Bhushan Kumar (BK): We have been making movies ever since my father’s time and started our production business with Lal Dupatta Malmal Ka. Then we went on to make films like Aashiqui, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin and many more. But, earlier, we were making movies while keeping music in mind as my father believed that instead of going to a producer, he should produce movies and keep the music rights with himself.
I followed the same concept and made movies like Tum Bin, Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai and Muskaan. Then we entered into joint ventures for Lucky featuring Salman Khan, Humko Deewana Kar Gaye, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Patiala House, all of them featuring Akshay Kumar. Again, our idea was to recover a major chunk of our investment through music.
We never really got creatively involved in the filmmaking process, and that only started with Salman Khan’s Ready in 2011.
Vinod Bhanushali (VB): Doing a Salman Khan film, thinking up innovative marketing and promoting it made us confident of film production. It was a big film and we handled it all by ourselves.
BK: Our own team handled the production and we promoted the film ourselves. There was no studio attached to the film and it fetched Rs 138 crore. Again, the music was a big success.
VB: The best thing about Ready was we finished the film in just six months. That was due to Salman Khan’s relationship with Bhushanji.
BK: Ready gave us the confidence but the actual turning point was Aashiqui 2. Even the distribution of Aashiqui 2 was handled by us. We did everything, right from the inception of the concept, to making the film, to the marketing strategy, to the distribution model. Ready was a Salman Khan movie, so it was not difficult to promote or sell. But the actual challenge came with Aashiqui 2.
Aashiqui 2 originated in the T-Series office and I went to meet Bhatt saab (Mahesh Bhatt). We were involved with the film as producers from day one. And we fetched ` 80 crore from the film. Then we decided to get into film production in a big way.
Today, we can confidently say that we are capable of judging music that will work and music that won’t. But for films, it will take some time. Now we have 10-12 films on board and intend to produce four to five every year.
I am signing directors but that doesn’t mean these films will go on the floors immediately. We are also expanding our core team in production and marketing. Music will always be our core business but we are also looking at films independently.
BOI: What criteria do you use while choosing a project?
BK: As I told you that now we are improving our judgment on films, so we take a joint call among the three of us. Before green lighting a project we think from the audiences’ point of view, what kind of film the audience will like; we are open for all kind of genres.
BOI: In terms of deal structure, what do you prefer – acquisition, co-production or in-house production?
BK: We are not interested in acquisitions at all. We are interested in producing and co-producing films. Our major upcoming productions are largely joint productions like Bhoothnath 2 with Ravi Chopra, a film with Milan Luthria, and Creature with Vikram Bhatt. Roy and Umesh Shukla’s untitled film is our own film. Also, we are not looking to team up with corporate houses. We will market and distributor our film on our own.
BOI: When the three of you look at a script, do you analyse it for marketing potential, from a production point of view or is it purely a creative call?
BK: We first take a creative call.
VB: I ask myself whether I would spend Rs 250 on a ticket to watch this film or not.
BK: First, we look at it as the audience would and then work on the numbers, like analysing the return on investment. How much the music of the film can make. Also, if a particular genre has worked in the past, it is easy to work on it again because you are aware of the market for that genre. Many films don’t sound all that great during their first narration but they turn out to be really good. So, it is also about instinct.
VB: Sometimes, we are in awe of a script but it doesn’t turn out very well on celluloid. This doesn’t mean you didn’t understand the subject or the script. There are many reasons a film works or fails. So a good script plus good acting, a good director and then the final product… and the final product has to have a great marketing push.
VB: We have always learnt from our partners, the kind of relationship we share with the directors and production houses. While we are marketing their film, whether Chennai Express, 3 Idiots or Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai, we learn from them. So when we work on our own films, I make sure we don’t go wrong. Also, everyone associated with a film trusts us to deliver our best. That’s the kind of credibility we have earned. The T-Series brand adds value to a project and this is the perception of our partners.
