As and when Sanjay Gupta’s business expanded, the controversies surrounding him too increased. From inking Rs 260 crore deal with Eros to an alleged fall out with friend and business partner Sanjay Dutt, Gupta has seen and heard it all in the last three months.
However, nothing stops the man. ‘No exclusive deals, One movie at a time’ is his mantra. After raking in moolah from Shootout At Lokhandwala (which is part of the deal with Balaji), he is gung ho about his latest, first of its kind film Dus Kahaniyaan (which is part of the Eros deal).
In an exclusive interview with Businessofcinema.com, Gupta talks about his company White Feather Films’ growth plans and also candidly reveals the status quo of his relation with Dutt.
You are among the few producers riding high on the corporate wagon. In what ways have the recent deals facilitated your business?
Corporates are the best thing to happen to the industry. I don’t think we should criticize them and say things such as they are new and know nothing and are just distributing money lift, right and centre. The film industry is now being recognized as an industry. It means serious business. Multiplexes have grown hence I can take the risk of making films like Dus Kahaniyaan. I no longer have to worry about the distribution or marketing of my film, Sunil Lulla and Kishore Lulla are doing a wonderful job.
My job is to have a good script and good music. I can totally concentrate on the creative aspect of film making. We have no false ambitions, we are happy and content with film making.
We at White Feather do not want to go public and I think that is the correct principle. Look at all the production houses like Yash Raj Films, Vishesh Films, Film Kraft, Dharma Productions, Vidhu Vinod Chopra Production or Shah Rukh’s Red Chillies. They have been making good films and are handling their own companies. Companies who have gone public have lost control over their production values. Their attention is diverted towards stock markets more than the stories of their films.
Corporates have a game plan and vision which is unlike us regular producers. Their vision is a little bigger. The basic difference is that they settle accounts after five years, but we deal on a picture-to-picture basis, they have the money and latitude. It is fantastic how Balaji or UTV conduct business.
Most of the corporates are very smart.
You recently launched White Feather Arthouse for small niche films. Why did you divert towards making smaller movies?
Why not? Why should I only keep making big blockbusters? We just want to make films and tell our stories. There are a lot of stories that cannot be told in the commercial milieu. The films under White Feather Arthouse are more daring in content, not very mainstream. Likewise they are being made in small budgets so that there are no risks. At the end of the day, economics is the first thing we look at. The budgets of films under Arthouse vary from Rs 1 crore to Rs 3 crore.
Ultimately you are contributing and giving back to the industry that has given you so much. Through these smaller movies we are promoting smaller talent which will later go onto become major talent.
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Currently how many directors have been signed under White Feather Arthouse?
The first film under the banner is The Great Indian Butterfly which has been directed by Sarthak Dasgupta. Subrato Chattapadhyay has made Pankh. They are also repeating their second films under Arthouse. Then we have signed Anand Rai.
So these are the directors immediately and we haven’t announced the others.
Are you also in talks with Shyam Benegal and Govid Nihlani?
Yes, yes. We are in talks with everybody.
Since you have signed so many directors for your banner, isn’t it tough to manage dates with them, also especially because they are working on other films as well?
I do to work with directors if they are working outside. That is the first requisite. I make only one film at a time so I expect my directors to make one film at a time.
What is the status of your deal with Balaji Motion Pictures?
What happens is, the minute you announce a tie up with someone the world think that everything you are doing is with them. Last year at IIFA we announced that we will do pictures with Balaji (pulls out a brochure quickly); look we announced Shootout At Lokhandwala and Woodstock Villa with them.
Also, at the same press conference I announced Alibaug, Dus Kahaniyaan and Chamki Chameli which were only White Feather films. Those pictures were never with Balaji in the first place. That time nobody questioned me and today I have had eight different people asking me why is Balaji not in this? My only answer is they were never there, they have a different agenda. Balaji is a safe player that is why they are who they are. They are always big and strong because they have always played the big game, they don’t take risks.
Our philosophy is different; we like to venture into the unknown. My Balaji deal stands the way it is. The Eros deal is the way it is. I never do exclusive deals.
So can you elaborate on your deal with Eros?
It is a deal for 15 movies over a period of 3-5 years. It is a Rs 260 crore deal. Pankh, Dus Kahaniya and The Great Indian Butterfly are the films they bought for distribution. Alibaug is what they are co-producing with us. We will announce the next batch of films in January.
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What is the status of Woodstock Villa and Alibaug?
Woodstock Villa is ready; its post production is on. We will release it by January/ February after seeing how Dus Kahaniya fares.
