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A-Team Reloaded

After a recent reshuffle in their portfolios, here’s the studio team of Disney India – Amrita Pandey, VP and Head Theatrical, Television & Digital Distribution, Studios – Disney India; Gaurav Verma, Executive Director – Theatrical Distribution, Studios – Disney India; Shikha Kapur, VP and Head of Marketing Studios, Interactive & Youth and Movie Channels, Disney India; Rucha Pathak, Senior Creative Director, Studios – Disney India; Manish Hariprasad, Senior Creative Director, Studios – Disney India; and Amar Butala, Creative Director, Studios – Disney India – in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): What are the changes in your roles after Siddharth Roy Kapur’s promotion as the MD of TWDC India?

Amar Butala (AB): As a creative team, we are pretty much the same. So we have Rucha, Manish and myself. The major change is that with Sid having more to do now, we have more to do as well. (Laughs)

BOI: Have the responsibilities of the creative team grown?

AB: Now our role is dual, with a lot of emphasis on development of scripts, alongside production-and a larger participation of the creative team towards green-lighting more films. The mix of films continues to be tent pole films to films that push the envelope. As a result of this thrust on development, we’ll see next year a slate of heart-warming Disney branded films. So our roles per se have not really changed.

Manish Hariprasad (MH): Basically, we are called for fewer meetings now! (Laughs)

AB: Yeah, I guess that’s a plus. (Laughs)

BOI: Amrita, would you like to add to that?

Amrita Pandey (AP): One of the changes in the distribution set-up is that Gaurav (Verma) is now handling international distribution except for North America, along with domestic distribution of our films.

BOI: Amrita, earlier, you were heading international distribution.

AP: Yes. Also, we had a team base for international distribution, which will report to Gaurav now. So now I handle the operations, and will over see any acquisitions or productions of movies that are not our own. Essentially, each of us is doing more...

AB: (Cuts in) and we work later and we give interviews which go on till late.

MH: We also see much less of Sid. As MD of the company, he has started looking after all the other businesses of Disney in India. Hence the onus is on us to come up with a slate. And as part of the creative team, Amar just outlined what all we need to do.

BOI: Shikha, you will now also look into the marketing of the broadcast business?

Shikha Kapur (SK): Yes, I am doing what I was doing and now there’s a little bit more. I’m now heading the marketing of the youth channelsmovie channels and the interactive business over and above marketing of the studio. Now I work long after everyone has left the office. (Smiles)

BOI: Rucha, your roles are the same as the creative guys?

Rucha Pathak (RP): Yes, my focus is the same. I am doing more films now and trying to get a bigger slate in place in terms of the Disney brand. And, yes, Sid is definitely around to help us. This year, there will be a lot more movies for me, at least. We have been developing movies all of last year and putting them into production this year.

Gaurav Verma (GV): As Amrita already mentioned, earlier, I was looking after India distribution. Now I will be looking at the international business as well.

BOI: The credits of some your films sometimes read ‘UTV Motion Pictures’ while the rest have only Siddharth’s name as producer. What’s the difference?

AP: It depends on what movie it is. Our Hollywood films fall under the Disney, Marvel or Pixar brands where we are distributing those titles in India. When they are Hindi films, that Manish, Rucha or Amar are involved in those are under the UTV Motion Pictures, UTV Spotboy or the Disney India banner where we would be listed as producers / co producers. Then there are thoses which are acquisitions where we would be marketing and distributing the film,. But we are not the producers of those films. So it really depends on the film and the structure of the deal.

AB: Also, it depends on what we have to produce and what we decide to distribute. We have such a robust distribution team that we also have some films which we just distribute along with the ones that we produce.

BOI: Can you talk about your line-up this year?

AP: Our first release of this year is Highway this week, followed by Heropanti, P.K., Kick, Haider, Khoobsurat, Shaatir, Pizza which is a 3D horror, Phantom and more. Also we have Fitoor, ABCD 2 and Jagga Jasoos, which are already slated for 2015.

GV: And in Hollywood we have Captain America – The Winter Soldier, Planes 2, Maleficent, Guardians Of The Galaxy- which Marvel is developing, and many more.

BOI: How do you decide on your collaborations? For instance, when you collaborate with Sajid Nadiadwala, is it a three-film deal? And when do you decide to just stick with one film with your co-producer?

AP: With Sajid, it was more of a collaborative slate deal. We have associated with him for five films including Highway, Heropanti, Phantom, 2 States and Kick.

