Riding the 'Good' Content Wave
In the fiercely competitive Indian entertainment industry where big production houses pump in huge sums of money to make films work, Manish Mundra's humble production house - through its inclination towards good content over big budgets - has seemed to have found a niche for itself
As a teenager, Manish Mundra was fascinated with the world of cinema. Watching Bollywood movies, especially those starring Amitabh Bachchan, inspired him greatly. And this small town boy from Deoghar in Bihar was able to see the world beyond and realize his dream. But film business is an expensive affair, hence it took a backbench as he worked his way up and started spearheading Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited. But his passion didn’t die.
In the early 2010s, Mundra produced his first film Aankon Dekhi, directed by Rajat Kapoor, where he learned many lessons. In a telephonic conversation with Entrepreneur India, he shares that the idea was to do one film and then move on in life. But life had some other twists to unfold. The film was critically acclaimed but wasn’t commercially successful.
And he said to himself — ‘Look, I cannot go out like this,’ “The point is if I make good films, can we make it commercially visible? And if we do so, we need to create a mechanism or a body, which can sustain on its own, deliver quality cinema and yet recover the cost of production of the film — and that’s why we entered the most structured form of filmmaking,” he adds about starting up his production house, Drishyam Films.
According to the producer, one of the biggest challenges in the filmmaking business that every newcomer encounters is to find a niche that would connect you with the industry and find the people who are ready to work with you and be a part of your venture. “With our first movie that space was created wherein we got a few young people who were interested to join me and become a part of Drishyam. We also found a space and an address where people started connecting and delivering their work for us to access and see if we can move forward from there,” he says.
But the journey wasn’t a cakewalk for him as he continues to manage the petrochemical business in Nigeria. As far as petrochemicals and producing films are concerned, both are a different ball game altogether and has their own challenges in terms of strategic location, country, culture and investment. When it comes to filmmaking, it is comparatively very small in investment, which comes in from Mundra’s pockets.
He says, “Creativity is the most important aspect, and we choose wisely to make better quality films or the stories we would like to tell. I have personally hand-picked teams on both sides, which helps in keeping things afloat. And luckily, I have been successful.”
Raising The Bar
In the past nine years, Mundra has produced several films like National Award-winning film Newton along with Masaan, Dhanak, Umrika, Kadvi Hawa among others in its kitty. After producing one-two movies a year, the production house has now increased its stakes in the filmmaking business and has collaborated with EROS and Reliance Jio.
Elaborating on the partnership, Mundra shares, “This gives us more wings and more strength to tell stories. In that whole understanding, we are now making almost 10-films at this given point in time (3 in-house and 7 co-production). So, one can imagine the strength of what we have achieved. With one co-producing partner, who is bigger than us and is ready to take the film to the next level. It helps us fill the gap, which we felt existed in the distribution and exhibition.”
Additionally, Drishyam is also producing web series for Jio Studio. It is also developing content for multiple other agencies, who look into their content, buy it or hire the production house to develop it into films, digital films, web series. “We run a Writers Room, which has more than 10 writers. And we have a lot of freelancers who are giving us ideas and thoughts. Hence, it’s a sustainable model,” he adds.
The Desi Masala
About what genre works well with the Indian audience, Mundra says the masses love to watch a light-hearted comical take of different perspectives. “Most of the films, in recent time, have been very light-hearted movies and not serious movies, where you show a lot of pain, anguish and killings,” he notes. Having said that, as a content producing company/individual, you need not shy away from making experimental movies. “You may not make Rs 10-20 crore at the box office, but you will make a viable film if you make it with the right budget. I feel there is room for every aspect of cinema you would like to do but with the right budget,” he shares.
Of late, there has been a lot of talk about private equity’s role in the content production space. One such example is The Viral Fever. However, investors are still evaluating, reevaluating the content making business. Mundra says if we want PEs to invest, one needs to have a chain of content-driven projects, in terms of creation, execution and exhibition.
A clear capability must be stated and then, probably the investors would come and look into it, to find that there is continuity. “I think we have created that balance and there are others who are also creating.
Once, the industry creates the balance then investment from outside or PEs can be attracted. We have de-risked the business in terms of making a film. So, that makes it convenient for investors to look into the model, come and see if they can invest,” he clarifies. Ask him about his new year goals, Mundra promptly says, “We are not looking to raise funds. But we are looking to get an Oscar and we are working on it.
(This article was first published in the January issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)