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Interview with Aswini Dutt by Jeevi

5 pm Date: 6th August 2003 Venue: Vyjayanthi Office, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad

Aswini Dutt, the man behind Telugu Cinema's one of the prestigious banners - Vyjayanthi Movies, is a senior most producer of Telugu film industry. He has produced blockbusters with all the stars of Telugu Cinema ranging from NTR to NTR. He will be making a film each with Pawan Kalyan, Venkatesh, NTR and Chiranjeevi in the next two years. met with Aswini Dutt, at his plush office in Jubilee hills on 6th August 2003. Here are the excerpts --

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Tell us about the progress of Pawan Kalyan's latest film on Vyjayanthi banner?

The story is finalized. We are in the process of completing the dialogue version of the film. It might take a month. We might be going for regular shooting from September 2003 onwards. It's a prestigious product. It would contain all ingredients one expects from Vyjayanthi banner and will live up to the expectations of Pawan Kalyan's fans from his film. This film would be an eye-feast for Telugu movie lovers. Shriya and Meera Jasmin are paired up with Pawan Kalyan in this film.

Telugu film industry is now going through bad times. But your last three films Indra, Pellam Voorelithe and Gangotri are blockbusters in the recent times. What is the secret of your success?

Indra: I wanted to do a film with Chiranjeevi with a role that Chiranjeevi has not done before. It's the role of a factionist. That became the trump card. We wanted to choose a backdrop that was never attempted before. Hence we went to Kaasi. If we have 20% of the substance in the script, Chiranjeevi adds remaining 80% with his histrionics and screen presence. The credit for the success of this film should go to Chiranjeevi.

Gangotri: Hats off to K Raghavendra Rao garu! When we decided to produce the 100th directorial venture of K Raghavendra Rao, we firmly decided to go to sets with a perfect script. We knew that 100th ventures of all big people turned out to be duds in the history of Telugu cinema. We wanted to break that sentiment. Chinni Krishna came up with a different love story. Keeravani, who gave musical superhits with Raghavendra Rao like Allari Priyudu, Pelli Sandadi and Annamayya, came up with brilliant tunes. This combination has helped Gangotri become a musical entertainer.

Pellam Voorelithe: Allu Arvind liked the Tamil original 'Charlie Chaplin' a lot. We wanted to produce this film on Siri Media banner and chose SV Krishna Reddy as the director. I was pretty busy with Indra's function and script work of Gangotri. Allu Arvind took all the pains of getting involved with the script work of 'Pellam Voorelithe'. Srikanth and Venu got lots of appreciation through this film. SV Krishna Reddy is back with a bang with this film.

I am really happy with these three successes, as these films not only entertained the crowds but also gave maximum satisfaction and recognition for the cast and crewmembers of these films. These three hits came in the time of Industry's crisis. Incidentally, this year happens to be 25th year of Vyjayanthi banner and it brought huge success to me and my banner.

In the recently announced 50th National Film Awards none of the Telugu films were qualified even for the best regional film award. Prakash Jha has spoken some unceremonious words about the deteriorating standards of Telugu films. What's your opinion about it?

The jury that reviewed the films does not have any judgment about the standards of Telugu cinema. If you see the Telugu films exhibited in USA, we get lot of critical appreciation about the films. We have high standards of filmmaking and we maintain superior quality. This is what happens if they keep physically unfit people as committee members. It's our mistake to send our entries to these so-called National Awards. This is my personal opinion.

We have either super hits or utter flops in the industry. We have very few minimum guarantee films releasing these days. Do you think Telugu film industry is in a slump?

It depends on how we look at it. It is the need of the hour to get new writers and directors to Telugu film industry. In the last couple of years, we saw new breed of directors producing fruitful results. In the recent times, a director made a producer spend 3.5 crores for making a film with 180 working days and exposing 120 rolls. That film turned out to be a dud. Telugu film industry witnessed these kind of films released in the recent past. As a producer I would not call it as a slump situation. But it's purely the producer's inability to have control over the script and the escalating budget. Instead of blindly spending money over a film, a producer must involve himself more into filmmaking.

The awareness about video piracy was created by the film industry for the past one year. Did you see any fruitful results?

No. The situation has become worse now. If we take more precautions, the pirates are inventing new methods of spreading piracy at a rapid rate. We want to react very strongly by closing the entire film industry down if piracy continues to affect the film industry. However, CM has given an assurance that he would cooperate with film industry by including video piracy in Organized Crime Act. He asked us to sit with lawyers and come out with recommendation about how piracy could be curbed legally.