The song Lungi dance came to us six days before the release of the film but we made it a huge hit. It was Bhushanji’s call and his conviction that this song would be a sureshot blockbuster. He told Shah Rukh Khan, ‘Shah Rukh bhai, we need this song to take the album to a different level.’ And SRK believed in Bhushanji.
BK: Every filmmaker we work with believes in our music sense. Recently, I went to Saif Ali Khan with a song for Bullett Raja and he said, ‘You’re the best judge, you decide what you want to do with the music. I will have a word with the director or the producer and I have full confidence in you.’
They know we are a music company and that we know how to sell a product even without a big star. With Aashiqui 2, we fetched more than many big-budget films do and this film has changed so many things around us. People know our capabilities as a production house; our marketing of films and how we make music.
The first film I did was Tum Bin. We sat on that project for six months. I was very new to the business but I made that music myself. I monitored every tune, every singer, every word of the lyrics and the mixing too. I wanted to learn also ki ek music mein kya cheeze hoti hain ki logon ko itni pasand aati hai. Even today, everyone loves the Tum Bin songs.
BOI: Bhushanji, when you wanted to make Aashiqui 2, everyone in the trade said you were doing that film because of your father, that it was sentimental. Now that Aashiqui 2 is a blockbuster, everyone is saying you’re getting into film production in a big way. What do you have to say?
BK: My father always wanted to set up a production house but he made movies for their music. From now on, we will be making films for films’ sake. Today, we buy over 50 albums a year, small or big, because we understand the market and we know how to market it. Whether we have to add a Lungi song… I was happy with the music of Bullett Raja but I thought of making some changes.
Similarly, we are gaining confidence in film production. We don’t believe in churning out films simply because one film became a hit. The kind of scripts we choose will be decided in time to come.
After the success of Aashiqui 2, so many individual producers approached us, saying they would invest in films if we invested our talent. This is exactly the reverse of what used to happen. Now they tell us they will invest in our talent if we make the film, make the music, lend our brand, market the film and distribute it.
Ajay Kapoor (AK): Yes, a lot. It’s unlimited now.
BOI: Do you plan to expand your team?
AK: Yes, we already have some more people on board and we’re in touch with some others. Sooner or later, we will have a huge team working on production.
BK: I told Vinod and Ajay that we have limited hours to work and that we should increase the team so that our regular work can get done. We were in the habit of scrutinising every legal document but now we are dividing our team into different departments so that we can meet directors, attend music sittings, story narrations and etc.
BOI: Everyone in the industry speaks highly of your team’s unity. Is that the reason behind the success of T-Series?
BK: Obviously. It is very important for team members to be in sync with each other. Vinod has been with us for more than 18 years and Ajay 15. Two to three years after I joined the company, Ajay joined us. We are a tight core team.
We have not hired a single person with a corporate background. We have been successful with music and we are doing better than any other music company. With our vast background in music, we know exactly which song will work and which will not.
AK: That’s all due to Gulshanji’s blessing. Gulshanji had a great ear for music.
BK: When I listen to a song, I straightaway ask both of them for their opinions and we share the same thoughts 90 per cent of the time. We are totally in sync. Second, all of us have learnt what we know right here, whether it’s song selection, production, promotion or marketing. We are like a family.
VB: The three of us add enough tadka.
BK: We are not looking for outsiders to manage things; we want hands to support what we are already engaged in. I would never want to entrust script selection to anyone else; neither acquisition, nor music selection. The legal department could be handled by someone new but only under our supervision.
BOI: What about distribution? Will you open a separate division for distribution?
BK: I don’t think so because distributor Anil Thadani is very transparent and it’s cost-effective this way. Anil has developed a distribution network as he gives film on commission. He keeps 7-8 per cent and gives us the rest. Why should I get into that area?
BOI: But don’t you think tie-ups with corporate houses will help you minimise the risk factor?
BK: We are an independent studio. We are not planning to tie up with anyone.
BOI: Even for specific projects?