For Alibaug 25 per cent is left, which is to be shot with Sanju. We were scheduled to shoot in December but now things have changed because the films release has been delayed.
Now since the name (Sanjay Dutt) is out, can you clarify the recent steer that took place?
They stand exactly where they have always been. For the record, he has resigned from the company because he started Sanjay Dutt Production (SDP) which is reviving Ajanta Arts and this has been the longest dream and ambition of both of us.
For whatever reason, tomorrow if White Feather Films is put on hold for 20 -25 years and if I have son who is in the business, he will always want to revive his father’s banner. It is a natural thing to do. So that is what we are doing.
Sanjay Dutt will no longer be associated with White Feather?
No, not in the capacity as a director of the company. But he is acting in all our films. There is no particular reason for him stepping down, except that he is starting SDP.
So what changes has Sanjay Dutt’s absence made in your firm?
In any case Sanju was never the person who would sit in office and run the day-to-day show. He was somebody who was our guiding force, which he still is. All I have to do is pick up the phone and talk to him. Only some paperwork has changed, but that is alright.
On the other hand, you also made a lot of appointments recently. In what capacity are you looking at elevating your company?
We have been around for a short while and have had a rapid growth. We have covered a long distance in a short time. We have taken some responsible people in key positions. We are not looking at growth from the point of view of going public. We want to be strong just within the company. We want to keep churning out films and be strong in our business.
Apart from growth in number of movies, what are the other areas of expansion that you are focusing on?
We have already launched White Feather Film Tools under which we have got equipment and cameras. We are film makers and are on the sets so we know what is required. A lot of people bring in equipment from an investment point of view keeping in mind the returns it will give, so they don’t get things that will give slow returns. But even they are important for film makers, so White Feather gets that. We don’t mind the slow returns because we need these tools and weapons to fight our wars.
We have launched White Feather Arthouse and now we are in the process of launching White Feather Film Studios where we will have our own studios in Karjat and Goa. These expansion plans are in place.
Can you elaborate more on the White Feather Film Studios?
These are shooting stages spread over 10-15 acres. We are investing ourselves and taking loans from the bank. We have identified the locations. It will take another two years.
Coming to your latest movie Dus Kahaniyaan, monetarily and logistically how different is a film made of 10 short films v/s a single three hour long film?
Monetarily it boils down to the same thing, more or less. When you sign actors, you obviously do not pay them their entire market value, you pay them a sum which is much lesser because the work required is lesser.
Logistically it is as exhausting due to the approach you take because you are not clubbing films. For each film after we selected the story, the director, star cast, technicians, crew and locations. The films have been shot at locations as varied as Chandigarh, Goa, Ooty, Pune, Khandala. Logistically it has been a tough shoot. It is like putting together 10 set ups.
You are spending the same kind of money, exposing the same kind of stock, using the same number of days or may be more.
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So is it different in terms of marketing? Is it necessary to promote an unusual film like Dus Kahaniya with a different concept and strategy?
We don’t have to market it heavily because it is a film with a different concept. Actually, in the case with any film under White Feathers we promote them well. We were the first production house to realize the importance of marketing and promotion, wherein we always allotted budget for that. An average producer would have a budget of 2- 2.5 % for promotion but we have a budget of 25-40% because it is important today to tell the people.
So, be it through reality shows, road shows, poetry readings, premieres, concerts or ads we are all over the place. Dus Kahaniyaan is budgeted at about Rs 12- 15 crore. We have almost 30% of the revenues (not budget) which amounts to Rs 4-6 crores. After the picture releases we may continue to advertise depending on the fate of the film, up to the release it has crossed a 4 crore mark.
Is the risk element high in a different concept film?
There is no risk, nobody looses money. Revenues come from satellite, home video, audio and overseas. Additionally, this is a multiplex film.
With a film like this, do the non theatrical rights (home video, satellite and music) contribute more towards revenues than theatrical rights?
Non theatrical rights do become a larger contributor of about 60 per cent.
What is the status with Chamki Chameli?
It is not happening yet, we are still working on it. We are unable to find actors who are getting convinced.
You’ll had planned Priyanka and Sanjay?
They didn’t understand the script.
Since action films are back in the reckoning, what are your plans?
I am working on something very big and will launch it in January. A lot of people will think it is Kaante 2, which it is not. It is in the spirit of Kaante. The movie will tell the men from the boys (laughs). I am directing it next year, after Alibaug. It is the biggest budgeted film White Feather has ever done. It has close to seven leading men, most of who are in place and will be shot internationally.