We have very good support from the higher cadre (higher police officials and government). But the MLAs (belonging to both ruling party and opposition) are protecting the culprits to the core.

The best example for this is Simhadri and Vasantham. There is so much of piracy happening on the two hit films in spite of the vigilance by the producers Dora Swamy Raju and Prasad. Earlier, we used to think that pirated videocassettes are available only in video shops. But now, they have become such a common commodity that they are available even in grocery stores.

We can see the 'records' mania gripping up the publicity of hit films in the last one year. Producers are giving ads to film magazines saying that their respective films broke all records. How does a common man know which record is genuine and which one is bogus? Because of these records, the animosity among the fans of various stars is growing. Can't the film producers' counsel have a check on these ads and testify them?

We have discussed about this issue lot of times. Nobody really bothers when a successful film is promoted aggressively. But what creates confusion is the trend of arranging felicitation for flop films and terming them as hit films. We can't go and stop those producers, as they try every possible method to recover their money.

But, records' publishing is restricted to film magazines and they are targeted at fans. These records would not affect the decision-making process of a common man who makes the film a real hit. The real trouble starts for any producer when their movie crosses 50 days. Unless, repeated viewers come to theater any film would not reach the 100-day mark.

You have been very successful as a filmmaker. Do you have any future plans of constructing studios, labs or multiplexes?

I have some plans in the future. We need to update ourselves with changing trends and new technologies. But, we need to wait for some more time before venturing into any project. Lets take the example of digital cinema system. Right now we have 7-8 brands of digital cinema systems with each one having its own merits and demerits. And we need to adapt a universally accepted digital cinema system. In addition to this, lots of cinema halls are closing down. It costs around 25 lakhs for each center to digitalize the theater. I guess we need to play the 'wait and watch' game now. But by introducing new technologies, we can definitely restrict the video piracy. At the same time, we need to compromise on certain issues.

Do you think releasing films with maximum number of prints helps big producers to recover money fast and there by not letting pirates exploit the market?

Yes. The best example is the recently released Simhadri. It was released with maximum number of prints and that strategy worked. For example, I released Indra with 7 prints and they released Simhadri with 14 prints. But this 'maximum number of prints' strategy work only for mass films with big heroes.

Do you think, its time to bid adieu to the culture of 50 days centers and 100 days centers when one releases the film with maximum number of prints? Is it possible to release original video/DVD of films after a few weeks of the release of the film so that piracy could be curbed?

Producer alone cannot take a decision on this matter. We need to involve the exhibitors and distributors too. Lets take the example of Bollywood. In Telugu film industry, we are giving satellite rights after five years to TV channels. In Bollywood, they are giving satellite rights after 3 months and 6 months. Some people say that giving satellite rights after 3 months and 6 months has pushed Bollywood into slump. Some other people argue that it has brought down the piracy. We need to involve each and everybody in the film industry and organize a seminar for a week to brainstorm and come up with the best possible solution.

Do you think returning money to the buyers when a film flops is a good practice? If buyers get used to this system, they would demand reimbursement from producers for all disasters?

You have the answer in your question itself. It's the distributors who hike the price by going for competition. The prime sufferers in the entire process are exhibitors. These distributors take money from exhibitors by promising that they would buy big heroes films at any cost. If we have an industry hit that broke all the records, then the buyers are buying similar films at the same price, which could only be given for an industry hit. The probability of all big films becoming industry hits is very less. Based on the buyer's offering rate, the producer hikes the remuneration of the heroes. In the whole process, even if the film becomes a disaster, the producer and distributors are safe. But it's the exhibitor who loses everything.

Do you think Recoverable Advances system is a good one for buyers?

Recently we had a meeting with distributors where they proposed that all the movies need to be sold either on Recoverable advances model or on minimum guarantee basis. We agreed upon it. But the moment we came out of the room, producers were surrounded by distributors who promise to they buy the producer's next film at any cost on NRA basis. There is no unity among the distributors. Each and every distributor cares for his selfish purpose than for the system. In this scenario, we are helpless.

Most of the films produced by newcomers are becoming disasters. Is there are way to prevent rich and inexperienced guys entering the film industry?

If we try to stop them, they would ask us with what experience we came to the industry 25 years back. Lot of the people come to industry because of glamour. I told you this incident in my earlier interview also. I was traveling with a rich businessman who owns a corporate empire worth 500 crores. He told me that though he is rich and successful businessman, he is not known to the common man where as I am known to almost all the Telugu people as I am a big producer. He said that he wouldn't mind losing 10-15 crores, but he wanted to become a producer. Cinema field has such kind of alluring glamour. When such producers entering the film industry, they tend to hike the remuneration of hero by 2-3 times in order to get the dates of that star. Industry always needs new breed of producers. But these producers should have minimum knowledge on moviemaking.

