As he gears up for the release of PK, his next big movie, on December 19, writer-editor-director-producer Rajkumar Hirani is busy and excited. The 51-year-old is running between final dub sessions and interviews for the upcoming flick. He has a great record till date, as director for Munnabhai MBBS, Lage Raho Munnabhai and 3 Idiots, all hits. With PK, Hirani has also turned producer. Amid the turmoil, he chats with Urvi Malvania about PK, the Rs 100-crore phenomenon and how the sector has changed since the Munnabhai days. Edited excerpts:
PK is a much-anticipated film. What are your plans for the distribution and marketing?
With PK, like all my other movies, the attempt is to make good, enjoyable cinema. I can’t talk much about the story, as I want people to go and see it in the theatres but the marketing follows a ‘less is more’ philosophy. We do not want to bombard viewers with information. The idea is to show enough to the viewer to create intrigue about the film.
Good content is not restricted to the movie per se. Even after the movie is finished, the posters and promos also need to be designed and cut well. We’ll be using the usual means — print, TV, cinema and, of course, digital. But nothing overwhelming and gimmicky. For distribution, we have partnered with Disney’s UTV Motion Pictures. Like all other star-led movies, we are also looking at a wide release in India (4,000 to 4,500 screens going by this year’s big movies’ release scale).
What about the international markets?
The first phase will have the traditional markets in the UK, North America and West Asia. With PK, we are also exploring new markets, mainly in Europe. Belgium isn’t a big Bollywood market as of now but as the film was shot there, we feel it makes sense to release it there.
This is your first production venture. What is the business model you have followed?
Yes, this is my production, so to say. Vidhu (Vinod Chopra) has come on board as a co-producer and so has UTV Motion Pictures. There is a percentage sharing in the equity of the film but the IP (intellectual property) remains with me.
A lot has changed since your previous movie came out (3 Idiots in 2009). Have you experienced a big difference in the industry now?
Yes. A lot has changed and for the better. Financing, for one, has become transparent compared to before and so, we have better conditions for shooting. Earlier, the actors would do five, seven or even 10 films in a year because you never knew when the producer would run out of money and the shooting would be stalled. Now, especially with the studios coming in, financing is very streamlined.
On the production front as well, there is more help available for the director. I remember while shooting for the Munnabhai films, I would come to the set a couple of hours early to make sure things were in place for the day’s shoot, and stay back an hour or so to prep for the next day. Now, I have an AD (assistant director) who is my one-point of contact and I can delegate work.
And, of course, distribution has got so much simpler. Again, with studios coming in and the digitisation of screens, especially single screens, there is more transparency. Earlier, we used to sell movies to distributors according to the territory and there was a lot of unpredictability there. At the last moment, distributors would withdraw and ask for their money back; we would have to release movies on our own (in that territory). We never knew where the physical reel is going or when it will reach the halls. Now, all that is not a problem, it’s much simpler now. Like I said, a lot has changed and for the better. We do have a long way to go, though.
In what sense?
For one, we need more screens. It will happen gradually. The country has a great appetite for movies and there is scope to increase the scale of movies even further. I think we also need some skill development, in terms of film investments. While there have been instances where institutional funding is available to film makers, it is not as much as it should be. Ironically, institutions also want to play it safe and end up investing in projects that don’t really need investing. We need to have people who understand the nuances of the business of cinema, so that they can guide people for investing in movies.
Movies have also got bigger, both in terms of the scale and box office revenues. What is your view on the Rs 100-crore, Rs 200-crore clubs, considering 3 Idiots actually started the latter?
I have said this earlier and I still maintain that it’s sad a movie’s success is judged only by the money it makes. The content is what stays with you when a movie is good. I loved Jab We Met and I have no clue what business it did. So, too, with movies like Pyaasa and so many others. I feel Rs 100 crore or Rs 200 crore is a number, nothing more. Yes, a movie should do well business-wise, as, after all, it is an industry. But not at the cost of good content.
But with movies getting bigger (in terms of cost), does the figure really hold a significance?
That’s the other thing. When you say a movie has made Rs 100 crore at the box office, it does not mean the producer gets that Rs 100 crore. If it’s the gross collection, around 35 per cent goes into taxes and of the remaining Rs 65 crore, he gets Rs 25-30 crore. Movies need to be seen from the returns they make on the investment. That is where I feel the cost of a movie needs to be rationalised. While I maintain movies should be made to deliver good content to the audiences, they need to also make money, so that there is scope for making films in the future.
In the case of PK, what is the cost?
I can’t disclose figures but it would be safe to say the movie is not as expensive as some of the big ones that came out this year. I do not see the point in being extravagant for the sake of making a ‘big’ movie. I won’t be stingy and ignore the demands of the script and compromise the final product. At the same time, I do not think every ‘big’ movie needs to cost a bomb.
One way the producers have recovered a significant amount of the cost of their movies is through sale of satellite rights. What are your plans for PK in this respect?
The rights are as yet unsold. We have confidence in the movie to do well at the box office. So, we’ll wait for the numbers and then decide the terms of a deal. We felt there was no point in being hasty and selling the rights beforehand.
The one question everyone keeps asking — when do we see Munnabhai next?
(laughs) It’s been a challenge to get the script right for the third Munnabhai movie. We worked on a Munnabhai in America movie script but just could not crack the second half. I do not want to make anything remotely sub-standard in the Munnabhai franchise. There is a benchmark I have set through the earlier films and I want to maintain that. We are working on a script currently and, hopefully, you’ll see Munnabhai and Circuit back in action some time soon.