‘Technology & tariffs are likely to make entertainment far more reasonably priced in the future’ – Percept Picture Company CEO Preet Bedi

It’s only been a couple of months since he joined the big Bollywood family, but the new Percept Picture Company CEO Preet Bedi looks very much at ease in his new profile.

An advertising veteran, Bedi joined Percept early this year from Rediffusion DY&R, where he was president. He was with the agency since 2003, prior to which he has also had stints with agencies like TBWA and Lowe.

In his first interview to the media since taking over as CEO of Percept Picture Company, Bedi chats with Businessofcinema.com’s Hetal Adesara about his view of Bollywood as an “outsider,” his vision for the company, the movies lined up this year from PPC’s stable, the way forward for Bollywood and more…


With a background in advertising, what made you switch to a film production house?

It’s been one and a half months since I joined Percept Picture Company and it’s been absolutely fantastic. I’m learning the new business and trade, which is quite interesting.


Actually advertising is a great business. However, I’ve done this for many years now and I was looking forward to doing something different. I evaluated a couple of options including one in the mobile branded entertainment space and then this one came along. I thought this was very interesting. I can’t say that I have been an avid cinema consumer all my life but having said that I like films and the creative process that it involves. Nothing in the first six weeks has made me change my mind.


What is your mandate as the new COO of PPC and what are the issues on your radar immediately?

In the last three or four years, there has been a lot of talk about the entertainment space growing like a touchstone. Having said that, corporateization of the business is now happening and in the next 10 – 15 years there is going to be a lot of growth. At the same time, it will have to be professional growth. Out of all the companies that are in this space right now, the race is still open of who is number one, two or three. My key agenda is that we would certainly like to be in the top three by the time the dust settles and the excitement of the growth is over.


The advantages that we have is that we are present across-genres… not just in films but also in television software, live events, etc. so we are more integrated in that sense.


The second thing is the fact is that we come from a discipline of advertising (not just myself but most of the team), where understanding the consumer is the key. Everything begins with that in advertising and the audience is also a consumer. That is one plus that we want to leverage across the board, which is where you’ll find that (and I take no credit for it) almost all the films that PPC has done have been quite different. Given the fact that it is a two-year-old company, it has broken a lot of new ground more often than most others have – whether it be Makdee, Phir Milenge or even Hanuman. No one in India thought of an animation film, when the fact was that India had been animating for the rest of the world.


Also the kind of films Madhur (Bhandarkar) makes is quite different from the regular run of the mill movies.


When you talk about the entertainment industry reaching the peak of its growth phase, what is the time frame that we’re talking about?

Not too soon. It will take a while because the growth in this category is going to carry on for at least seven to ten years. Don’t forget, where every sixth human being in the world is an Indian, and more and more of those people are coming into consumption categories. There is enough evidence now that people spend more on entertainment, far faster than they would have some years back.


Earlier a film came out of disposable income but today the scenario has changed. Today it comes out of necessities, which are not only defined as food, clothing and housing; entertainment is also a part of it.


A parallel can be drawn here with the telecom sector, where today virtually everyone has a mobile phone because the prices have come down dramatically. I see the same thing happening here as well. Currently we are in the high cost phase but technology and tariffs are likely to make entertainment far more reasonably priced in the future. Therefore growth is going to be there for a long period of time.

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This year, PPC has ventured out on its own after ending its association with Sahara One. How do the company dynamics change now and how significant will this year be for the company?

Let me take the latter part of the question first. It’s going to be a significant year for us not just because of the Sahara disengagement, but also because this is going to our real first year where we’re actually getting into home production. Coincidentally, it’s a year when this space is seeing hyper activity so it’s an important year from both these points of view.


As far as the Sahara disengagement is concerned, it’s in the nature of the expertise that we will now need to build for ourselves. When you’re an online producer, the expertise you need is much more in the area of good productions. But when you become a complete production house and you get into the business of producing content, distributing it and managing IPR (intellectual property rights), there are these completely new areas that you need to invest in.


Now that Sahara is out of the picture, what will be PPC’s source of funding movies be?

We are open to external sources of funding but for the moment, we have internal accruals that we are using. However, the growth in this category has to be very fast. If in order to meet the needs of that growth we do require external partners, we will take them on.


What kind of investment are you pumping in this year for your upcoming projects?

We’re planning that from April 2007 to March 2008, our slate is projects (entire portfolio), which should do a turnover of about Rs 128 – 130 crores on current estimates.


Percept has a host of movies lined up. Can you throw light on the upcoming projects and the stage they are in currently?

First we have a film called MP3 (Mera Pehla Pehla Pyaar) directed by Roby Garewal and then we have Priyadarshan’s comedy film called Dhol, which stars Kunal Khemu, Tushar Kapoor, Rajpal Yadhav, Sharman Joshi and Arbaaz Khan.


After that there is Arjun Chandramohan Bali’s Rubaru, which stars Randeep Hooda and Anubhav Sinha’s Kabootar. Then we have Forest, which will release sometime in August.


