“There are a couple of other titles that we are evaluating closely, but of course a lot of our focus and bandwidth is currently consumed by ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’,” Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom18 Studios told Variety.
The film’s production was impacted by COVID-19. It needs some more time for the finishing touches and consequently, the release date has shifted from Christmas 2021 to Valentine’s Day 2022. Once it’s done, the team will consider the breadth of release and the distribution strategy for China, where Aamir Khan is a major box office draw.
Meanwhile, the team continues to actively trawl the Hollywood IP available to them. “We’ve got access and oversight into a lot of catalogs and IPs within the group. There is the Miramax catalog, there is the ViacomCBS catalog, there is the Paramount catalog – and as a creative team we are constantly looking at which of these could find resonance,” said Andhare. “I think you have to thread many needles to be able to put this thing together because on one side is of course the idea or the film or the original IP, on the other hand is also being able to string together a major local cast along with it.”
Viacom18 Studios now aims to scale up dramatically. It is in discussions with potential strategic partners that may bring complementary skill sets. The first partnership, with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions for a theatrical, broadcast and streaming distribution slate, was revealed recently.
The idea is also to move to a Western studio model where there are “walled gardens” or “groups of creativity,” as Andhare describes it, under the overall umbrella.
“It’s about not just doing magic, but doing it more often, which is of course going to be harder, but that’s really a large theme, so to speak, as far as the studio’s plans are concerned,” said Andhare.
Viacom18, of which billionaire Mukesh Ambani acquired a controlling stake in 2018, is a joint venture between TV18 and U.S. conglomerate Viacom. Viacom18 operates streamer Voot and digital content creator Tipping Point. Ambani’s Reliance Industries has its own platform, Jio, and has minority stakes in Eros Now and ALTBalaji.
“Studios, the way it exists in the company, we have a unique leverage in being part of a platform owning company. So therefore, we have our own platforms, whether it is Voot or whether it’s Jio if you look at the larger parent, as well as the relationships with some of the other established outside platforms, whether it’s Netflix, Amazon, MX Player and so on,” said Andhare. “So, in that sense, we are in that sweet spot where we can work with both sides of the border, where producers lens and create content for both these pipelines.”
For streaming content, the studio plans to stick to the licensing model where shows are produced in-house and then sold to streamers. After “Laal Singh Chaddha,” the next big feature film punt is on “Fighter,” billed as India’s first aerial action franchise, featuring Bollywood megastars Hrithik Roshan (“War”) and Deepika Padukone (“Padmaavat”). The film is aiming for a Jan. 2023 release.