The prolific producer comments on cinema ticket pricing in India and Guild's efforts in making workplaces safe for women in the film industry

In 2008, Siddharth Roy Kapur took over as CEO of UTV Motion Pictures and after the integration of UTV with The Walt Disney Company (India) in 2012, he held the role of Managing Director, Studios.

He led the studio to incredible commercial success and critical acclaim across a six-year period, producing and releasing some of the most important and successful films of the decade, such as Taare Zameen Par, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na, Jodhaa Akbar, Fashion, Aamir, A Wednesday!, Dev D, Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Kaminey, Wake Up Sid, Raajneeti, Udaan, Peepli Live, Welcome to Sajjanpur, No One Killed Jessica, Delhi Belly, Paan Singh Tomar, Shahid, Rowdy Rathore, Barfi!, ABCD, Kai Po Che, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, The Lunchbox and Chennai Express.

In January 2014, Siddharth was promoted to Managing Director of Disney India, with the responsibility for driving the strategy and growth for The Walt Disney Company in one of its most important growth markets in the world and in January 2017, Siddharth moved on from Disney to set up his own production house, Roy Kapur Films and he’s also the President of Film and Television Producers Guild of India.

Sidharth Roy Kapur; The Custom Pitch

He is also in the ‘#Variety500’ Variety’s global list of the most influential people in global entertainment 2018.

We caught up with Siddharth Roy Kapur, over a cup of coffee during the IFFI Goa, 2018 immediately after a producers pitch at the Film Bazaar 2018 and spoke about the pitches, his production company, sky rocketing movie tickets pricing, Box Office, #MeToo and a lot more.

How was your session, can you tell us what was it about for our readers?

It was great! It was a producers workshop so lots of young first time producers wanting to know how to ‘pitch’ – so i told them not to listen to anything anyones ( don’t take it too seriously because no one really knows anything so all I can tell you is what I personally feel. It’s one of those pithy aphorisms that i think is bang on.  ‘People think two-three months in and you know everything about the industry. It’s a trend, it’s not true. That’s what people think, all I can tell you is what I feel. Two three things should be kept in mind –

a) Be passionate and convinced about what you’re pitching.

b) Give people an idea of how long your pitch will take because it irritates people sometimes when they think they’re in for a pitch of 10 minutes but it lasts for an hour, and vice versa.

c) And lastly, to be authentic and real. Don’t try to make your pitch something that the film is not going to be, just in order to sell it. These are just basics but the MEAT of it is the entire concept of what you’re pitching. what the story is, what you wanna communicate.

So given a setup like this (Film Bazaar at IFFI, GOA)  we can see that the independent filmmaker and the kind of productions you’ve been a part of is very different. Their thought process is not about whos going to watch it, instead it’s ‘what am I going to make’. Do you agree to that sort of school of film making after being in the industry for so many years?

See it’s called a show business, right? There’s a reason theres a business in there as well. I feel it’s very important for people to realize that whatever you make, while creatively pushing your boundaries and doing it in a budget that is so sensible, that ultimately, no one’s going to be losing money- great then make whatever you want to make.

But if you’re actually looking for investors to fund and you’re promising them something in return, then you’ve got to have the responsibility to accept to cut your coat according to your cloth.

So in terms of your venture Roy Kapur Films – is it an independent set up? I am asking because at Disney you were doing big budget films and signing big ticket directors like Rohit Shetty?

Yes, it is  technically an independent production house. I’ve done Dev D, Mumbai Meri Jaan etc too where directors haven’t been paid that highly and we’ve done big films as well yes. Some films worked and some didn’t. So having said that; i think it is an independent setup, we don’t have our own studio like Yash Raj right. In that sense Dharma is also an independent production house.

Roy Kapur Films

Roy Kapur Films

How do you mean? Are you budgeting yourself accordingly? Will there be more films like Dev-D? You have a Sare jahaan se Acccha with Shah Rukh and a Sindbad and then there’s Sky is Pink too.

Yes, always! Sure there will. That depends on the material itself. So we’ll let the material dictate that. So if it’s Sindbad which is this massive Somali Pirate film, it will be in that scale! There will be more projects like Sindbad too and a Saare Jahan Se Acha! Thing is It’s got to be made on a certain scale otherwise it won’t do well. I’d say ‘The Sky is Pink’ is somewhere in the mid-range of these. While the director is an independent filmmaker, we are working with stars in the film. It’s a subject that I feel is very accessible, and will be very commercially appealing. On the other hand the ‘ballet’’ film we’re working on will be different – there’s no star cast but we still made it work because of the focus on the material/story. With ABCD there was focus on the commercial appeal of the film, the star cast and massive set pieces, which made it very cinematically appealing to watch, despite the fact that it didn’t have a big cast. This will be a dance film too with similar principles.

