Reliance Entertainment CEO Sanjeev Lamba talks to Shelly Walia about his company’s hit movie releases and the strategy behind them
At 51, Sanjeev Lamba is surprisingly au fait with music and films. “It helps to have two teenage daughters,” he says. “We share and listen to a great variety of music.” As for films, “I try to watch a movie every night at home, if I am not going out. I watch all kinds —Bollywood, regional as well as international flicks. This has transformed into better returns for the company.”
Lamba is CEO of Reliance Entertainment, the company that released Bodyguard, Singham and Don 2, three of 2011’s biggest hits. Aamir Khan’s next film, Talaash, releasing in June, is also from Reliance Entertainment.
With centres in Toronto, New York, London and Los Angeles, the company makes four or five films a year in Hindi and some regional languages. It is now looking at international markets for distribution of Indian movies. “We have a very good logistical system. Bodyguard, which was released on 3,000 screens, was solely managed by us,” says Lamba. “We also work as an outsider company, where we distribute a movie. We did it with Haunted and Aarakshan last year.”
Lamba has not been in the Indian film industry long — he entered the entertainment business in 2008. Yet, his career did not begin with film. Lamba did an MBA in marketing and was placed with Asian Paints. For 10 years in the late 1980s and early 1990s he worked as an account executive and later as planning director with Ogilvy & Mather.
Then he took a job as Walt Disney’s head of marketing for consumer products in Asia, in Hong Kong. His first leap within Disney was to Tokyo, and the leap after that took him to the global head office in the USA. Coordinating with all the Disney companies, he worked mainly with the video games division.
This is the point at which he decided to work in a film studio — because, as he says, “most video games are film-based. We did movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean.”
This led Lamba to his next job at an independent studio in New York: the Weinstein Company, founded in 2005 by Bob and Harvey Weinstein. (It is the distributor for recent titles like The Iron Lady, The Artist and My Week with Marilyn.) This brought him to films when he came home to India.
“I came back with the intention to set up a film company,” he says. “I was in talks with Subhash Chandra. Zee Entertainment was contemplating a foray into films, from being only a television company. We worked towards it for over a year, but due to a change of plans and Zee’s not aggressively pursuing a film unit, it could not be worked out.”
He joined Reliance Entertainment in 2009. Lamba says he has spent three years building a team that understands film production, distribution, sales and marketing, worldwide. “We make sure we are involved in a film from the very beginning,” he says, “right from pre-production.”
“We get umpteen script submissions every day,” he says. “My colleagues sift through each one. I try to read two or three scripts a day. Any script which interests us is discussed at length. We sit down with our creative team and decide how to go about it. It’s important for us to ask why we should make a particular film. After a film is finalised, we look at casting, direction, budget, marketing, promotion and distribution. First of all the story needs to work.”
Even when filming is under way, the CEO stays involved. “I try to visit the sets of every movie that we are producing,” he says. “But I do not interfere with the creativity of the director.”
Lamba looks ahead. “In 2013, the Indian film industry will celebrate 100 glorious years. With cable, 3G, broadband, etc., the industry has changed dramatically. But change causes turbulence. There will be some who will emerge as winners, while others will lose." The corporatisation of the film industry, he suggests, has made distribution and marketing much more advanced.
“Now, a 20-year-old can think of pursuing a career in films,” says Lamba. “When I started my career, Bollywood was not as we see it today. This fast-growing industry today has a much wider scope, which is opening the gates to more creativity and professionalism.”