Mumbai: Yet another Indian movie studio has realized that in order to increase its business and influence, it will have to know more languages than Hindi and English.
Viacom18 Motion Pictures, which makes, acquires and distributes Hindi and English films, has set up a regional cinema production division that will produce movies in Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu. The films in various stages of progress include official remakes of the 2012 hit Kahaani in Tamil and Telugu, and Marathi cinema’s first 3D project.
Apart from Kahaani, which it co-produced, Network18 Media Pvt. Ltd rolled out such films as OMG: Oh My God! and Gangs of Wasseypur last year. By opening its business to cinema in other languages, the studio has the potential to explore new story ideas, fresh talent and untapped markets as well as the opportunity to own and exploit intellectual property.
“The strategy is twofold—to look at driving incremental business for the studio, but to also build capabilities to address audiences across India,” said chief operating officer Vikram Malhotra. “Rather than making sporadic attempts, we are building up a regional slate by forming strong alliances with partners across all languages.”
The regional cinema division, headed by Jayesh Mazumdar, will be allotted 15% of the company’s annual business outlay, Malhotra said. “Regional cinema can’t be handled as a by-product of the main business,” he added. Rather than risk new talent, the forthcoming projects, some of which will be co-productions, will bet on box office credibility and critical respectability.
The regional slate includes a 3D sequel to Mahesh Kothare’s 1993 hit comedy Zapatlela, Jogwa director Rajeev Patil’s adaptation of the Marathi novel 72 Miles, a Marathi film based on the fictional stand-up comedy character Gangubai, Bengali films produced by Special 26 director Neeraj Pandey, and Kahaani creator Sujoy Ghosh, and the Punjabi Bhajji in Problem, starring local hero Gippy Grewal and handled by Smeep Kang, director of the 2008 comedy Chak De Phatte. Tamil star Nayantara will play Vidya Balan’s character in the Tamil and Telugu remakes of Kahaani, which will be directed by Sekhar Kammula.
The production budgets will range from low to upper range, depending on the industry. The southern films will be brought in under Rs.15 crore, while the Marathi and Bengali titles won’t cost more than Rs.3 crore. More money will be lavished on the Punjabi films—Rs.10-12 crore.
Viacom18 Motion Pictures has arrived at the regional cinema party a little later than its competitors. Fox Star Studios Pvt. Ltd produces movies and remakes of southern language titles—its most recent release was Vatthikuchi, produced along with Ghajini filmmaker A.R. Murugadoss. UTV Motion Pictures’ last regional project was Tamil film Thaandavam, while Reliance Entertainment put down money on the table for Telugu film Devudu Chesina Manushulu and the forthcoming Hindi and Telugu remakes of the 1973 Amitabh Bachchan classic Zanjeer.
Like other studios, Viacom18 Motion Pictures will have to tread carefully while dealing with storied industries, especially in the south, to ensure that it is seen as a collaborator rather than an interloper. What does work in the favour of Mumbai producers is the infusion of capital, and marketing and distribution opportunities for regional filmmakers.
“Studios sitting in Mumbai don’t have an understanding of audiences in other markets,” Malhotra said. “South Indian cinema is a different ecosystem in terms of size, creativity and talent. It is not about capital and collaboration—the easy thing for a studio in Bombay to do is pick up a big-budget movie and use it to signal its arrival there. But then you are playing financier. Neither consumer understanding nor talent is taken care of.”
Viacom18 hopes to “cross-pollinate” talent across the industries, which is why Neeraj Pandey, director of A Wednesday and Special 26, is a creative producer of a Bengali movie.
“We want to build capabilities in audiences across India,” Malhotra said. “Sooner rather than later, all films will travel throughout the country.”
Sudhanshu Vats, group chief executive of Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd, added: “Foraying into regional cinema is in line with our vision for Viacom18 to have a strong presence in the regional entertainment space—both television as well as films. Geographic and linguistic segmentation is a key component of our growth strategy as we move ahead.”