Sharrath Marar is in the audio-visual medium for almost two decades. He started of his official career with Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited (ABCL) in 1996. He is well associated with the film industry having worked closely with Chiranjeevi, Allu Arvind, Pawan Kalyan, Ram Gopal Varma, Krishnavamsi, Puri Jagannath etc. He presented the recently released Telugu version of Hanuman film. Here is chitchat with this highly successful entrepreneur -
I am born and brought up in Hyderabad. Though we have roots in Kerala, my ancestors were settled in Hyderabad for the past four generations. My great grandfather was in Nizam railways. My grandfather worked as a major (doctor) in Nizam’s army. He was heading military hospital (now known as Sarojini Naidu hospital). My father worked for radio and television.
I did my B. Com, MBA (Finance) and ICWAI. I used to give my voice to television. My father said that I don’t have to stick to a job to justify the degrees I earned. He encouraged me to go to creative field. That is when I deviated into the media.
I knew Ram Gopal Varma even before he become a director. His brother-in-law and I were class mates. I share a very good relation with him. I used to hang around with him and I had an opportunity to have a close look at the industry. That is when I got an offer from ABCL (Amitab Bachchan Corporation Limited) to head their office in Hyderabad.
I had a passion for television. Ram Gopal Varma and I wanted to produced TV soaps in Varma Video Tech label. After 6-8 months, Ramu said that small screen never excites him. Those days, I did not know to whom I begin with to produce TV serials. I observed one TV episode on Door Darshan which attracted me for it’s taking and slick editing. I searched for that director and found him in one studio. We got acquainted with each other. That was Puri Jagan. If Puri has done 100 episodes on TV, I produced 95 among them. We traveled together for three years. Raja Ravindra was the hero for the first episode I have done with Puri Jagan. That episode deals with a lady killer on a highway titled ‘Pruthvi‘. Later on he shown Pruthvi to Pawan Kalyan to impress him with and grabbed his film directorial debut offer Badri. We used to use very high standard equipment in those and made TV serials with high technical standards and production values.
Joining ABCL was a phenomenal exposure. It was one of the finest things happened to me. I think ABCL was ahead of time and it required better planning and structuring. The systems were not properly built and ABCL grabbed too many opportunities at a time it spread itself very thin. ABCL hired top honchos from HLL, Hindustan Times, ANZ Grindlays etc. It was a great learning for me as an individual. Without ABCL, I would have remained as a small time television producer. I was actively involved in Miss World Contest organized by ABCL in Bangalore. I was the project coordinator for the entire event. During that time I could build a relationship with Mr. Amitab Bachchan. Two years of my learning at ABCL is like a real rollercoaster ride where every thing comes to you like a crash course.
After leaving ABCL, I tied up with big TV production houses and K Bala Chandar. I remade whatever they did it Tamil. I also had deals with all TV channels in Telugu. During my ABCL days, I build a network with the people and I nurtured those relationships even till today.
The next turning point came when Sanjeev Gupa became head of coca cola. I knew him very well when he worked for ABCL. He was looking to sign Chiranjeevi as brand ambassador and he was looking for somebody to clinch the deal for him. I approached Allu Arvind. It took around 6 months to put the entire proposal through to him and make him understand that there is value in it. I could build the trust of Allu Arvind and Chiranjeevi with this deal.
Next best thing that happened to me was stepping in as executive producer for Pawan Kalyan’s Johnny. I connected with him right in the first meeting. We vibe very well.
All that learning from Ram Gopal Varma and ABCL helped me a lot. The collapse of ABCL taught me that anything can happen to anybody. That made me little more cautious.
Tell us about your company South Parade?
South Parade is one single connecting point between Telugu film industry and advertising industry. We started with brand endorsements first. Chiranjeevi’s brand endorsement was a big push. Since that deal, we never had to look back. I did bulk deals with brands like Pepsi, Seagram and Colgate to buy television media. Through these bulk deals I could guarantee extra funds to these TV channels and more reach to the brands. Then I realized that there is very little competition in this field and I started enjoying the position I have in this niche market.
What is your ultimate goal?
