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One place in India where Dharma succeeds

A closer look at how Yash Johar's home-grown production house has done so consistently well

Urvi Malvania  |  Mumbai 

Karan Johar

He entered Bollywood with a bang, when the Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee-starrer, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, became a runaway hit in 1998. Today, he heads one of the country's most successful production houses. With his shrewd sense of business and practical approach to film-making, Karan Johar has managed to take Dharma Productions to the next level.

Started by Yash Johar in 1976, the home-grown studio has to its credit movies such as Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), which gave a little over 80 per cent return on investment. It also co-produced the urban romance The Lunchbox, which has met with tremendous success in India and abroad, with a return on investment of nearly 260 per cent. Other successes have come in the form of Agneepath (2012), Student of the Year and, most recently, 2 States.

Johar's success stems from a three-pronged approach to film-making. The director, talk show host and producer also realised early on that co-productions are the order of the day. This has been a key reasons why Dharma has been able to increase the annual number of films realised per year from one or two to four or five.

Film trade analyst Komal Nahta says, "Karan is a very smart businessman. He knows that today the mantra in the film business is to either be a corporate or align with one. Co-productions help on numerous levels. They let him concentrate on the creative and technical bit of production, while the distribution and marketing is left to the co-producer."

Some of the biggest hits under Dharma in recent years have been co-productions. Last year's money-spinner, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, was one between Johar's production house and Disney India's studio arm, UTV Studios. The two also tied up for Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox. The latest hit, 2 States, is also a product of this alliance. At other times, Dharma has partnered Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment, as was the case in Student of the Year. This year, Johar also forged an alliance with Anurag Kashyap (his rival at one point) to co-produce Hasee Toh Phasee.

These co-productions have also given Dharma the chance to produce different kinds of cinema. Johar was quick to realise that while as a director his forte lay in romantic family dramas, with all the fanfare of Bollywood song and dance, the audiences are evolving fast. Dharma had in the past produced the thrillers Gumrah (1993) and Kaal (2005). The production house has now started to experiment with content more aggressively. The Lunchbox and Agneepath are a clear attempt to provide variety fare.

Perhaps the most obvious driver of Dharma's success has been the international outing of its movies. As Nahta puts it, "Karan is one film-maker who has a very keen understanding of the kind of movies that will work abroad. His storylines and execution of the films reflects this and is one of the biggest drivers for the success of Dharma Films abroad."

Here, too, tying up with studios like UTV Movies, which have strong distribution capacities abroad, helps a lot. In Student of the Year, a film with a newcomer star cast, Dharma managed to release the film in 300 screens abroad. It went on to gross $2.25 million in the foreign market (Rs 13 crore). Agneepath grossed $6 mn abroad (Rs 33 crore).

The foreign success has been a trait of movies produced under Dharma, even when it was churning out the one movie a year. Most of these, however, feature Shah Rukh Khan (with the exception of Dostana and Wake Up Sid), who has a huge fan following abroad as well.

In recent times, however, the movies have done well irrespective of the star cast, as is evident with the success of Student of the Year, Agneepath, Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani and 2 States, none of which feature Shah Rukh Khan.

A source close to the production house reveals Johar has plans to strengthen Dharma's distribution capacities to make the production house more self-sufficient. As Bollywood saw the entry of corporate entities such as Disney, Viacom18 Motion Pictures and Fox Star Studios, home-grown and family-run production houses like Yash Raj Films, Dharma and Rajshri have had to rethink their business model. The source avers that a production house like Dharma will continue to be owned by Johar but will see greater streamlining in process and development of competencies in all aspects of film-making.

After the success of 2 States, Johar and his team are now gearing up for Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania and Ungli.

First Published: Wed, May 14 2014. 00:46 IST
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