The quietly spoken head of Adlabs Films, Manmohan Shetty can be likened to India’s version of Bill Kong. He draws on years of experience and has excellent instincts honed from work at the sharp end of the business in distribution and exhibition.
Setting out in 1978, he and Vasanji Mamania launched a film processing company specializing in commercials. Ten years later they moved into features and today process some 60% of prints in the dominant Hindi (Bollywood) industry. Shetty pioneered many technological advances, including blowing up 16mm film to 35mm and introducing advanced color correction processes in India.
The processing business has provided Shetty steady cash flow and business dealings with just about every player in the Indian business.
With the exception of TV, the company is now vertically integrated and present in all sectors of the Indian film industry, from laboratories to production and distribution to theaters — and Adlabs is modernizing every part that it touches. Television is something Shetty prefers to leave to his corporate parent, India’s second-largest conglom, the Reliance-ADA Group, which bought a major stake in Adlabs in 2005. Reliance plans to launch its Bluemagic satellite TV service sometime next year.
For Shetty’s Adlabs, the top priority these days is to fulfill its multiplex building ambitions. Company has more than 30 properties and 100-plus screens, making it the biggest chain in the still-fragmented sector. Aim is to get to 500 screens within three years. “A lot of developers who promised multiplex shells have not delivered. On the other hand, our numbers are realistic,” Shetty says.
Shetty also shuns notions of diversification as either dangerous or a distraction. “Prices fetched by deals with TV are not rising,” he says. “Sales of our films to NRIs (nonresident Indians) are not rising. The part that is growing is theatrical.” Adlabs will quietly stick to its knitting, producing five or six movies a year. Topping its slate for 2008 is “Sarkar Raj,” sequel to hit crimer by Ram Gopal Varma, to star golden couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.