Though I am fairly successful in the areas of brand promotion and advertising, my objective is to be a successful and accomplished film producer. That is where my passion lies.
You announced project with Pawan Kalyan in Gowtam Menon’s direction. What happened to that?
Pawan was very encouraging when he came forward and he announced a project with me in the direction of Gowtam Menon. I liked Gowtan’s stylized way of filmmaking and he was finishing the shoot of Gharshana film. But Gowtam had quite a few commitments in hand. That was not fitting in Pawan’s schedule. After that I could not come up with a story or project which both of us could feel that it would work. Though he was willing to accommodate me, I did not want to force a subject onto him. When Pawan realized that we could not pull a good project, he called me asked me if he could go ahead with other projects he had in hand. A star like him need not call me and ask me. But he was nice enough to do that. We still are always discussing with each other. Something will materialize at the earliest.
Whose suggestion is it to get a huge celebrity like Chiranjeevi giving voice over to Hanuman?
I attended a seminar by NASSCOM in Hyderabad which had speakers from Cartoon Network, Disney etc who spoke about 3-d animation. VG Samant (director of Hanuman) read out half a paper speech. He made the entire auditorium spellbound. Everybody respects him because he went ahead and made the project Hanuman. Hanuman is the only true Indian success in animation field. He said that if the content is right nobody bothers if a film is normal, 2-D or 3-D. After seeing the clippings in the conference, I went to theater and watched Hanuman.
When I saw Hanuman, it suddenly occurred to me that if someone like Chiranjeevi gives voice over, it would give wider reach. Animation films lack star value and getting stars like Chiranjeevi would really help the film. I went to Bombay and contacted the right people. Then I realized that someone else is already on the verge of closing deal. I did not want to compete and escalate the dubbing price. Then I identified that it was Challa Manmohan. I contacted him and asked him if we two could do it together. He was elated.
Then I went and asked Chiranjeevi. I did not have to do much of convincing as he was pretty open to the idea. I think he has the basic nature to try and explore something new. That is why he is on top even after three decades. That is his natural trait. He gave many inputs to me.
He must have cost a bomb to you?
His remuneration was the most economical part of the whole thing. If he had put a fee to his work, this project would never have happened. We would not have been match anything commercially.
What really cost us a lot is the publicity. We targeted children in our advertisements and resorted to various novel techniques to reach them. These unconventional and never-tried-before advertising campaigns cost us a lot. At the end of the day, the whole advertising campaign turned to something similar to an event management. We used inflatable hanuman dolls in all entertainment related areas.
How many prints did you release the film with?
We released the film with 24 prints and moving the prints to new areas phase by phase.
Hindi version of Hanuman was released in the last year. The DVD is also currently available in the market. Do you think it is a disadvantage to you as the film has already reached the niche target?
I my own house my kids have 3 VCDs and 2 DVDs. They are still eager to watch Telugu Hanuman. The Hindi version was only released in Prasads and played for certain number of weeks. It did not go even beyond Prasads multiplex in Hyderabad. There is huge untapped market for Telugu version of Hanuman. We did our homework on video front. The sales of Hanuman DVD and VCD are good in Hyderabad and Vizag. The remaining market is still open for video segment.
You worked with corporate houses where the business is organized. But the real time situation in our film industry is a bit unorganized?
I realized the corporate world and film industry are two different worlds. I realized that if I can cultivate a basic acumen to balance the both worlds, that would make me more valuable to anything I become a part of. There is sense of happiness and pleasure in it.
So your next project is going to have Pawan Kalyan in it?
Ram Gopal Varma (Producer & Director)
K Satish (Director)
Siva Nageswara Rao (Director)
Ajay Varma (Hero)
Kamalinee Kukherjee (Heroine)
Sriya Reddy (Heroine)
Muruga Doss (Director)
Uday Kiran (Hero)
T Gopichand (Hero)
Kalyan Ram Nandamuri (Hero)
Siva Kumar (Director)
Rasool Ellore (Cinematographer & Director)
SS Rajamouli (Director)
Sameer Reddy (Cinematographer)
Marthand K Venkatesh
Sayaji Shinde (Villain)