BK: Many studios have approached us but we are not looking to do that right now because we are very confident of our content. I would like to clear the air on one thing… Aashiqui did not become a blockbuster because it was a sequel but because it had great content plus brilliant music and promotion.
BK: Entertainment! We are looking at all kinds of genres. I can’t just pick any one but, at the end of the day, the film has to be commercially successful. Of course, you can expect good music too. The audience enjoyed Ready, Bhool Bhulaiyaa and Aashiqui 2. We made Patiala House, which didn’t work and we analysed why it failed. Maybe we mistimed its release. We want the audience to be entertained by watching our films. Even a masala film could have a message. Our films with Umesh Shukla and Ravi Chopra, or the two scripts we’re working on, are entertaining films with a subtle message in them.
BOI: How do you keep your music and film businesses separate? Are they seen as different or one large company?
BK: It is one big company, but each one is a separate business. As I mentioned earlier, we are not making films for music, we are now making films for films’ sake. They are separate businesses.
BOI: Ajay, as Bhushan said, you have been with T-Series for 15 years. Can you tell us about your journey, the ups and downs you have seen in the beginning of Bhushan’s career, then with the company and during the growth of T-Series?
AK: My journey with T-Series goes back a very long way. Bhushanji pressured me to join the company. I used to keep him company when he used to work 18 hours a day. It was not easy working 18 hours a day but he helped me understand many things. I have seen some ups and downs in the company but Bhushanji has always been confident of bouncing back from the bad times. I am so very proud to have worked for this company for such a long time.
BOI: Vinod, you watched Gulshan Kumar at the helm and later saw a 17-year-old take the reins. What do you have to say about that?
VB: Honestly, it was a little difficult. I was working with the Sahara group when Gulshanji brought me to T-Series. I worked with him for four years. Whenever he used to listen to any music, he used to ask me what I thought of it because he wanted to keep pace with the younger generation.
I used to ask lot of questions and he would sometimes get irritated with me. Still, every evening, we would sit together for half an hour and discuss music. He once told me that music was his passion, not livelihood. He said one cannot survive without food but one can survive without music. So we had to maintain the quality of music.
Gulshanji worked on a lot of devotional songs and pop albums, which were doing really well at the time. Then we made our debut in films and did films like Aashiqui and Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin. Gulshanji had an ear for music which he passed on to Bhushanji. Bhushanji used to work 18 hours a day but Gulshanji never really worked as much as Bhushanji. He had the experience and was a very chilled-out guy.
Back then, there were many companies that were big in the industry. After Gulshanji passed away and Bhushanji took over, we experienced a very dull phase for five years. But Bhushanji was determined to revive the company and restore it to what it was. He worked very hard and achieved that goal. Then we started churning out superhit albums like Deewana, whose success took everyone by surprise.
BK: (Cuts in) Even singer Sonu Nigam had no idea that Deewana would become a benchmark for his career.
VB: I still have that trophy. It also encouraged us to do Dil Chahta Hai. Every three years, there was a big company coming in with lots of money and creating destruction in the industry but we stuck to our guns. This is not the manufacturing sector and you have to come with quality products. We, at T-Series, believe in delivering quality.
BOI: Bhushanji, today directors and actors have faith in your judgement of music for their films. But there must have been a time when it wasn’t so. When you think of those days, what does it make you feel?
BK: I had to not only work very hard to achieve what I have but I also had to prove that I wasn’t getting projects on the strength of my father’s reputation. I had to prove I was worth it. The film Tum Bin and the album Deewana were the result of my conviction. We also came up with many music albums that turned out to be super hits. We even released a few Punjabi music albums.
When I approached Sonu Nigam for Deewana, he didn’t like the songs and said bakwaas gaane hain mujhe nahi karne. But I kept pushing him and asked if he could dub the songs for us. He agreed to dub but he did not agree to shoot. That is his best album to date, na ussey badi album history mein huyi hai na hogi.
