Siddharth Roy Kapur barrels through the door at a terrific pace.My 15-minute wait for the movie honcho at the Leela Kempinski in Andheri has been punctuated by apologetic text messages, and when he does arrive, he whips past me to the wrong end of the lobby.
I catch up with him, and thus ensues a new round of apologies as we make our way to Citrus, a multi-cuisine restaurant with a view of the gardens and tables within alcoves in the dappled sunlight, a haven away from the marble and gold splendour of the lobby.
Affable and expansive, Kapur, carries an easy air of authority and appears older than his 34 years. The south Mumbai-raised movie buff has defied stereotypes and sliced through industries and traditional alliances to head motion pictures at UTV Software Communications, which is listed on the AIM London Stock Exchange.
“I am the type who used to read Screen magazine when I was eight years old, so I always wanted to do something related to movies,” he wryly confides about his childhood ambition that eventually brought him into the world of films. “I read every film magazine, and I still could not get enough, so I read Screen also.”
Obsession: Since childhood, Kapur has had a voracious appetite for films and film news.
Kapur’s passion for film remained latent until recently however, as he cut his professional teeth in marketing at Procter and Gamble and then worked at Star TV, where he helped launch the phenomenally successful quiz game show Kaun Banega Crorepati. His time with Star TV also saw him work in Dubai and Hong Kong, where he led the marketing functions for the News Corp.-owned television group.
But even while travelling the world with Star TV, and rapidly ascending the ranks within the television company, Kapur says he always had one eye on the film industry in India, staying “completely clued into what was going on, because I had an interest”.
The chance to work in the film industry came his way in 2005, when he was offered a job in marketing at UTV, the production house founded by Ronnie Screwvala. He snapped it up, and in January, he was assigned to his “dream job” as chief executive of UTV Motion Pictures.
“For me, the most exciting part of the job is being involved in the entire creative experience,” says Kapur, as we sip iced tea and fresh lime soda. “I like brainstorming, sitting in on story sessions and narrations, reading through scripts, figuring out what the positioning of a film should be and how we should be marketing it. All that is really great fun.”
We order our main courses (soup and salad, as Kapur says he tries to avoid heavy meals at lunchtime) as he explains to me how UTV, which has bucked the trend this year with a slate of commercially successful movies, including Jodhaa Akbar and Race, picks its projects.
“The key for us really is the script,” says Kapur, who prefers to speak in the abstract when it comes to lessons learnt from failed films.
“It all starts with that. Frankly, it’s not like we knew that from Day 1, though. There has been a process of trial and error. And I think the important part is learning the lessons from whatever mistakes you think you made in the past. This year has been really good for us and I think it has been good for us because we have focused on certain stories.”
He blames “creative inertia” as well as an “assembly line” approach to moviemaking for the string of box office flops this year, as production houses rush to invest corporate funding in film projects without taking due time and energy to develop scripts and stories and place them appropriately.
“At the end of the day, your call on whether to back a film has got to be based on how creatively exciting a project is to you and how commercially viable it is,” he reflects. “If you can answer these two questions and put a tick against each one, then it makes sense to go ahead with the film.”
Although UTV has not been entirely exempt from the run of big screen failures this year—the M. Night Shyamalan-directed The Happening, a production tie-up with 20th Century Fox, was critically panned—Kapur repeatedly emphasizes that the most crucial thing is to learn from errors in order not to replicate them.
It is a lesson he learnt while working at P&G, where he says there was so much focus on documenting experiences, one might joke that to even use the bathroom required a “standard operating procedure”.
With his corporate credentials, and armed with an MBA, Kapur—whose interests beyond watching “at least” three movies a week include politics and reading—is representative of a new cut of film executive infusing a corporate ethic into an otherwise chaotic and relationship-driven industry.
His approach to everything from pay scales to consolidation in the industry appears to be firmly rooted in economic fundamentals, and as Bollywood begins to feel the pinch from the global slowdown, Kapur argues that belt-tightening is a positive trend in an industry where “the values of projects are unsustainable and no one is making actual cash”.
Additionally, UTV Motion Pictures is preparing to claim ground among international audiences and find the “first true-blue crossover film”. “Frankly, no Indian film has crossed over so far,” says Kapur. “A crossover film has to be a film that comes out of the Indian ethos, that is born in India, that is produced by an Indian studio, that is directed by an Indian director making Indian movies, and has managed to appeal to an audience around the world.”
With change coming to Bollywood, it appears that a film industry outsider, “who was one of those kids who would come out of a movie where Amitabh Bachchan dies at the end and start bawling”, will be leading the charge.
Siddharth Roy Kapur
Born: 2 August 1974
Education: BCom from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics; MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute
Work Profile: Joined Procter and Gamble in 1997. Moved to Star TV in 1999, then was transferred to Dubai as head of marketing for West Asia. In 2002, he was promoted as head of marketing for Star TV, and was based out of Hong Kong. In 2005, he joined UTV as head of marketing and communications. Was named chief executive of UTV Motion Pictures in 2008
Favourite Destination: New York
Currently Reading: ‘Inside Steve’s Brain’
Favourite Movie: ‘Sholay’. I must have watched it about 30-35 times.