Producer Sangeeta Ahir is riding high on the success of her latest film Baadshaho, which is the first film that she’s distributed pan-India. In a chat with Pandolin, Ahir talks about her association with Ajay Devgn, the dynamics of the exhibition and distribution market, challenges faced by regional films and why it is important to know how to release good films for maximum output.

Sangeeta Ahir

Sangeeta Ahir

Baadshaho is the one of your biggest films so far. You’ve taken on the entire distribution all across the country. Tell us about the challenges you faced and how did things work out?

It’s been a great experience. I’ve distributed (films) earlier also; I’ve done Spider-Man, Batman, Baahubali in Karnataka, the Kannada film Jaggu Dada and so on. We realized that there is a whole new avenue out there to experience. We want to take Manglmurti to another platform and give it a corporate image. And Baadshaho is the first film that we did pan – India. So we were really looking forward to it.

How did it all start? How did you come on board Baadshaho?

I had seen the look of Baadshaho and had received good reports about the making the film and how Ajay was looking very good in it. The same way he would look in a Vishal Bhardwaj film or in Once Upon A Time in Mumbaai. And Emraan Hashmi is back. Vidyut Jamwal is also looking very good. It’s a perfectly cast film. I think the overall project excited us and we spoke to Bhushan (Kumar) ji. I am proud that T-Series went all out on this venture with us.

Do you think the shift in action movies in Bollywood started with films like Wanted, which were mimicking South Indian movies but are now creating a new action central to Mumbai cinema?

Yes, because with action, there’s a lot of seriousness in the film. And the actors that we have – Ajay Devgn, Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, Shah Rukh Khan and the others, have taken to a different school with love stories and comedy.

People would meet in a coffee shop, and fall in love. The guy looks at the girl, she looks at him and they’re in love. But now, people want a little more aggression. They want to go out. They want to be entertained. So they look at the complete picture. I feel action with a good story line is what people want. There has to be a poem in the film and the soul of the film has to be perfect, it has to be said well. You can’t just have action and nothing else. I believe this film (Baadshaho) has it all and such kind of films will definitely do well.

Earlier, there were 100 days, a silver jubilee, a diamond jubilee, but now, it’s only about the weekend

At what stage did you lock the partnership with T-series?

In the final stage. In fact, when we gave the proposal that we would like to distribute pan-India, we had already associated with them earlier as well. They know us, and they knew we would do a good job.

You also have multiple associations with Ajay Devgn Ffilms.

Yes, I’m doing Golmaal Again too. We were also supposed to do another project, but it didn’t take off and there is another script that we want to narrate to him; it’s again action, a nice Mumbai film. We are looking forward to it as somewhere, our team is working well.

Emraan Hashmi and Ajay Devgn in Baadshaho

You’ve worked in the Southern and Western parts of the country. What did it take to work out a pan-India release?

Usually, whenever people produce films first, they keep the Mumbai or Maharashtra territory to themselves. They are more comfortable there, because they live there. We then distributed films in the South and realized that it’s better.  It’s always a growth. And then comes the demand. Where there’s demand, there’s supply, which leads to an entire cycle. It’s a wholesome package. Being a woman, it’s a little challenging but I’m looking forward to that.

Earlier, when we made films, it had a format where you distribute, then sub distribute, then come the exhibitors. Today Salman (Khan) paid back distributors the money (for Tubelight) because they come from a very old school of thought. So that understanding is still there. It’s not a corporate set up that you just take a movie and give it to somebody and that somebody will market it.

And, I feel that since we ourselves are filmmakers, we’ll be able to distribute films better.

What are the bigger challenges in terms of distribution, like the lack of screens…

Luckily for us, we have an Ajay Devgn film, so people are looking forward to it. The mass audience is looking forward to it and even for multiplexes, it’s a great film. We don’t have that kind of a hurdle. But yes, regional films or small budget films do face these challenges. But with a big film like this it becomes easier to sail through.

In order to add value to the production for exhibitors, like Salman Khan is said to have returned the money, do you think there is an exhibitors point of view that needs to be added in the script? Do you engage in that?

Yes, I do. I find it very important because eventually you’re making it (the film) for entertainment. Earlier, when they made films, they showed it to everyone. There were a lot of trials. Today, it has become really closed. We don’t know till the first song is out, and you get a very late review. But now, there are certain agencies that work on these things. They hear films at the pre-production stage and do a lot of analysis. Budgets are another constraint. At the end, whatever a film makes should justify the amount that is spent on it. Only then you can you expect the distributor or exhibitor to make money.

Exhibitors and distributors won’t get saturated. There will just be more serious players and business houses in the game

At a level of pan-India distribution, do you think there is lesser space for regional films because bigger films get the larger chunk of screens? 

