Mumbai: When Prashant Issar wanted to shoot television commercials for Star TV’s new game show that features actor Shah Rukh Khan, the last thing he anticipated was a shortage of studio space in the city.
Issar opted for the next best thing—the crumbling remains of Mukesh Mills, a defunct textile factory in south Mumbai.
With less than two days to shoot three commercials for Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hai? Issar’s production team hammered large swathes of black cloth on the remnantsof a broken tin roof, built walls and hired coolers to keep out the heat.
“It was like creating a studio in an outdoor location, which is completely bizarre,” says Issar, a film director with city-based ad film production house Corcoise Films Pvt. Ltd.
A sudden boom in the media and entertainment industry, especially reality and game shows, has led to film studios in Mumbai being booked round the year by production houses providing content to television channels or working on small-budget feature films.
No room: A video grab of an ad for Kya Aap Paanchvi Pass Se Tez Hai? hosted by Shah Rukh Khan. The first few ads for the show were shot at a crumbling textile factory due to unavailability of studios then.
Ad film production houses, considered low revenue earners for studios as they use studios for a much shorter span of time, are left hunting for run-down factories, garages and so-called live locations such as streets and markets.
“The minute you shoot in a non-studio set-up, your production costs shoot up by 50% because you have to control factors that are taken for granted in a studio,” says Gemma Fonseca of Sparkle Productions Pvt. Ltd, who has served as a production manager for some of the top advertisement film production houses in the country.
“And shooting out of the city could double production costs,” she adds. Among other costs, the crew has to be paid one-and-a-half times more if the project is moved out of city limits.
“After quoting a price assuming that you’re shooting in Mumbai, you can’t go back (to a client) with a revised budget,” Issar says.
“An ad film takes two to five days to shoot. So, at no point will we see a studio cancela 45-day booking for a reality show or serial to accommodate us,” says Abhinay Deo of Ramesh Deo Productions Pvt. Ltd. The ad film-maker recently had to use the lobby of a run-down five-star hotel in Mumbai to create an airport setting to shoot an ad film for a mobile service provider.
Traditionally, ad film houses have been geared to working on short notice. “You may have as little as two weeks to get everything sorted out. And if you are working with a star, your entire schedule will revolve around their availability and schedule,” says Issar.
This is more often than not, considering that more than 70% of the commercials in India involve Bollywood and sports celebrities, giving ad film houses less lead time to book studio space.
The popularity of formats such as reality and game shows means television production houses book studios for months. Famous Studio Ltd, for one, has lent its main studio to Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd the past four years, for the SaReGaMaPa talent show.
“After securing the main studio floor, the channel may even block the smaller studios on the premises to accommodate contestants, their families and the audience,” says a spokesman for Famous Studio at Mahalaxmi, who didn’t want to be identified owing to company policy.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where you are forced to compromise on the original idea or concept because you can’t find a studio to shoot it in,” says Deo.
A commercial he shot for the international market required creating a 250ft long street set in 18th century London. The team eventually had to scale it down to 170ft. “Creatively, it is a compromise,” he says.
Experts say the trend is likely to continue over the next few years, as investors see more growth in the media and entertainment sector.
“If you look at the penetration of television in India, cable and satellite connections reach only 75 million homes out of 120 million households with televisions,” says Farokh Balsara, head of media and entertainment practice at consultancy firm Ernst and Young. “In that sense, it is an under-penetrated market.”
More than 70 channels were launched in India last year, including NDTV Imagine Ltd, UTV News Ltd, 9X from INX Media Pvt. Ltd, and Colours from Viacom18 Media Pvt. Ltd.
Studio owners have started charging a premium for floor space, and in some cases, the hike in shift rates are more than 20%. Film studios are usually hired for eight-hour shifts. Kamalistan Studios in the northern suburbs of Mumbai has hiked rates to Rs55,000 per shift from Rs35,000 two months earlier, citing factors such as higher power prices, say production managers.
Reliance Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, too, has jumped at the opportunity in the studio business. After acquiring a 50% stake in ND Studio last year, renamed Big ND Studios, it plans to invest Rs350 crore to expand its production facilities in a 250-acre plot in Karjat, a few hours from Mumbai.
“We want it to be a one-stop shop,” says Nitin Desai, chairman and managing director, Big ND Studio. “We plan to have dedicated studios for television channels, from where they can uplink their content directly.”