Elections are fast approaching. Where are you planning to contest for the next year's parliament elections?

There is still some time. I would let you know the details once it's finalized.

Tell us about your future projects

S. No Hero Director
1 Pawan Kalyan, Shriya, Meera Jasmin Karunakaran
2 Venkatesh Chinni Krishna
3 NTR K Raghavendra Rao
4 Chiranjeevi Vijaya Bhaskar

Completing all these projects would take 2 to 2 and a half years.

You were there at the inauguration of Prasad's IMAX multiplex on 23rd of July. What do you think about the culture of multiplex theaters and how is it going to change the viewing habits of Telugu film lovers?

When IMAX was opened, the other cinema halls in the city did not have more than 35-40% collections. The newly coming multiplexes have great sound and visual systems. They also incorporate shopping malls and food courts. With the advent of multiplexes, the movie lovers are coming back to the theaters. There are many more multiplexes coming up in Hyderabad now. There is one multiplex coming up near Taj Krishna with the collaboration of the Spencers & Oberoi. Two multiplexes are being planned in Jubilee Hills area. K Ragahvendra Rao is planning one. One more multiplex is coming up in Secunderabad. One more would be built in Kompally. This multiplex culture is giving new hope for box office. People who lost interest in watching films in theaters are coming back to multiplexes to enjoy the experience of viewing films in a new way. It is also revealed that wherever there are multiplexes in North India, Hindi movies fared well. A study reveals that 1500 multiplexes would be coming up in the next two years in North India alone.

But in Prasad's they have a flat rate system of Rs 60/- per head. They should have left 2-3 rows in front for masses for Rs 10/- so that they could also enjoy the shows. They can balance it by pricing the regular tickets little higher.

Do you have any plans of encouraging your daughters to take care of Vyjayanthi banner in the future?

My elder daughter is studying in USA. She has lot of ideas related to cinema field. She is also interested in learning a course related to movies in New York for four months next year. I encourage them to excel in whatever fields they choose. I would be happier if my daughters take over Vyjayanthi banner.

Do you think the business potential of Pawan Kalyan has gone down because Johnny was a disaster?

Pawan Kalyan is a fantastic performer who always strives to have different elements in his films. Pawan Kalyan possesses the same craze and stamina even after the release of Johnny. Whenever I make a film, I do not think about the business potential of that film. But I have such a confidence in my projects that I could create high business demand for any of my films. With that confidence, I spend a lot of money in my projects to get a quality rich film both in terms of content and extravagance. 90% of the areas for my films are retained by me. So I don't have to bother about distributors buying my films. The script of Pawan Kalyan's film is such an entertaining one that I am eagerly waiting for the day when this film goes to floors.

You worked with Chiranjeevi earlier and you are currently working with Pawan Kalyan. Do you notice any similarities/differences in their working style?

Both of them are very good hard workers. They involve themselves in the nitty-gritty of filmmaking for a better product. Both of them have infinite zeal to deliver a hit film. The only difference I see is that Chiranjeevi gives more preferences to masses in his films. Pawan Kalyan tries to give preferences to youth and class also along with the masses because of his age factor.

Pawan Kalyan keeps a low profile about his films. You give your films maximum boost in terms of publicity and press relations. Which method would be followed for your film with Pawan Kalyan?

Its always good to keep a low profile for films. We need to hide things. If something is leaked, other filmmakers may copy it. When Pawan Kalyan and Vyjayanthi banner is involved in a film, there is going to be enormous hype in the market. I would like to have a low profile for this film. At that same time, I make sure that I keep the press happy and content.

Do you have any plans for the USA distributors to curb piracy?

When I went to USA, I suggested distributors in USA something. Most of the Telugu film distributors in USA are working people. I don't want them losing money by investing their hard-earned money into Telugu film distribution. If the distributors in USA get united, we can propose releasing all popular Telugu films in USA through them on commission basis so that they don't have to put a penny from their pocket. They should also ensure that video piracy does not get spread in USA. But at the same time, there should be unity in our producers as well. Nobody should say that they want to sell right to USA because somebody offered them 1 lakh dollars. The USA distributors should also be sincere and honest. To serve the NRIs in a better way, we don't mind adding more spools of 100 days functions of Indra, cultural programs, Godavari Pushkaralu to the feature films we send to USA so that Telugu NRI's feel at home by watching them.

Also read two more interviews of Aswini Dutt
Interview one (pre-Indra)
Interview two (post-Indra)

Interviewed by Jeevi
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