Coming back to your question… Neither did Sonu Nigam nor anyone else have any faith in me back then. We were working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, when I told him that Chaand chhupa was the best song of the album and we should promote it in a big way. I also advised that we launch this song before the others. It took a lot of convincing before he finally agreed.
Then there was another film, Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam. That film was in the cans for a long time. I had made the title track of the film and then decided to meet Shah Rukh Khan. He knew my father so he agreed to meet me and I convinced him about the song. It not only became a blockbuster hit but it also helped the film do well.
We sold 8 lakh cassettes on the first day of its launch. I was in Bangkok when I received a call saying there was demand for 1 lakh more cassettes. That worked wonders for my confidence. When I met Shah Rukh Khan later, it was very nice of him to admit that my song selection had made the film a success.
VB: He has not studied music; it’s a gift from God passed on by his father. Like during Dil Chahta Hai, the song Tanhayi… When we heard the album, we told them we do not understand any of the songs. The music didn’t catch on till the film released. In those days, we used to sell music cassettes and we only got to know on day one how many cassettes were sold.
BK: We had released the music of Tum Bin at the same time and there were repeat orders for cassettes of this album every week. Dil Chahta Hai didn’t get any repeat orders and it sold only 2 lakh cassettes. Today, we say the music of Dil Chahta Hai was so good but no one wanted to buy the album back then.
In fact, Shah Rukh Khan was working with another music company, which didn’t like the music of his home production Chalte Chalte. But when he heard it, we loved it. That’s how our association with Shah Rukh Khan began. To date, we are the only company that releases his music.
It was the same story with Salman Khan’s Tere Naam. No one was willing to buy the music but I paid the producers Rs 1 crore for the music rights to that film. Everyone were stunned and thought I had gone mad. Tere Naam became a superhit and the music was hot for two years. The same producers made another film, which left no impression but we kept promoting the songs of Tere Naam. Doosri picture aake chali gayi…
AK: Producer ne hi bola ab band kar do. (Laughs)
VB: Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya was another case study. Oh ho jaane jaana and Odhni chunariya became super-duper hits. That’s when we started building relationships with our colleagues and with actors as well as with directors.
BK: In-house, everyone supported me, everyone was like family. When I joined, I brought in Ajay because he was a childhood friend. All the others were old friends of my father, so they all showed immense faith in me.
BOI: As Vinod said, Gulshanji used to take his advice on music to keep it fresh and young. How do you keep up with the young generation?
BK: We keep discussing things and pooling ideas. Only just now, we were listening to a Gujarati song and wondering whether it would work. We immediately thought of how Punjabi music works and thought we would make a fusion. We also discussed how the song should be featured, whether a male or female singer would work for it, or whether it should be a devotional song.
BOI: Do you also discuss how a song should be shot? Creatively, how involved are you on the sets?
BK: The work load has increased a whole lot and we don’t have the time to do that. So we leave that to the directors. But we definitely discuss what’s going to happen in the song because we know what the emotion will be.
BOI: Do you also ask for some parts to be re-shot?
BK: We did that in Ready. And we scrapped Kajraa Re and Love Story.
VB: When these films were made, we were collaborating with movies only for their music but we have never allowed a film to release before we have watched it. But now that we are involved in the film and its music, we watch the film first and make an assessment of how much business it will do.
BK: In spite of the number of corporate studios we have, people still approach me. That’s due to the relationships we maintain and because people still want to work with individual producers.
VB: Like we did with Once Upon… with Milan Luthria. We continued to work with him on The Dirty Picture and the Once Upon… sequel. Then, we worked with Madhur Bhandarkar on Fashion and we have signed him for yet another film.
BK: I maintain a good rapport with everyone. Everyone does that because you never know whom you will be working with next.
BOI: What can the trade expect from T-Series in the next few years?
BK: T-Series has always delivered great music; now they can look forward to good films. We will give great messages through our films but, most importantly, we will keep entertainment in mind.