Khan.”
“Our ability to work with everyone from a Farhan Akhtar to Anurag Kashyap to Prakash Jha is key,” Kapur says naming several Indian helmers.
But while the company is the “preferred distributor” for Bollywood heavyweights such as Karan Johar and Khan, it has also nurtured up-and-coming helmers for its projects.
Starting with three or four movies a year, UTV now releases 12 to 15, Kapur says. The films range from the typical Bollywood to the newer Hindi model, which eschews the song-and-dance routines mixed with heavy melodrama and comedy for more restrained, naturalistic pics from “Rang de basanti” to “Jodhaa Akbar” and laffers like “Khosla ka ghosla.” This year the company updated ancient Hindu epic “Mahabharata” for box office hit “Rajneeti.”
Overhead is kept low, and the motion pictures division has only 60 staffers, sizing up or down with freelancers on a project-by-project basis.
And while the majority of its output may be commercial, the company likes festival-type pics, from “Udaan,” which was the first Hindi film at Cannes after an absence of a decade, to “Peepli” at Sundance and “What’s Your Raashee” at Toronto in 2009.
“We have an aggressive festival strategy to crossover to audiences and explore at least the world cinema audience,” Kapur says.
UTV’s next step is to move into other territories and platforms. Theatrical accounts for about 30% for the company’s revenues, per Kapur. It’s now tapping into ancillary streams such as new media, music rights and satellite. Plans are under way for 3G, IPTV and pay per view.
“There are so many new vehicles, we want to mine them all as much as we can,” Kapur says. “It’s in the DNA of UTV to do something different, even in the early days.”
When the Indian TV scene expanded beyond the single public broadcaster, Doordarshan, UTV, under founder Ronnie Screwvala, was the first cable operator to take advantage of the opening. It brought the concept of the daily soap opera to Indian auds with “Shanti,” and soon UTV was selling its shows to a host of Indian channels from Star to National Geographic, BBC, Hungama and Zee. Now the company has its own channel, Bindass (which means carefree in Hindi).
Kapur credits the company’s institutional awareness on its vets, including Screwvala. For the future, UTV is planning to expand into territories that have yet to buy Bollywood product, including Latin America, which Kapur calls a natural fit with its passion for telenovelas.
Screwvala has his own hopes. He’d like to expand Indian box office to hit the $100 million mark. Not just for his films, but any Indian film. That hasn’t happened yet; Khan starrer “3 Idiots” from Reliance earlier this year came closest of any thus far.
Says Kapur: “$100 million box office is still on our wish list.”