Walk into any multiplex today and chances are, a majority of the films being played out on those screens are small budget films featuring new talent. Whether it is the hilarious comedy about non-resident Indians called Loins of Punjab, thriller Johnny Gaddaar featuring newcomer Neil Nitin Mukesh, films such as Bheja Fry and Life in a Metro, or internationally acclaimed films such as The Namesake—industry experts say it is clear that audiences are developing a sensibility for small, independent films.
The box-office takings aren’t bad either: Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal, which cost Rs5 crore to produce, made Rs15 crore at the box office, says an industry analyst. Right on cue, some film production houses are setting up separate divisions or companies under the parent brand to work on small budget projects. These have budgets less than Rs5 crore, and are generally less dependent on commercial success than mainstream Bollywood films.
Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts Ltd has set up two divisions—Mukta Searchlight Films, which handles small budget films, and Malpix Films, which will launch its first Marathi film, Kaande Pohe, soon. UTV Motion Pictures Plc. has Spot Boy Motion Pictures and UTV Classics, while Percept Picture Co. recently set up Cause Cinema, which will look at projects with socially relevant themes as well as corporate films.
Yash Raj Films Pvt. Ltd is also planning to set up a separate division that will focus on small budget projects or independent films, according to people in the industry familiar with the developments. Its most recent Chak De! India featured 13 newcomers and actor Shah Rukh Khan, and was a departure from the usual Yash Raj formula. While declining to commit on any move away from commercial films, a company spokesperson said all decisions would be “in keeping with the company’s shift to the studio format”.
“Today, production houses don’t have a choice but to start looking at small budget films or independent films. With actors turning producers, producers are now looking at lesser known names and smaller projects as an effective way to keep the ball rolling,” said Taran Adarsh, trade analyst, and editor of Trade Guide, a film business weekly. Top Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Aamir Khan, Arjun Rampal, Ajay Devgan and wife Kajol have set up film production houses of their own.
But why would studios set up separate divisions for budget films? Industry experts say there are several reasons ranging from de-risking their portfolio and clarity in brand strategy, a shift to large studio formats, to ensuring the inflow of new talent. They are also using high-content “art” films as an inroad to the international awards scene and markets beyond non-resident Indians.
Growth in infrastructure is also fuelling the growing acceptance of small budget films.
“Today, with multiplexes, these small budget films can actually be made, and can be given a theatrical release to audiences with a growing sensibility for such work,” said Siddharth Roy Kapur, executive vice-president, marketing, UTV Motion Pictures.
These projects have a longer shelf life compared with bigbudget films, where the opening week is extremely crucial. “So, you could release a few prints first and the perception created by running full house for the first few weeks is extremely effective. Buzz is built purely on word-of-mouth,” said Navin Shah, chief executive officer, P9 Integrated Pvt. Ltd, which has a separate unit, P9 Searchlight, for small budget films.
When it comes to selling an independent or small budget film, it’s vital to work smart. “You are catering to a discerning audience and, more often than not, (are on) a modest marketing budget,” said Shah. His company, which was responsible for marketing Traffic Signal, sponsored T-shirts with the logo ‘Traffic Signal’ for a large group of traffic cops running the Mumbai Marathon early this year.
There are two revenue streams for both big and small budget films: theatrical—through the number of prints sold—and non-theatrical—comprising home DVDs, satellite rights, DD telecast rights, etc. The only difference is that the territories and rights for big budget films is much larger. They also have additional streams of revenue comprising music rights, downloadable properties such as wallpapers, ringtones, music and international releases which are very rare for small budget films. Still, small is clearly getting big in filmdom.