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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

By Aashika Jain

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Dharma Productions

When one thinks of Bollywood, one cannot skip thinking about the yesteryear blockbuster Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and all it's stars – Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol and Karisma Kapoor. 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 it's 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.

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. Here are 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 a position 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, shareholder or whatever is the structure of that particular company. The difference you have in a private unit company is it's essence. It is owned by a family and then it has to be managed as per their expectations and how they want to continue the business and not you as a professional. So, there is a very fine line. You have to kind of take steps carefully.

You'll have to understand that like any professional company, private companies also have their own vision. They would like to be in a particular way and certain parameters are extremely important for them, but you are using your professionalism to achieve the things they prioritise. There is a fine line to balancing in the vision of those people and also making it work like a corporate. "I think the big plus of working for a privately owned company is that you also have the opportunity of being involved with more or less everything".

It's not about what your job description says when you join but There's a very different environment in a family run business, there is a very family environment. You are not just doing your job but you are also doing many other things which are very personal in nature.

You will have to deal with everything personally. Every victory is like a personal victory to you. Because when you are a part of a big organisation then you are not the only one, there are thousands of others those who will be a party to that success. In a family run business, you are a solo player.

In a family-run business, you go through all these processes keeping in mind the psychology of the owner. Victories are very personal, but one has to work as per the vision of the person who runs that 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 together daily, without missing a single day for the last 32 years. We were very connected during the entire schooling, we went to college together, we use to hangout in the same canteen. When I went to UK, nothing changed. When I was working for Yashraj then also I was constantly in touch with him on daily basis. A very deep bond of friendship exists between us and that has kept us working together and it has become more stable now with time. So when we are together we are discussing work and how to grow the company. So more or less it's work most of the time but even then I must say that he is a brother to me.

I credit him for showering me with 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 sometimes think it's easy to be in a family-run business. It clear what you wants from the company. He is a very clear person as his demarcation is extraordinary 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 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 give me that freedom to operate. I think that as team we work wonderfully. There is a deep brotherly love. Somebody asked 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 the accreditation goes to him.

People in organisations give you instructions, where you enjoy the ability to make decisions but in that setup they can not transfer your passion to you.But in the case of a family run business, the owners are being more particular in what they want. I think he allows me to bring my own way of working and transferring his passion to make me work. I think we care for each other and that is our 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 the Dharma productions that leads it to actually select what business it needs to select? How would you call yourself unique in the kind of the work you sign up?

The differentiator is that we run our production house by our hearts and skills both, I think that is the differentiator for us. There are production houses that are very corporatized and they are running it in a very corporate fashion and at the same time there are ones who are just using their heart but do not have the right corporatized strategy and right corporate functions. But we run the company by using our corporate skills and our heart at the same time.

We are in a very corporate profession and Karan has an ability to understand the content. I think that we are very confident that we come up with a great content. I think that as a company or a production house we must operate like a studio. We are producing films and we are also acquiring films. So we are involved in many areas so many people came to us with whom we can partner. We want to produce good content, we are very fortune that people come to us to be associated with our content. I think all of this stands for the basic understanding that a company that deal with a heart.

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 has 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 work. He is the person who is thinking time ahead and continues to explain every project that he is a part of.

The biggest strength is that we are not disillusioned about the budget. We understand what are the requirements of the film and totally understand how the particular project is to be created, produced, marketed and distributes. We totally understand how a particular project has to be more creative. We have been lucky to have launched three actors and fourteen directors. 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 that 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. We are amongst the few people who are collaborating with other production houses and studios. We really want to collaborate with international studios. The idea is to do a lot of technically refined work.

What has been your best moment at Dharma Productions?

When you see that your product has been liked by the public and the love we are get from across the country and internationally makes us extremely happy. Commercial success, critical success and financial success is all that you want and is really exciting.

Aashika Jain

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Associate Editor, Entrepreneur India

Journalist in the making since 2006! My fastest fingers have worked for India's business news channel CNBC-TV18, global news wire Thomson Reuters, the digital arm of India’s biggest newspaper The Economic Times and Entrepreneur India as the Digital Head. 

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