Yes, that’s how it is. For a big film, the cast is very well spread but small films struggle a little. But at the end of the day, I feel a good film is a good film and a bad film is a bad film, whatever it has with it. A good film will eventually sail through and audiences will accept it and enjoy it. It’ll spread through word of mouth and then start getting screens. But initially, they do face an issue in getting screens. And the whole business is of three days – Friday, Saturday, Sunday. It becomes difficult to recover all your money in just three days.

Earlier, there were 100 days, a silver jubilee, a diamond jubilee, but now, it’s only about the weekend.

Isn’t it hurting when a film takes so long to be made and has so many people involved but is given just two days to decided its fate? Would you say it’s because of how distribution and production have shaped up or because people have so many modes of entertainment?

I think it’s because people now have so many modes of entertainment. There are so many films coming out. Earlier there weren’t so many theaters but now you have several multiplexes too. Marketing becomes a big challenge because you have to really excite people to come and see the film in those three days. Monetization has also changed now. Earlier you could sell your overseas rights and music rights and make the film. Now there are other avenues also, like digital.

Team of Golmaal Again

In the long run, do you see this 2-3 day business sustaining?

People will see movies at home; they will buy and watch the movies. The monopoly of theatres will change. Where producers currently have to market at such a big level and spend so much, all of that will get curtailed and people will watch films at home. Piracy will also come under control. Direct to home releases are the future.

What happens to cinema real estate then? The exhibition and distribution? 

Everything will be fine, except cinema halls. The exhibition will be well, but not distribution. They get their money and don’t have to share their chunk of money. They don’t have somebody bullying them. You make a film at a certain price and you release it, everything gets divided. So the producer doesn’t really get his share and that’s why he’s always at the losing end.

Why aren’t they making money?

They have to invest heavily on the marketing, almost as much as they put into making the film, and then they also have to pay high costs for digital, posters etc. The kind of money spent for theatres is way too high. Earlier people were friendly and would put up trailers for free but that doesn’t exist now. It takes so much money to run just a small trailer. And the burden is only on the producer.

That affects the bigger films too. Take Baahubali for example. You can’t release that on Netflix, you need a theatre. So, people will go to theatres to see Harry Potter, Baahubali, etc. People know what to do, which film to watch where.

Whatever a film makes should justify the amount that is spent on it. Only then you can you expect the distributor or exhibitor to make money

Will the three levels – exhibitors, distributors and local distributor – saturate? 

It won’t get saturated. There will just be more serious players and business houses in the game. The ones that have just come to make money for the heck of it will get over.

Does being a Bombay based distributor have its advantages? 

Yes, of course. For instance, sometimes they want to see the songs and want to understand how to market them. I’ve been given suggestions but people just want to make profits and pick up good films. For them it’s people in the package, like the star cast and others, like T-series for the music (In the case of Baadshaho), that matter. But the star cast is most important.

Wouldn’t overestimation of the cast become a problem like Tubelight faced?

Tubelight was a very different film. People are used to seeing Salman as a different kind of entertainer, someone who likes going crazy. And they didn’t get that with Tubelight. They want a film to whistle on during Eid.

You’ve distributed in Karnataka as well. I want to understand why the Kannada industry is not peaking as much as Telugu? 

It’s getting there. The number of theatres are also coming up slowly. There as also not enough IMAX cinemas in India.

Exactly. We need many more. You have to come to Bombay to watch a movie in Imax!

Films are for the common man. In metro cities, there are too many people who go to the movies for entertainment.  In smaller towns, rural areas, you don’t get the same, forget an Imax. Your revenue is dependent on those few metros. When have you seen a good film with a message becoming a hit because of people in rural areas watching it in big numbers?

There’s no proper representation of our industry to the government. They think it’s all glamour. Our associations have also become very weak.

Direct to home releases are the future

Going forward, what are the upcoming plans in terms of production?

There are many more films. We are listening to scripts. And also waiting for Golmaal Again. We’re so excited! It’s turning out to be brilliant, associating with Rohit Shetty again and Ajay Devgn. It’s going to be a treat for the audience. I think this is going to be one of the best Golmaal films. We’re looking forward to working with other stars and directors too.

Are you looking at smaller productions as well ? 

Yes, of course. Like I said, good films are good films. You have to know how to release those kind of films because of the kind of digital arena we are in. There’s a whole study behind it.

Lastly, what kind of films and filmmakers do you have on your wish list?

I’m already working with Rohit (Shetty) so I’m very happy. I’d love to work with Salman too.

Transcribed by Divya Achhpal