As an individual producer, you have ventured out into making films like these like Sindbad, because recently we saw with Thugs of Hindostan, which had issues when it came to CGI and that affected the film. So when you sit down to partner with Ronnie for that matter (for Sindbad), do you start with discussing the script with the CGI aspect of it? What’s laid on the table first?

I think the first discussion is always the story. CGI and all comes later. For me to get CGI right is more about hygiene than anything else. If your story itself doesn’t work then you can have all the CGI in the world and your film won’t do well.

Every film is different. For me personally, If I was asked what the focus is on right now – then its on getting the screenplay right because then production wise everything has to follow. So obviously we’ve got to produce it well, have excellent VFX, we’ll make sure it looks great but the emotional core of the film has got to be strong.

What is your take on the increase in appetite of the Indian audience when it comes to the films that are being made vis a vis the scale of Marvel, DC or even Bahubali?

I think Indian audience today has been exposed to some of the best VFX of the world. I mean if Avengers has earned more than 200 crore, that means the entire country has watched it. And this isn’t just the english-speaking citizens I’m talking about across Indian languages- Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, English everything. So you’r not going to get them hooked on to sub-standard VFX,

I understand, but then I also want to understand when you’re making a film in the Indian set-up and pricing your tickets at say 300-400 rupees, you’re not targeting the rickshaw puller anymore who has been a dedicated cinema audience for a long time-  you’re targeting people who can pay more and millenials. And then you’re trying to make something that they’ve already seen before – Avengers or a Web-series like homecoming – when you do that in India at a lower scale even when your story maybe at par, you’re losing them to the graphics.

I dont think thats true. There are people who said that Baahubali’s VFX were not that great but the film did spectacularly well from a business point of view. This is because of that family drama and strong storyline in that film that captured the audience. I’m sure a lot of the VFX aesthetics would’ve been disliked very strongly, but in the end it didn’t matter. So in my opinion I don’t think VFX makes or breaks a film.

But then don’t you think ticket prices will make or break the films?

The need of the hour, however, is variable ticket pricing. I see it happening in some ways but needs to happen much more – where on weekdays (mornings, evening) prices have got to be very different from those on the weekends. You need to have student discounts, seniors discounts, you’ve got to be able to make the movie watching experience easier to access economically.

Those who want to pay 400 bucks or don’t mind paying that much will watch it anyway on the weekend for their convenience.

Also, we think it’s 300-400 but singles screens, specially in smaller towns is much lower in terms of pricing. It also depends on which film. There’s variations.

But most of these films today are being made for the urban audiences right? Do you think they’re viable for non-urban audiences as well?

But Bahubali was for everyone!

Bahubali is an anomaly.

But there are other films that are made for everyone like Badhaai ho, i think it falls in that bracket.

And that too was sold for 300 + for each ticket in the cities.

You see because all of us go to the PVR’s and INOX’s in our cities, we are led to believe that these are the prices that everyone is paying but that isn’t true. There are single screens where one can still go watch the same movie for say 75-100 rupees. These movies are doing good business in those places too.

You realise, that smaller films, despite their success have no run time! As a member of the audience one frequently gets confused when there’s a film like Thugs of Hindustan playing at an IMAX for 1800 rupees and at the same time a film (Badhai Ho) that has been outed from the theatres which was playing somewhere for 150 bucks and getting repeat audiences (Until it came back again after the failure of ToH). Earlier too, when Bahubali, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Masaan were in the same month, Masaan shows were distributed to the big blockbusters. How do you think this affects these films and the audience?

I think that confusion will always exist. Reason being, sometime you won’t know that the creative work that has been put out will deliver or not, when it does, sometimes unfortunate things happen! Finally you’ll never be able to know if that creative piece of work has built up to its expectation or  not. So there will obviously always be a case where everyone’s looking to encash during festivals weekends and will give max screens to a particular film. But then the film has to perform and live up to its hype.

Today i think water finds its level very quickly. In the earlier days I think it would be a week until larger films would be discovered, watched and then the reviews would start. Today, it takes a day, just a day and the number of screens and number of shows change on a daily basis, unlike earlier when you would take a week to realise that it’s time to change.

Do you think there will come a time where cinema will be made just for digital viewing, given the way platforms like Amazon, Hotstar and Netflix are flourishing with large numbers of viewers, which may be either because of ticket pricing or films not being released? Don’t you think that would affect production of cinema in India?

I think Both of these things are going to happen. One is that movies will be made purely for digital viewing, it’s already happening and seems to only move forward. This is because films that are truly interesting but not  necessarily provide a cinematic feel or experience will find a way to get out there.

We do realise that this year has been extremely big for the industry – one factor like you pointed out is the ticket price impact, but also in terms of the footfalls, not just revenue wise. I think its been better than it ever has in the last 7 years. Despite the ticket pricing – and this is simply because if you give people movies that they will want to watch, they will make it a point to get out and watch it.

