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A boxer, a queen and a movie studio

Viacom 18 hopes to prove that movies made with small budgets can win big, with critics and at the box office

Urvi Malvania  |  Mumbai 

Even as the Indian movie business undergoes an upheaval in terms of budgets, production values, and a new set of studio-director-actor relationships, Motion Pictures is creating an interesting space for itself. It is focusing on scripts that are edgy and experimental but also help maximize returns on the studio's portfolio of Proof: It released just two films in 2014 but made a neat sum. Together the earned 178 per cent return on an investment of Rs 45 crore (RoI) at the

The studio believes that less is more, says head In 2014 it made (Rs 61 crore) and (Rs 64 crore). also went on to win a host of awards. In an earlier interview to this newspaper, Komal Nahta, trade analyst had said: "Viacom18 has hit the bulls-eye. The studio got the costing right along with the content, which gave it a chance to rake in high profits."

Not all its rake in the moolah but as Andhare says it is all about managing risk. He says: "We see risk in two tranches - creative risk and financial risk. We prefer being aggressive in taking creative risks, but when it comes to taking financial risks, we remain conservative." For example was an aggressive creative risk. Even though it starred Priyanka Chopra, the film was not expected to draw in a huge crowd given the popularity (or rather lack of) of female pugilists in the country. However, made with a conservative budget of Rs 18 crore, the studio not only made a profit, it also earned around Rs 15 crore worth of publicity through brand tie-ups.

The studio does not set a target of the number of films to be released in a year. Instead, it looks at whether the script is creative and experimental and its potential RoI. While creativity is difficult to quantify and depends on the tastes of the team that runs the studio, RoI is a sharp and focused tool. This approach helps the studio take big creative risks. "Right from Kahaani to Tanu Weds Manu, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, and then and we have believed in content that challenges norms. I believe it is very important to give audiences more than they expect," says Andhare. Such a stand has its drawbacks - sometimes actors are not willing to go with the flow of the script because they think it would come in the way of their image, but the studio says that it sticks by the story and not the star. And since the studio does not chase stars for every project, it helps rationalise costs and keep the script in focus. "One of the biggest strengths of is its non-compromising stand on making the script the hero. When the studio is firm, the actors who take up the roles are the ones who also respect the script equally," says an industry professional. Films like OMG (Oh My God), Kahaani and Queen have helped the studio build and stand by this reputation. What has also helped is the emergence of actors willing to experiment with the roles they play.

Not all its movies make a mark at the however. Dharam Sankat Mein, although critically acclaimed is an example. About choosing the scripts to back, Andhare says: "For us, it is about remaining relevant. The sauce gets old very fast in this business. So whether it is making a Bhaag Milkha (Bhaag) or a Tanu Weds Manu, it is because we want to make good movies. In the process if the studio 'sets trends' then I guess we will continue doing so." He however asserts that the studio will steer clear of the 'deployment approach', where a a fixed number of projects are taken on and then mechanically deployed.

Involvement from the scratch, smart execution and savvy are other notable features of Viacom 18's operations. Right from Kahaani and Tanu Weds Manu, the studio has been innovative with its Think the 'Missing - Arnab Bagchi' posters for Vidya Balan starring Kahaani or the marriage reception ambience at select malls and theatres for "The first step is to identify the target audience and then develop a plan to talk to them specifically. It is a simple case of speculative versus scientific approach. You need to know how many people to target in order to get "x" number of people in the screens," says Rudrarup Dutta, Head of Marketing, Motion Pictures

The studio also taps heavily into non-traditional and digital media. For Gangs of Wasseypur, digital became the lead medium, since the content was niche and believed to appeal to an urban audience. The other medium used was radio as it would be an effective way to popularize the unusual dialect spoken in the film. In the more recent Gabbar is Back, posters with anti-corruption messages were plastered on spaces that are a part of the regular urban commuter's routine. The film has made Rs 84 crore (still running in theatres).

Viacom 18 is the thinking man's studio says Andhare. Well that is for the audience to decide, but maybe there is a script in there: on how a television studio managed to break into the big and bombastic world of Bollywood.

First Published: Tue, May 26 2015. 21:28 IST