BOI: But how do you decide which films you would co-produce or only distribute?

AP: That’s a trade secret. It’s very commercially driven and Gaurav and I do the number-crunching. It depends on the deal structure and what we acquire.

GV: Also, there are some films where we involved ourselves in the very initial stages and the others where we come in a little later. So the timing of the deals is also a deciding factor.

AP: Yes, we have done similar deals with Dharma Productions and Aamir (Khan), where it was more of a slate-driven decision.

BOI: Do you guys have a say in the creative decisions of the South slate?

AP: We have a South head in GD (G Dhananjayan).

MH: The South office takes care of those decisions.

RP: Yeah, including the creative calls, because it’s a different language.

MH: You have to be culturally aware of the place you start producing and taking creative decisions for. What stories work for the South market, or Maharashtra, Punjab or any other market.

GV: But we are involved with the commercial aspect.

AP: Marketing and distribution is the same team. So just like Rucha, Manish and Amar, they look only at the creative aspect.

BOI: In our last anniversary issue, you mentioned how Amar looks at adaptations of books. Is there is a division of work among the creative team, where, say, a specific genre is taking care by one person?

AB: We don’t work in a genre-specific way. We are also more focused on development than we were in the last 12 months. And that development will happen from various sources like books, remakes, new scripts and new directors who approach us with new scripts. We pretty much always develop our own work. We work like producers… meet directors, listen to the script, work on it, meet the actors and build it up. We might be working on the development of seven to eight films at any given time. If I have Filmistaan and Haider, she (Rucha) has Jagga Jasoos and ABCD 2, both very different genres. It’s pretty much a mixed bag.

MH: A lot depends on personal choices. There are creative guys who love to read and that’s where they draw their inspiration from. There are other who are keen observers and sometimes their inspiration comes from that. Sometimes, you are a great people-person, so you meet a whole lot of people and they tell you stories.

AP: (Cuts in) …and sometimes you don’t like a director and you want somebody else to do the film (Laughs).

BOI: Do you have a specific number of releases planned every year?

AP: I think we had 10-12 Hindi released in the past; three to four in the South and five to six English films a year.

GV: Having said that, it’s not the number that defines the slate because it all depends on two things – completing a film and availability of a slot.

MH: About three to four years ago, we would have had one or two tent poles in place but now we can have four, five or six tent poles a year. One can turn a medium-size film into a tent pole through the casting or by increasing the scale of the film. This is how you move forward.

BOI: It seems Disney India has decided to go slow on remakes.

MH: I think the remake trend has slowed.

AB: Actually, we are doing a South remake, a horror film. It’s a cult film down South. We are also in the process of writing Priceless, a French film. We will announce that one pretty soon.

MH: And we are remaking a South film, which is our own South film, Vettai.

RP: We haven’t done too many South film remakes apart from Rowdy Rathore and Kai Po Che, which was an adaptation of a book.

BOI: Kai Po Che went to Berlin last year and this year it was Highway. Does that change the film’s release plan? And what kind of response do you get there?

AP: The great thing is films like Barfi! and Kai Po Che did well at the box office as well as at festivals as did The Lunchbox. People in India are watching all kinds of films now.

AB: This year, Highway and Haider will work in both markets, apart from eventually working in India, because of the aesthetics of the filmmaker and the way they work.

AP: I think the vision of the filmmaker is very important.

BOI: When distributing a film overseas, what marketing strategy do you follow?

GV: Our films are going to almost 40 countries day and date of these we directly distribute in the six or seven key markets which add up to 85-90 per cent of overseas business. In places where we release our films directly, we also market the films ourselves. In other territories we customise the marketing campaign as per local markets.

AP: So Alia (Bhatt) and Randeep (Hooda) were in Dubai. Imtiaz (Ali) was in Berlin. And then they went to London. Whatever Shikha does in India, we try and do in the international markets.

BOI: We remember seeing a Turkish poster of Barfi! which read – ‘Raj Kapoor’s grandson’. Did you think that up here?

AP: No, we thought it up and executed it there. So, if Imtiaz is the draw, we use him as the main focus of the promotion. For instance, people in London like his work so we use him to promote the film and Alia as well. There is so much interest in her. Rahman also went to Berlin and that was the huge draw for everyone.

RP: Speaking of the Turkish release of Barfi!… We even managed to get a promo in Turkish.

AP: Yeah! That was a huge draw.