And this isn’t true just for the big productions, even for smaller films like Stree for example, people have taken interest and reached out to the theatres for the same reason. Even if these smaller films are greatly benefiting from digital releases, they’re still making money from the theatrical releases. It’s a great sign and matter of importance for the Indian film industry.

But the pain of getting small films a release and then marketing them is getting tougher by the day, which drives them to simply release it on OTT platforms and move on to the next project with the money.

No, but the smaller films are making money in theatrical releases too before selling it to OTTs and Satellite, it’s a big win. The profits are big when the budgets are low and content is great.

Do you think that will cut down on the ‘star-driven’ part of the film scene in India? Seeing as all ‘Big features,  Event & Holiday films’ featuring the big khans etc that have all failed this year (Race, ToH), unlike these smaller films.

I think that is very specific to the movies. You can’t write them off here. India’s a very star driven country – we love our movie stars, we worship them and what not. So a great film with a big star is an unbeatable combination, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere. But what’s really heartening this year is that films like Badhaai Ho, Andhadhun, Stree have done equally well this year. I think the definition of a film doing well is very different than what it meant years ago, it would have done well 5 years ago but today well also means being vastly successful commercially for a mass as well. Everyone goes home happy with these feature films. This is a great sign moving forward.

Team 'The Sky is Pink'

Team ‘The Sky is Pink’

What I would also like to understand from a producer’s perspective is – would you be willing to fund these smaller scale films at places like Viewing rooms at Film Bazaar etc if you see potential, acquiring a film when it’s completely ready and shows promise or you will be taking it up from the ground up?

No, we’re looking at films from the ground up. Everything we are doing is what we are developing. There may be a rare exception when we pick a film once it is ready but otherwise if we see potential, we’re a part of the building up of the film. We want to be involved creatively from the very beginning in developing our projects.  

How do you see your association with Ronnie now that you’ll be working in two separate production houses?

I think it’ll be great! Honestly, I don’t think anything has changed. We still interact the same way. I think there’s a shorthand between us which is good because of how long we’ve worked together. So there’s very little explaining to do on either end – it’s pretty cut-and-dry when it comes to whether we’re both liking something or not liking something. We’re very direct and that’s always been the equation that he’s allowed me to have with him. That continues.

Also, you issued a statement with Guild about the MeToo movement. I want to know what steps you’re going to be taking as part of the producers guild towards the people accused who work in the film industry. So how do you plan to sanitize the process?

First we must realise that the producers guild and the body of it is such that one voluntarily becomes a part of it – You can still be a producer without being a member of the Producers Guild. So if you choose to become a member that’s completely up to you. Having said that, what we have done as Producers of the Guild, is make is mandatory for the producers to have an ICC at every opportunity. and, we are holding workshops for them to help the ICC’s and help them see what their powers are and where they lie. The ICC has the power of the Civil Court which is a very far-reaching path. These workshops are about how we conduct these issues to the court, and in what way. So our job really is to empower our members to be able to a firm stand.

Unfortunately the Guild can only do whatever is in power of the guild itself. Like I said, there are producers who are very much able to produce their films and continue their work without being a Member. Luckily, every member has ensured to be subjected to the rules of the Guild.

Moreover, I think what the entire movement has done is it has sensitized people to what has been going on in the industry for ages. Anyone who intends to behave inappropriately will think 10 times before indulging in any such behavior that they may have been indulging in, in the past. The second thing it has done is its made women feel free enough to come out and speak about what has happened with them without the fear of repercussion.

Do you see tangible cause and effect of all the reported stories?

Yes I do, tangible and intangible. The thing is, things take time for the penny to drop. It’s not just the film industry that’s going through this, I think every board where such a story has come up, is trying to figure out a way to deal with it as they go. I think we should be empathetic to the fact that in a time where attitudes are changing, it’s important to appreciate the change rather than being critical of how long it takes to bring about that change in people. So we must laud the changes that are happening and encourage others around us to do that as well, because it’s never easy. It’s never going to be easy when you’re trying to decades-old attitudes and behaviour.

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Your production house isn’t called Siddharth Roy Kapur Films, it’s called Roy Kapur Films – So do we see the family making films in this joint as well?

Actually one thing that we all decided as a family is to never do that. We don’t plan on working together, because we are all a great support system for each other and once you’re working together you can’t be that same support system at the same time, because everyone’s investing in that one thing too emotionally. So it’s great to have that kind of distance especially in a field where your emotions are so raw for anything you are involved in everything that you do.

How many releases are you having next year? Three? Saare Jahan Se Acha, Sindbad, Sky is Pink…

2 to 3,so far. The casting is set and dates to start are set, but all other information will come out in the official announcements.


As told to Rahul Krishan Ahuja, Transcribed by Nitya Dev