Play Small & Live Long Did Wonders for Me

By Pickle  May 15, 2019
Krishi Dutt and Manish Dutt

I still adhere to the basics I learnt at UTV and the mantra, play small and live long, did wonders for me. As UTV benefited from the satellite invasion in media, I am hoping to capitalise on the digital wave in the media, say Manish Dutt and Krishi Dutt, Directors at VR Films & Studios, who are aiming big at Cannes Market this year

Manish Dutt runs India’s biggest dubbing Company, managing over 900 artistes who lend their voices in several languages to keep his pipeline engaged. Even after clocking 50,000+ hours of dubbing and witnessing 80 percent year-on-year growth, Manish’s VR Films is hungry for more.

“India is emerging as a hub to dub for Hollywood and European language films,” says Manish, Managing Director, VR Films. “We are positioning ourselves to be a one-stop shop for all dubbing and sub-titling requirements. Our dubbing company is making Hollywood in India.” VR Films is a “Limited” company now…with shares listed on BSE SME Platform….being first Dubbing company in India and second in the world

“We have done a number of Chinese films to English, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. Also, when we dub Chinese films into English (neutral English) it is accepted globally,” says Manish.

The cloud has opened up new business opportunities. “If anyone wants to send their films for dubbing, then all they need to do is to provide an online link and tell us to localise content. We have the capability to do dubbing in 50 languages. We can deliver the product in 10 days and the end product can be retrieved from the cloud.”

The regionalization of TV channels further improved bottomlines of dubbing studios. VR Films dubs all Discovery Channels English feed to Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. “We do around 4000 + hours of TV & Feature film dubbing every year.” A chat with Pickle

How does it feel to be at Cannes Film Festival and Cannes Film Market as a listed company? Tell us about your Cannes journey and what’s the business like?

It’s a mixed bag of feelings. Fifteen years back when I first attended Cannes, I was a novice and felt too small a player in the sea of deep pocket international corporates and successful film producers and film agents. But I soon realised that Cannes has an appetite for all kinds of players. If you play your cards well and do not get carried away with the glamour and pomp of Cannes, you can survive and do very well. Keeping in mind our limited capacity, we would commit to projects and honor them. After we established our credentials, Cannes helped us grow immensely.

By virtue of being a listed company, we will be attending Cannes with much more vigour and confidence and buying capacity. Today our company has huge and some of the best international projects. As a listed company, we are now acquiring, buying or associating with projects not for just 2019 but for 2020 and 2021 as well. Presently, we have acquired 11 big projects for 2020 and 2021 including films of Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Mel Gibson, Scott Eastwood, etc.

Cannes Film Market is celebrating 60 years this year. How participating in Cannes has benefited VR Films & Studios? What’s your objective this year?

Cannes has always been our major film sourcing acquisition market. We have managed to acquire big projects in the market. In the last three years, we have acquired at least 5-6 major projects in each Cannes market. This year we will primarily be aiming to acquire at least 10-12 projects. We have already short listed the projects and are in the negotiation process.

Since its inception in 2000, VR Films has come a long way. What’s the vision?

It has been quite a journey, and wonderful learning experience. I have met lots of beautiful, influential people along the way who guided us in every step of the way. We started with dubbing and releasing small indie films from Thailand and Hong Kong on single screens in Indian sub-continent. But with the advent of multiplexes and digital media the overall business strategy changed immensely. Our dubbing business has complemented our growth, especially with the digital media, which is definitely the future of entertainment and we are well geared to use it to our advantage. Even though digital media is presently at a nascent stage, it has benefited us immensely. Versioning and localisation of international content is the best and most economical form of monetisation for all buyers, as today content is the king.

Our vision is to acquire more content, localise it to increase monetisation. Soon we will be producing/creating our own content, feature films and will be localising it in over 20 major international languages across the world. This can only grow upwards in years to come. If you aim to be a global player you will have to adhere to this vision.

How much do you value trust in your business journey?

Trust is a major virtue in our business of acquisition and creating content. This business can never be a one man show. A global player needs to build trust with its partners to be able to meet the global demand for content.

Building trust with our global partners is the cornerstone of our business. When any major project is offered to us in its conception stage, it is committed to us once we agree to do it. Legalities are documentation is done later. Before the start of any market, including Cannes, many projects are already committed to us due to the trust factor. The very fact that we are a listed company today, underscores the immense trust we have developed with our investors, common people, or business associates.

You have learnt the ways of this industry in your days at UTV? Who influenced you the most?

UTV (Disney today) was a major turning point in my life. I was a part of UTV from 1993 to 1997 when it was in its nascent stage. UTV pioneered corporatisation in the Indian film and television industry. Ronnie Screwvala is a visionary who has always been ahead of the curve. I have learnt a lot from him. He will continue to be a benchmark for me. I still adhere to the basics I learnt at UTV and the mantra, play small and live long, did wonders for me. As UTV benefited from the satellite invasion in media, I am hoping to capitalise on the digital wave in the media.

How do you see scope for India as a media & entertainment market, India as a whole market and Indian footprint in global market?

Indian film and content market has a huge unexplored potential worldwide. This had remained largely untapped but is booming now.

Indian content is in big demand and new avenues are opening up, for example China. The local market is huge in India, which is the only country in the world with nearly 12 dialects per language. As the dubbing industry is growing, all platforms are realising the value of localisation. The popularity and footprint of the platforms is increasing immensely due to this and this has resulted into emergence of Netfilx and Amazon who are setting up offices in India and producing India specific content for global market as well.

The major studios in Hollywood are earning huge revenues from Indian markets. Indian content, too, is getting localised in various international languages like Mandarin, Thai, German, Bahasa, etc.

VR Films has executed hours and hours of dubbing for the world’s top studios. What does language mean to you?

Dubbing as source of revenue was neglected for many years. But of late people have realised its true potential owing to digitisation. Hollywood majors never had it so good with releases in just English language, which would attract only 2-5 percent of Indian population and revenues would be marginal. But due to localization in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu languages the audience has increased multi-fold and revenue earnings revenues jumped more than 200 percent. Today, Hollywood films would earn as much as a local big budget Hindi or Tamil film. Pay TV platforms have also realised the potential of localization and their footprint has surged upwards. They have penetrated the interiors of India, which has lapped up localized products. Localization/dubbing will be a game changer and a necessity in the years ahead.

You have been a pioneer in dubbing foreign and Indian languages. Has OTT players like Netflix and Amazon expanded scope of work beyond broadcast?

All OTT platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Zee 5, etc have just changed the content creation / production strategy. Today creative ideas which would have been neglected citing market forces not accepting them as per a few existing players then, have now new platforms which are experimenting with content-based programmes /films. These are today being accepted and the void created is being fed. Suddenly everyone realizes there is a huge appetite for content based programmes or films.

These are being localized as well in five major languages. OTT platforms also have an added advantage of exploiting the earlier neglected interior footprint. This has made OTT platforms very popular as they are accessible in all languages and can be viewed any time as per your convenience. Moreover, language dubs is also being viewed as a source of brushing up your knowledge on various dialects which had taken a backseat with all conversing in English and Hindi languages.

Will you get into film production? You had earlier expressed interest in producing Marathi films.

Yes. Soon we will be producing films in Hindi and other languages. We are already locking scripts which would be green lighted soon.

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