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Subhash Ghai's Bollywood dreams

Shuchi Bansal | October 22, 2003

It has the ambition to double its turnover in two years. At least that's the target its chief executive officer, Pankaj Sethi has set for the Rs 42-crore (Rs 420 million) film production company, Mukta Arts Ltd.

"We expect our new television software division, Mukta Prime3 Teleworks, to generate between Rs 15 and Rs 20 crore (Rs 150-Rs 200 million) in the next couple of years," says Sethi, who joined the Subhash Ghai-promoted company in March 2003.

This month, Mukta Arts turns 25. On October 24, the company will not only celebrate its silver anniversary but unveil its business plan for the coming years.

On the cards is the announcement of two major film productions under the banner. The details, however, are closely guarded except that one of the films will be directed by Ghai. He has produced mega hits such as Saudagar, Taal and Pardes in the last few years.

According to Sethi, while the company will continue to focus on Hindi feature films, it is expected to transform into a fully-diversified organisation with interests in film production, distribution, exhibition, television and a film academy.

"We expect to churn out at least four films a year directed by different people," says Sethi. This helps the company spread its risks, he explains. The company will invest at least Rs 40 crore (Rs 400 million) in films in a year.

However, Mukta Arts is also pinning hopes on the TV software division as its growth driver. Though the division was set up almost a year back, none of its productions have been aired yet. "TV has a long gestation period. We promise to showcase two of our programmes on entertainment channels by January," says Sethi.

He refuses to divulge the name of the channels but says that at least 10 TV programmes are at various stages of production. Besides, a channel relations officer, an executive producer and other staff is also in place and the hunt for a division head is on.

In March 2003, Mukta Arts entered the film distribution domain for films other than its own for the first time and set up nine distribution offices.

"It was a natural extension thanks to our knowledge in the area," points out Sethi. The company has already distributed films like Kuch To Hai, Khel and Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon in some territories.

But isn't film distribution a high-risk business? "Yes, it is," admits Mukta Arts chairman, Subhash Ghai. Small wonder then, he's more keen to push the movie exhibitions division which was launched to "manage" programming of films for some theatres in the country.

In Delhi, for instance, it has a tie-up with the PVR chain where it helps the theatre decide the films it should run in a given week, on how to access those films as well as offer assistance on financial management on film deals.

However, more recently, it created Mukta Adlabs Digital Exhibition Ltd, a 50:50 joint venture with Adlabs Ltd which is Ghai's favourite project. The company was set up to equip theatres in class B and C towns with digital projection systems.

"I want to revive the theatre culture in small towns and create a wider audience for films. People in these small places should know how to enjoy cinema in halls with digital sound," says Ghai.

His JV with Adlabs is currently busy putting digital projection systems in 100 theatres in Bihar, West Bengal and UP. Digital technology eleminates the need to use 35 mm celluloid film that cost Rs 60,000 per print to make.

Instead a film can be stored on a hard disk and shown at these theatres. "The distributors manage to send the prints to smaller towns only after a month of their release in big towns because of high costs of duplication," explains Sethi.

But if Ghai expects to generate substantial revenues from the exhibition division, his dream project is the film academy Whistling Woods International. "Its been a dream for the last 20 years," says Ghai. He wants to create a world-class film academy, which will have renowned international filmmakers in its visiting faculty, he says.

Whistling Woods is nestled in the Film City studio premises owned by the Maharashtra government. The studio also has a 15 per cent stake in the film academy project. "Since I do not come from a family of filmmakers (unlike the Chopras and Kapoors) I wanted to help the creative talent that comes to Mumbai to prove itself," says Ghai.

The film school will be operational by 2005 and will offer a two-year course with specialisation in direction, acting, editing etc. It is being built with an investment of Rs 25 crore (Rs 250 million) in the first phase.

For a company that saw a huge dip in profits (from Rs 13.89 crore to Rs 7.13 crore in 2003 over the previous year), Mukta Arts plans are ambitious. But then it is not without reason that Subhash Ghai is known as Bollywood's dream merchant.

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