content distribution

This Family-led Production House is Steered by Two Best Friends, the Result is Success

Apoorva Mehta speaks about what it is to have a star producer as the owner of the business
This Family-led Production House is Steered by Two Best Friends, the Result is Success
Image credit: Dharma Productions
Associate Editor,
11 min read
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When one thinks of Bollywood, one cannot skip thinking about the yesteryear blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and all its stars – Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Rani Mukherjee. But how many know who raked in the moolah for this national award winning film?

Dharma Productions, the production house that marked the directorial debut of the famous producer Karan Johar was started by his father in 1979 and is now run by two partners in crime – Johar and his company’s CEO Apoorva Mehta.

While all the dance, drama and the acting is always fun, a film’s success at the Box Office is a crucial factor that determines if others of its kind will be made. Committed to the cause of distributing Hindi films since the company’s first production Raj Khosla's Dostana in 1980 to Shashank Khaitan's Dhadak in 2018, Dharma Productions is one of the success stories of Bollywood films distribution business.

Entrepreneur Asia Pacific spoke to Dharma Productions CEO Apoorva Mehta to know how the privately-held company has been working through the years to continue its mark of excellence.

Some excerpts from the conversation.

With respect to Dharma Productions, I know that Karan Johar and you work hand-in-hand. What is your experience being a professional in a family-led business? What are the pros of it and if you feel there are cons then what are they?

I think it is very unique positioning that requires to be handled delicately because when you are in a professional organisation. There is a clear hierarchy, and demarcation of responsibility given to your profile, all of that and governance is driven by board or shareholder or whatever is the structure of that particular company. The difference you have in a private unit company is of course that it’s essence is that it is owned by a family and then it has got to manage their expectations of how they want to continue the business and building the company, being a professional. So that is a very fine line. You have to kind of setback carefully.

You also understand that like any professional company have a vision, private company also have its own vision. They would like to be in a particular way and certain parameter that are important for them. So that’s calls kind of important but you also bringing your professionalism to achieve all of these. There is fine line of balancing a vision of private family and also bringing corporate expertise are required to achieve that and I think the big plus of working for a privately owned company is that you also have the opportunity of being involved in most of the part.

Being involved in what your job description offered for a private company or a listed company because in the family run business there is a very family environment. You are not doing only your job, you also doing many other things, which are personal in that venture as it, is very personally driven.

You are working on the top and you are one of the professional working. Every victory is like a personal victory because you are not only the part of the one big organisation, there are hundred other people who are indulge in. You are also responsible for the lot of unprofessional stuff. You have the opportunity that you are involved in the process.

In a family-run business, you go through all these processes as a part, keeping in mind the psychology of the owner. Victories are very personal which is not entirely on your own and within your goal and objectives. But you rightly said that it is a fine line between the professionalism and the values that assures you to visionary who owns the company.

What is your experience with Karan Johar? How do you define your relationship with Karan Johar and how do you as a team, work toward making Dharma Productions a success?

I think first and foremost over everything, he is a friend. We are friends from last 32 years. It is like we have grown up on a daily basis for last 32 years. It’s not like gaps, we were very connected entire school, we went to college together throughout, we hangout in same canteen while on that duration. When I went to UK, nothing changed. When I was working for Yashraj then also I was constantly in touch with him on the daily basis. There is a very deep bond of friendship existed that has kept us working together. Of course, as we are working together that bond has changed, of course we are friends. It’s become more stable now. We do have responsibility working together but it is entirely driven by friendship. Of course it is work. So when we are together we are discussing work, we are discussing how to grow the company, we are obviously discussing how do we grow the company, the issues which we discuss each other for the betterment of the company. That kind of eccentric has also changed somewhat but he is more like brother.

We are like two brothers working together and credit to him for allowing me that much respect and love.  When he kind of got me, he said listen I want you to be around with me while running this company. I give credit to him for allowing me this much respect and love. He had given me authority, responsibility and affection to carry on the job. I think it is easy sometimes be in the family-run business, in terms of path to cross. It so clear what you wants from the company. He is a very clear person. Demarcation is extraordinary because it’s clean and that’s what has allowed us to grow so beautifully.