RP: The Turkish distributor sent us a script in their language. Ranbir (Kapoor) actually shot that promo for us in Turkish.

MH: We did that for Chennai Express too.

AP: We did it for Chennai Express in Peru. It was pretty cool. There were many other new markets too.

BOI: Rucha, Manish and Amar, which films are you working on right now and how many projects does each one of you take up at a time?

RP: A bunch of exciting stuff is happening this year. We are gung-ho about the ABCD sequel, which we have an interesting cast lined up for. The script has shaped up really well.

RP: We have been involved with Khoobsurat, which is a fun adaptation of an old film but has a life of its own. Shashank Ghosh is directing it and we are making it along with Anil Kapoor’s production company. Then, there’s Jagga Jasoos, which will take a year and a half to complete, and a couple of smaller films. So we have a mixed bag of films, which we usually enjoy doing as a group.

MH: This year, I will mainly be developing films. I have one film on the floors, which is Shaatir. That’s the only film I will be doing this year. The films I am developing will call for a separate interview! (Laughs).

AB: I have three films which are currently being shot. One of them is Haider, which is Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet. We are shooting in Kashmir right now. The other film is a remake of a Tamil film Pizza, which we are currently filming. The third film is Filmistaan, which is a remarkable film.

BOI: In terms of marketing, do you get on board the moment a concept is conceived?

SK: (Cuts in) Marketing usually gets on board when we start reading scripts, and once we are sure we are doing the film, marketing gets on board completely. Our work starts from the very announcement, working on brands, PR strategy, etc. So we pretty much work alongside Manish, Amar and Rucha.

BOI: Does distribution show any concern while finalising a project?

AB: Gaurav sits with us over beers and says, ‘Let’s have a Punjabi character in the film. It will do well in Punjab or a Bengali character that will do well in Kolkata.’ Now we will have a Peruvian character for the overseas market.

No, I guess what Shikha just said is that the team that works on a single film works together from the very beginning; people don’t get on board at different points in time. When we finalise that a film will be made, that’s when distribution and marketing come in and everyone becomes part of the project, especially all the home-grown films we do. We build them together.

AP: (Cuts in) We do a lot of consultations, research and discussions on all our scripts. We welcome inputs and collaborations.

MH: Films have many battles that need to be fought before they see the light of day. I think the good thing about the group is that it knows when to fight what battle. So, at the development stage, everyone lets the film develop and mature on its own. No one restricts that development. Once the script has developed and the casting is done, then one gets down to the revenue aspect.

GV: At out end, there are no concerns but feedback on how we can scale up a film. That’s what we add to a project. What the market for it will be like, what we can do to help the project.

AB: Take Pizza, for instance. We watched the film and we liked it. But to give the film a little more stature, we brought in 3D as we have seen how this technology can scale up a film.

AP: (Cuts in) Especially horror.

BOI: When remaking your own South slate, how do you take those decisions?

AP: All of us are involved but mainly Rucha, Manish and Amar.

MH: (Cuts in) Okay, so we watch a film and then consider whether we can turn it into a good Hindi film with some changes. Even after we consider many changes to the film and it still doesn’t work out, we drop the film. And if there are too many changes required, we still drop the idea as we would rather spend our time on other projects. It’s the same with deciding to remake an English film. You watch an English film and see if it can be successfully made in India.

BOI: The experimental stories you try out in the Hindi market… Do you also attempt these down South?

RP: Yes, in fact the film Pizza is a really cool subject. The fact that many of our films have been remade in the South like Delhi Belly, Khosla Ka Ghosla etc, shows it’s all about the potential of the film. I think Amar watched Vettai and then we watched it. We were all very excited and picked up the film.

AB: South films are a lot louder and way over the top but there are a handful of filmmakers who make great films. When you watch one of these, you realise that they are perfect for Hindi cinema. So it’s not like we watch many South films with a view to remaking them. It’s an organic process.

GV: Similarly, for the Delhi Belly remake, we kept their sensibilities in mind.

AP: We had three films which we have remade in the South – Delhi Belly, Khosla Ka Ghosla and A Wednesday.

AB: They are quite insulated from Hindi films just as the audience here is insulated from Tamil films. They do watched dubbed films on television but it’s not like they are tracking which film is releasing there. Similarly, they are unaware of what is happening here.

GV: When we released Rowdy Rathore, the dubbed version was airing on television and in spite of that, the film generated good business. The languages are different but the sensibilities are also different.

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