‘Our strategy was to move gradually and not spread our tentacles all across’ – Balaji Motion Pictures CEO Ramesh Sippy


They conquered the television territory first and now they are on their way to win the silver screen by frantically acquiring distribution rights, producing and co-producing movies films by inking heavy duty deals with several production houses. Balaji Motion Pictures is now on a roll.


 


At the helm of the company is a veteran of the Indian film distribution space – Ramesh Sippy.


 


Sippy is one busy man and his phone never ceases to ring… so much so that he shooed his phone out of the cabin as soon as this interview began. “Take all my calls for the next 15 minutes,” he told one of his guys.


 


Only fifteen minutes for an interview, after weeks of trying to get an appointment? ‘Twas going to be a mean task! In the next one hour (yes you read it right) that followed, Sippy gives Businessofcinema.com a lowdown on Balaji Motion Pictures’ aggressive moves, distribution goals, the changed patterns in the space and expansion plans.


 


Excerpts:


 


Balaji Motion Pictures has ramped up on the production front recently. What was the reason behind this and what took the company so long to get aggressive in the space?


I don’t think it is sudden at all. If you want to be in the market, you’ve got to be in the market. You can’t make a one off film and go off to bed. And that was the very idea of setting up Balaji Motion Pictures.


 


One can’t survive in the market otherwise. It is difficult to support an infrastructure unless you are aggressively acquiring rights and are on the lookout for the right opportunities and deals. We are always sniffing for new films.


 


Were you waiting for the right time?


There is no question of a right time. Our strategy was very simple – let’s get moving. We thought of tapping the market, and then went ahead with our first co-production and two stand alone productions.


 


We wanted to get a feel of the market so that we can decide which way to move in and how fast to move. We didn’t pick up money like some of the companies do and then think what to do with this money? We would rather spend first and then talk about moolah because we have our in-house resources. We perform within our parameters and then judge.


 


Our starting point was good. With the reasonable background that I have, we were in a position to pick and choose and see what was feasible for us. Our strategy was to move gradually and not spread our tentacles all across. We want to keep our options open. All India and all world distribution are certainly on the cards. We have to be everywhere to make the company work.< Page Break >


 


The company has plans of setting up distribution offices in the UK and the US. Can you elaborate on the rollout?


We are now setting up an arm in New York and London so we at least have our liaison there. Hence, whether we physically distribute or sub-distribute the film, we have a liaison to monitor. All tie-ups will depend from project to project. We are not getting married to anybody wherein we can’t move out. Such deals will happen at a later stage when we are churning out eight to 10 movies a year.


 


Give us a low down on the films that Balaji is now working on individually?


As an individual production house we have C-Company in the pipeline and the sequel to Kya Kool Hain Hum (KKHH). KKHH‘s subject and script is ready. While we can start shooting in the next three months, we are not yet clear about the director. Sangeeth Sivan, who directed the previous one, is a bit apprehensive about going ahead with the project. The reason being he is basically a non-comedy filmmaker from the south. He feels he’s getting typecast into comedy and offers for other movie genres are not coming his way. He wants to prove that he has something more than comedy, which is why he is doing Ek with Bobby Deol.


 


We have two options, either we go ahead with Sachin or we have a few other alternatives as well.


 


Balaji was to do a film with Amitabh Bachchan…


No. There was a Tamil film remake that Jeetendra’s cousin had brought in we were considering Amitabh Bachchan for the father’s character. But that was not pursued with much response because unless he saw the original Tamil movie, he wouldn’t have been able to relate to the character. But things didn’t work out as planned, so we had to drop it.


 


We are not signing anyone under our direct wing. But yes, under our co-productions we have signed Sanjay Dutt for EMI and the next project with Popcorn Entertainment. I can’t talk much about that since it’s targeted in 2008.< Page Break >


 


You signed other directors like Abbas Mastan, Tigmanshu Dhulia under Balaji Motion Pictures. What’s the status on those films?


The film with Tigmanshu is in the scripting stage so we are waiting for the final script. The film with Rohit Shetty will take some time as the script is not yet finalized. We have signed Apoorva Lakhia for another film, which is under Balaji. We wanted to start that project but thought of waiting for a while because Mission Istanbul was in the process of going on floors. So once he’s done with that, he’ll start our film.


 


What’s the status on films with Sanjay Gupta’s White Feather Films?


Something worthwhile has to come our way to make a film. One must understand that these co-productions do not mean that we keep making films. If and only if something nice shapes up we’ll take it ahead.


 


We did two films with them; we didn’t find the third one palatable. We had nothing against the project; our views differed on the financial angle.


 


If we don’t agree on budgets then we won’t take things forward. It’s a risk at the end of the day. No one expected Himesh Reshammiya’s Aap Ka Surroor to be a runaway hit! This industry works on gut feelings. You may have the experience, but it will never assure you 100 per cent results.


 


Can you throw some light on the company’s plan with regional cinema?


We have an in-house writer who writes one Bhojpuri film every year. He knows the territory very well. He hails from a Bhojpuri background. Other than that we are also looking at the South. But as of now there is nothing concrete.< Page Break >


 


Since you are a veteran in the distribution space, what is your opinion of the current film distribution scenario in India?


It has become reasonably more transparent that it was earlier. It’s on an incline but not the kind of incline that the trade is projecting. There is no vertical movement as such. People are anticipating things like a project that is being made for Rs 7 crores will be acquired for Rs 17 crores. Now that’s not done. Everything has its limitations, if a film is a box office success, then we know what the extremes are.


 


How do you perceive the change in this space?


There is some kind of discipline now; formulas are being worked out and negotiations are on a minor range. Today a film is projected at Rs 100 crores and then the distribution deal is worked out. Whereas in the case of smaller towns, they take a lot of time to succeed in such deals. Some areas have not been developed. There are multiplexes in towns, which are the periphery of a certain town. They might not have a great population, but people in and around will go to these theatres and watch movies. This is how the distribution works there. This is the transition that distribution has witnessed, which is helping the business.


 


Apart from traditional overseas markets like the UK, US and UAE, which are the non-traditional markets that have a scope of being explored for Bollywood films’ distribution?


For rest of the exploration, we need not setup a liaison or an arm there. Like today films are not going to the West Indies. Nigeria had closed down a while back but has opened up again. Twenty years back West Africa was a huge territory and then moved to zero. But now they are back into cinema.


 


Going forward, what’s your vision for Balaji Motion Pictures?


I want Balaji Motion Pictures to work as a team without segregating between the distribution arm and the production arm. Everyone must be hands on into every department. It can’t be a one man show. I will have three strong hands – one is of course Nandu Ahuja (ex-Adlabs), who has joined as COO and the other two will be out soon.

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