Shobhodip Pal joined Balaji Motion Pictures, the sister concern of Balaji Telefilms, as chief executive officer in April this year, after spending more than two years as chief marketing officer at Micromax. The switch from the world of personal devices to film making may seem odd but as Pal points out, the target audience for both categories is the youth, a segment that he has studied closely as he made India’s first homegrown mobile brand a household name which dared to take on the like of Samsung and Nokia. In this conversation with Anushree Chandran of FE Brandwagon, Pal talks about developing a crowd sourcing model for scripts, and making shorter films for the mobile and for the web. Edited excerpts:
How different is working with Balaji Motion Pictures from working with Micromax?
I have worked with brands such as Samsung, ABN Amro and HP. I spent more than two years at Micromax, which is a promoter led company. People have their misgivings about promoter led companies, but I think that that it was the best kind of learning ground for me. In all my assignments, I have been lucky enough to target the youth. We are clear about we want and how we want to position our product. As they say, 30 is the new 20 and 40 is the new 30.
The youth will comprise almost 54% of our population, as it grows. I have a mantra that I use in various campaigns — music, movies and sports (MMS). When I met Sameer Nair, I was quite taken by the idea of working with an Indian studio. I am looking at building relationships here—with actors, directors and producers. The clear mandate is to bring some science to the business, to streamline processes and manage the entire piece. We are looking at doing around 8-10 films a year. Add to that 2-3 collaborations. We are among the top five studios currently. We aspire to be number one in the next few years.
Which are some of the films on the slate?
Some of the films that we are doing currently are Kya Kool Hain Hum 3, Triple X, Grand Masti 3 and Devotion of Suspect X (Hindi). We have Udta Punjab, a co-production with Phantom. We also have three acquisitions happening, which we should be closing over the next one month. With films, I follow a simple strategy: Does it have the capacity to make money? As far as I am concerned- it is topline, bottom line, creative line or else sideline(ed). Our end objective is profitability. Today, stars are also conscious of their brand value and shelf life. Sometimes, they take up interesting projects at zero value, but on a profit-sharing basis.
Are you looking at a crowd-sourcing model for scripts?
Yes, we are working on a crowd-sourcing model. A lot of the work for Micromax was crowd-sourced. The way people are consuming content today, most of the stuff is user generated. We have more than 600 million phones, out of which, 35% are smartphones. Consumption of content today, especially in media dark places, is through the mobile phone. It could be a simple YouTube video, or a full length movie, but it’s all through the mobile. We will ensure that a platform is developed, through which the public can approach us with scripts and we will give them a hearing. This also goes for novelists who may want to sell the rights to us and convert their work into scripts.
What are your plans for digital?
We are looking to make short films for the digital medium. In other words, webisodes and mobisodes. I wouldn’t say full length feature films, but short films in parts. Something like a Gangs of Wasseypur could work really well. The digital media is faster than any other conventional media. If I want something to be up, it can be up in a couple of minutes. There are some concerns though. Though consumers have gone to the online retail world, the accent is more on “cash on delivery”. There are fewer online transactions. Once people get used to paying for content online, that is when the industry will grow. Somebody has to make the first move and it looks like it is going to be us. And I am talking about a very short window; over the next couple of months. The future lies here if you look at the success of the Netflix model or how the western markets have adapted to digital content. We will get there, provided everyone works in tandem. Telecom operators need to ensure that data speeds are up and are packaged right. The hardware guys are doing a great job because they have devices that are capable of streaming or downloading such content. We can optimize our movie making process. But the pipeline needs to be clear for that. We cannot provide that kind of content if the pipeline is choked.
What role can brands play in the movie business?
We are not very big on active placement—which is placement of the brand within the film. But there are other things that can be done (passive placement) where you have co-promotions, meet and greet sessions, etc. Look at Avengers, there were as many as 50 brands associated. The idea is to build a successful franchise. We have a movie and we were talking to 4-5 brands, but we took a conscious call to not include them in film. But we were open to including them in activities around the film. The brand managers loved our ideas. Though the ideas are minimalistic, they loved the way we packaged it for them. We can do a lot “around the film” than “in the film”.