He looks after all the creative stuff and I look after all the business aspects in terms of finance, distribution, anything which is economical held that is typically solved by me. I agree with the beautiful blend because he allows me to have freedom, which happens very often in the privately owned companies because the owner had more stake and he is more concerned about where you spend. I think he does a tremendous job and thankful to allow me to completely give me that freedom to operate. I think that as team we work wonderful together. There is a deep brotherly love. Somebody ask me once, that are you his right hand or left hand? I said no I am not his any hand. I cannot choose and leave the other. Because one is stronger than the other but we are just aligned in that way. I think lot of accreditation goes to him.

People in organisations give you instructions where you enjoy the abilities to make decisions, abilities to do the work in particular passion their way is curtailed. The owners are being more particular in what they wanted to be done. I think he allows me to bring my own way of working such that and it is fantastically happening. I think we care for each other and that is the strength. He allows me to work the way I want to work. That’s just wonderful.

With respect to your positioning, there are so many other production houses and a stiff competition. So what is the differentiator for Dharma Productions that leads it to actually select its business opportunities? How would you call yourself unique in the kind of the work you sign up?

The differentiator is we run our production house by our heart. I think that is the differentiator for us. We don’t find the right kind of opportunity and that’s in all modesty. There are production houses that are every corporatized and they are running it in a very corporate method. Ones who are running in a very heart method but do not have right corporatized strategy and right corporate functions. So what happens with us is we get very lucky that we get such a blend thanks to our friendship which allows us to become a corporate house with a heart.

We are in a very corporate profession that we are running and we mostly think about the good things, which are mostly about the crazy conduct. Conduct between the partners, actors and its supreme all of it that Karan has an ability to understand content. I think that we are very assured that we have a great content in place. We also have the ability to choose content correctly and treat it nicely we dealt with it correctly. I think that as a company or a production house we must operate like a studio. We are privileged with films that we are producing films and we are also acquiring films. So we are involved in so many areas because so many people came to us with whom we can be partners with. We are very creative to put a good content, we are very fortune that people come to us to collaborate with our content, and we get a good content include actors, production houses. I think all of this stands for the basic understanding that a company that deal with a heart.

We are also very particular that’s make the growth we have. We want to communicate that everyone value chain to make money. We are very clear about this but we as a filmmaker care more about the content and correctly handle it. You know that eventually picture is all about the content in the food pipe. So I think given are the things that we are being substantial that allow us to stand out, we are working on the principle in the way it is conducted while ensuring the best content. We are very much clear about.

What is your Unique Selling Point (USP)?

The USP is that Karan has an understanding of the content. He is one of them who have successfully made and successfully produced 30 or 40 films. I think as a creative leader, he has an understanding of what works and what doesn’t works. He is the person who is thinking time ahead and continues to explain every project that he is part of.

The biggest strength that we have is about that we understand content and we are not disillusioned about budget. We understand what are the requirements of the film and totally understand how the particular project is created, produced, marketed and distributes. There is an understanding that we bring to every project. We totally understand how a particular project has to be more creative. We have to ensure that but it really came down to having incredible understanding on every aspect of filmmaking or film, from making to film to marketing and producing it. This is the reason I have been so lucky to say that we have launched three actors and fourteen directors and the production house companies that India has today. We have launched three superstars. We have launching five more actors this year. So I think there is trust that people have for the company. They know that they are in good hands and I think that’s the biggest reward we can have.

What has been your biggest challenge in running a brand as big as Dharma Productions?

Initially, the biggest challenge was that we kept scaling up very organically as number of films were good enough and now the challenge is kind of ensure that we increase the number of films that we produce and we still maintain little values that everyone knows this company has. The reason why I would like to be more we are one of the few guys who are collaborating with other production houses and studios. We really want to collaborate with international studios. The idea is to continue with lots of good work and continue building up the principle to work.

What has been your best moment at Dharma Productions?

The love we are getting from across the country and internationally. I think these moments are extremely proud for us. When you find that you have made a product, that public have enjoyed. Its commercial success, critical success and there is financial success all of you want. I think these are the reasons that make excited to us.

In 2007, Johar was chosen as one of 250 Global Young Leaders by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, and in 2017, he was invited as a cultural leader at the forum. Mehta is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organisation, a premier leadership organization of chief executives in the world.

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