Towards the festive season of Diwali, the sequel of our animation movie Hanuman will be ready for release.


We are also beginning the shooting for Nagesh Kukunoor’s Aaashayein in April, which stars John Abraham. This movie should also be ready for release around October – November this year.


Nagesh’s Tasveer is another film in the pipeline with Akshay Kumar, which will probably be released in February next year. Likewise, Amitabh Bachchan’s film called Johnny Walker directed by Shoojit Sircar will be released sometime next year but before March.


Two other films for which the release dates have not been fixed are by David Dhawan and Anees Bazmi. However these are being planned for release next year before March.

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Production houses are now aiming at being a one-stop shop for movies, having all the services under their umbrella. What are PPC’s expansion plans with this regard? Will we see PPC music and home video labels in the near future?

Inshallah! It will happen in due course. However, right now if you ask me, we have our hands full. But after five – ten years, we might look into it.


Isn’t that a long period we’re talking here?

Let me put it this way, there is so much to be done that you have to focus on a few things. Right now our focus is on having a good slate of films and creating IPRs that have long term value for us. Music and home video is a separate business in itself and a big one at that, which requires a separate type of expertise. Over a period of time when we grow, we will look into it but at the moment it’s not priority for us.


As far as distribution is concerned, are you looking at having your footprints in the overseas market too?

We have our distribution footprints in the Indian market and that’s where our core strength lies. In the overseas market, we are just wetting our feet now.


A lot has been said about how corporates are spoiling the market by signing on actors for incredible sums. What are your views on this and will Percept be looking at signing on actors for bulk deals?

We have arrangements with actors and directors but we choose not to talk too about it or publicize it. We have a partnership with the likes of Madhur Bhandarkar, David Dhawan, Nagesh Kukunoor and Anubhav Sinha. It’s like an understanding that there will be a certain number of films that they will do with us.


What about actors?

As far as actors are concerned, we have an understanding with Akshay Kumar that he would do a certain number of films with us. However, there is no deal signing involved here.


Can you throw some light on your association with Madhur Bhandarkar’s new production house, which he is in the process of setting up? There’s a comedy movie that he’s planning. Additionally, why is it that PPC is not involved with Fashion despite having a good working relationship with him?

We’re hoping that we will do quite a few films with him, the comedy included. There will be one film that we will be releasing with him before the end of this financial year.


That is as much as I can reveal at this point in time.

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How has the response been to Traffic Signal? How has the ban in states like Himachal and Gujarat affected the collections of the film?

It’s been good so far. In Bombay the response has been exceptionally good, whereas Delhi has been good. In some pockets of the country, the movie has done well, whereas in some others, it hasn’t done as well. On the whole it has been a success for us.


What is the status on the company’s international productions like Tree of Life, Truck of Dreams and Racing the Monsoon?

They are in the pipeline. In the international space, what we are keen on is to actually develop themes, which are appropriate not only for the NRI market but also for the overseas market. That’s a gap that Indian films currently have. Most of our films, even the big banner ones, are largely seen by Indians.


Whereas a film like Deepa Mehta’s Water is an Indian film, however it’s not strictly a Bollywood film but it is being seen as an international film. Hence there is a vacant position for Indian cinema to occupy. If you follow a certain set of rules, it is not an impossible position for an Indian company to occupy.


That’s the area we are looking at – stories and opportunities, which would be in that space. We develop that along with those who have the sensitivity of the international audience and then work on production, which can run internationally.  


What according to you will be the landmarks in Bollywood this coming year? Any new trend or change you foresee?

A couple of years ago, if you would have asked me how Bollywood worked; as an outsider I would have had a very different picture. It is mostly perceived as an industry, which is primarily run by families and was not organized. When I came into this industry, I realized that it has traveled a great distance. The professionalisation of the industry has happened very rapidly and is only going to gather pace in the future. Now even the family houses are running like corporates.


Sooner or later, the need for Indian films to work across audiences is going to become a self actualization need and not a business need.


Going forward, the focus is going to be more on the catchment area of stars rather than on the stars. The reason is that overall there are not more than 10 stars in Bollywood – three women and five men. If that is the catchment that 100 crore people are going to rest their entertainment hopes on (even cricket has more stars), somewhere the creating of stars is going to become much more important than just being a star. The second level of actors are going to come up dramatically. Today, it’s a fact that stars on the top just don’t have the time. The rules of the market will ensure that this imbalance is taken care of. The pace of growth of the second level stars will be faster than the growth of the top stars.


Last but not the least, local and regional language films will pick up. In fact they already are but what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. Today television stars have become so big, so there is no reason to think that stars acting in regional language films like Punjabi and Gujarati cannot.  


Is Percept Picture Company planning any regional language film?

Not at present but I believe that the opportunity there is immense. If you get the right partnerships going then the prospect in this space is fantastic.

Hetal Adesara

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