Saawariya has the ability to double or even triple our revenues’ – Uday Singh

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How has 2006 been for Sony Pictures, as compared to last year in terms of revenue growth?

It’s been fantastic and the weird part is that in 2002 we crossed the Rs 1 billion mark in India for the first time at the box office. We repeated the same in 2004 and now in 2006, we are sure that we are going to cross that mark again. The first two years were largely driven by the product lineup that we had Spiderman and Spiderman 2. This year is largely going to be driven by Bond, which is the widest release we’ve ever had with 500 prints in India.

Apart from that, Da Vinci Code did fantastic business. We’ve also had a good year on the Disney side with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Ma’s Chest. So overall, it has been a great year for us and with Casino Royale, it is going to get into another region altogether.

What are your expectations from Casino Royale?

Clearly it’s going to be the biggest Bond ever. Moreover, it will be the biggest title we’ve ever had. Daniel Craig is really good in the movie, maybe even better than Sean Connery. The film is good and we are very hopeful that it will do well.

In terms of collections, we are hoping that it will do a business of around Rs 400+ million (Rs 40+ crore) at the box office in India. Until now, our highest grosser in the Indian market was Spiderman 2, which did a business of Rs 340 million (Rs 34 crores).

Going forward, Sony has some big films lined up for 2006 – 2007. What are your expectations from these and what kind of revenue growth do you think they will bring for the company?

The tent pole films around which our entire line up is going to revolve are In Pursuit of Happiness, which stars Will Smith along with his son. After that we have a film called The Ghost Rider, which stars Nicholas Cage. Then Spiderman comes back in Spiderman 3, looking better than ever! The trailer looks terrific. Then we have Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Last but not the least; we have our first Indian co-production Saawariya, which is slated for a Diwali 2007 release.

Any particular reason for such a delayed release plan for Saawariya since the film is already under production?

The schedules are staggered into next year and I think Sanjay Leela Bhansali is going to start the post-production work only around April – May next year. We will be ready with the film around July – August. Then we looked at what was the best date available for a release. We’re not always going to be in a rush to release a film. We wanted to release it in the best possible period, which is more of a strategic call for what is best for the movie.

What is the kind of promotions lined up for these upcoming films? Are they going to be on the same scale as that for Casino Royale?

If you see Spiderman 1 and 2, they were pushed phenomenally. In fact, Spiderman 2 was the widest release ever with 327 screens across India. With Bond we’ve touched a new peak and are looking at about 500 prints.

Also now you have the opportunity to sell more number of prints that you had earlier, which is largely driven by the fact that markets are multiplexing and growing. In that sense we are frontloading most of our properties.

What is the growth in revenues you are expecting in the coming year?

Next year we bring in Saawariya and the film has the ability to double or even triple our revenues. Ultimately the space that we are operating in is not as big as the local space. But with Hindi, the revenues are very different.

Coming back to Casino Royale, are there any local tie-ups that you have done for the film?

Casino Royale has a lot of international partners like Smirnoff, the Sony Group of companies. In addition to that, in India we have a tie-up with Hutch for exclusive Bond ringtones and wallpapers. They are our licensee and they have their own media plan, which will be rolled out. We don’t have a tie-up with Hutch in any other country. It is a local initiative.

Apart from this, we have also tied up with BPCL, wherein they will be releasing ads across various media.

Are there any plans for merchandising around upcoming releases?

For Spiderman 3, we will definitely be looking at merchandising. That’s the kind of property that lends itself very beautifully to merchandising. Assuming that we have the rights to the same, we will be looking at it.

What was the response to Open Season considering it was Sony’s first animated production?

Open Season did good business. In fact, it is still playing at IMAX in Mumbai. This is probably the second biggest animated film released by us. The first one was The Incredibles, where we got Shah Rukh Khan to dub.

You mentioned about Sony’s new division, which would facilitate small films. Can you elaborate on the same?

What we find is that we can do these 300 – 500 print releases but there is also a space where there are smaller films, which need a lot of attention. You literally need to cuddle them into the arms of the audiences. Moreover, jostling for space with so many big things happening; it becomes difficult for you to stay focused on the smaller ones. As a full service company, we have to look at each segment and with the product portfolio that we have, we needed someone to focus on that space to give it the due importance.

This division is for our own movies as well as those, which we do from outside. This is not probably a great opportunity in terms of a business because it does not involve huge monies but I think it is service to the business of cinema that you get these movies exhibited and develop a circuit over a period of time. You get some business going for them, which are profitable but not necessarily the kind of volumes you’re going to make. The belief is that ultimately we have to give back to the business as well and these are the kind of movies that need support.

While having said that it is very difficult in this kind of a crowded space to be able to get time to push small movies. But now multiplexes are also willing to support that kind of cinema.

Compared to a few years ago, how has the Indian market dynamics changed for Hollywood films releasing in India? What is the kind of shift and trend you’ve noticed?

I think the market has been overall buoyant so there is a certain momentum, which is already there in the market for the movie entertainment business. Also the fact is that multiplexes are mushrooming in the country. Now, have we been able to ride that momentum? Yes, certainly. In our own space that we operate in, we have been able to grow our business consistently.

However, it is a product driven business. If you have the Spiderman and the Bond, then your revenues will go up. But in between you also go through one or two years, where you don’t have that kind of a lineup.

Overall, if you go to see, the revenues have been growing quite substantially and they are continuing to do so. I could never have imagined a few years back that an English film can be released with 500 prints in India. To a lot of people it has come as a surprise but it is possible. You’re only pushing the envelope as much as you can to see how much more you can do.

If the market continues to multiplex in the manner that they are adding screens, it is not impossible that in a few years, we’ll be doing 700 – 750 screens for an English film in India.

English films were usually the mainstay of metros, especially Mumbai. Have you seen a shift over time and what has the trend been?

Contrary to a lot of the trade’s opinion of us not having the reach; I have the widest reach available in the country as Sony Pictures. I’m not talking about the Hollywood space, but I’m taking about us in particular. We have a grass root distribution model, where we go down a penetration of 5000+ people towns, wherever there is a theater available.

If you look at the number of places I have booked for the first Spiderman in 2002, it was over 3200 locations in India. Out of a possible 7000 permanent screens and the balance 5000 being movable screens, getting to a reach of 3200 is big. We dub our movies in four languages; we go from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and work that much harder to penetrate into the market place.

Contrary to what people think, we have a very vibrant and bustling market for our dubbed products outside of the metros. We don’t have to live with the snobbery of “Oh, I don’t want to see this film because it is dubbed.” The people outside the two or three key metro cities are very unpretentious and that’s who we are targeting and pitching our movies to.

Dubbing does not involve very high costs and you make your money back so it’s a business plan, which continuously gives us the returns.