Interview with Zee Telefilms Ltd. Film Division CEO Nitin Keni
 
"Filmmaking and distribution are logical extensions for Zee. We have already proved our competence with 'Gadar..'"
Posted on 26 November 2003
 

The name Nittin Keni reminds one of the chart-busting and revenue-raking Hindi film Gadar - Ek Prem Katha, featuring Sunny Deol and Amisha Patel a few years ago. Few would remember that the film's producer was the first executive president of the Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms and the first CEO of Zee Cinema when it launched in 1995.

He left the organisation a few years later to pursue his own dreams. It's another matter that Gadar... too had the blessings of Chandra. Although the biggest grosser of the year when released, the film failed to pick up any awards.

But Zee and Keni’s path crossed again when, earlier this month, Zee Telefilms appointed him as the chief executive of its films division. Keni will head the entire film business, including production of motion pictures, co-ventures, as well as setting up of domestic and overseas distribution network.

In addition, his company, Nittin Keni Creations Pvt Ltd, has been contracted to produce two feature films per year for the Zee group. He would also be responsible for synergising film production and distribution initiatives with Padmalaya Telefilms Ltd, in which the Chandra company bought controlling stakes a couple of few years ago.

An engineer and post-graduate in management from the Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata, Keni was with the National Film & Development Corporation (NFDC), an Indian government-controlled organisation, before joining Zee at its inception in the early 1990s.

His return to Zee is at a significant time when the network is ready to take up larger challenges, new initiatives and respond to opportunities with unique synergy and strength at India’s largest vertically integrated media and entertainment company.

Never given to flamboyance, in his first interview to the media after re-joining Zee, Keni is characteristically cautious in answering posers from indiantelevision.com’s Anjan Mitra.
Excerpts:

 

Q: How is the homecoming, if one can say that about your appointment as the head of Zee’s films division?
Well, it is always good to be back. But this time, it is for the film business. It was in 1993 that I took the first initiative when I made Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aaai. Aisi Bhi Kya Jaldi Hai in 1994 and Fareb in 1996 followed.

The passion for making films has always been there, but may be with this appointment, it has become more formalized.

 

It would be interesting to know who made the first attempt to re-join hands. Was it Zee or was it you?
It’s not about who makes the first move. It is all about mutual decisions. As it is, my association with Zee was uninterrupted. Even after I quit Zee Cinema in 1996, I made our (Zee's and his) first mainstream blockbuster Gadar.

 

When was this sort of an arrangement first discussed between Zee and you?
This was discussed in September 2003 and I took exactly three months to make up my mind. And on 14 November 2003, I have (re)joined as the CEO of the film business.

 

What is your agenda for the film division? How would you forward the division’s work?
Film business is a new division for Zee Network. I will be preparing and presenting a blueprint for this division (to CMD Subhash Chandra). As this is a specialized field, in a bid to go forward, we will also hire people for our division. Post the hiring process, we will have roles and responsibilities defined and than look into the functioning of the division.

 
"Content will continue to drive the movie foray"
 

Do you think it’s a financially prudent move for a broadcasting company like Zee Telefilms to get aggressively into filmmaking and distribution?
Absolutely! Zee is India’s largest vertically integrated media and entertainment company and so, the synergistic possibilities are immense. It has already acquired Padmalaya Telefilms Ltd and is in the multiplex business too. Filmmaking and distribution are logical extensions. We have already proved our competence in this area with movies like Gadar Ek Prem Katha.

 

What sort of films is Zee looking forward to produce? Would they be typical Bollywood fare? Are you also planing to produce crossover and off-beat movies like 'Jhankar Beats'and 'Joggers' Park'?
Be it a typical Bollywood film or a cross-over film, a movie's success is determined by content and the script. Content will continue to drive this foray of ours. We will look at making both types of films.

 

Considering that Bollywood produces about 300 films per year, how many movies are being chalked out by Zee on an annual basis ?
At present, Zee has a couple of films on the floors and my company has already a contract to produce two films. That takes the total count to four. On an average, about 200-250 Hindi films are produced every year and Zee will look at quality projects. But I can't quote any specific number. We do not plan to make films with a particular count.

 
"I left Zee to pursue “movies”and not to join some other channel. I made 'Gadar' for Zee. Since Zee has plunged into the movie business in a big way, nothing could keep me away from the institution I contributed to since its inception"
 
Are there any films from Zee lined up for release during the remaining part of the current financial year?
There are three movies that are in the pipeline - One Dollar Curry- an Indo-French production directed by Vijay Singh, Khosla Ka Ghosla with Anupam Kher (who also happens to be the current chief of the Indian Censor Board) and Bhagmati - a live animation film produced by the Zee Institute of creative Arts and directed by Ashok Kaul.
 

An official statement from Zee said that your company has also been contracted to produce at least a couple of movies. With you taking on new responsibilities as the CEO of Zee’s films division, does the original agreement still stand?
It has been mutually agreed that I will continue. As I have been associated with filmmaking, we thought of exploiting this opportunity too. Since making movies for Zee was always on the cards, it has been incorporated in the composite agreement.

 
Is there some sort of equity holding that Zee or any of its promoters, in his/her individual capacity, has in your company? This question is relevant considering Zee and Subhash Chandra had experimented with a similar structure involving former CEO Vijay Jindal’s Karma Media Pvt Ltd.
As far as I am concerned, nothing like this has emerged and I am sure you will appreciate that it is not proper for me to comment about Zee and Karma.
 
Is there a cap on the number of films that your company can produce for Zee annually and what would be the revenue sharing model in such cases?
Currently, we have mutually agreed to do two films per year. As of now, there has been no discussion on the revenue sharing model. But all that I would like to say at this point of time is that the comprehensive copyrights shall rest with Zee.
 

"Zee is India’s largest vertically integrated media and entertainment company and so synergistic possibilities are immense"

 
How much is Zee Telefilms planning to invest in film production and related activities during the remaining part of this fiscal year and what is the investment planned for 2004-05?
At present, we are working on the blueprint. Once we are through with that, we will gladly share the information with you. At this point in time, a significant amount of money, based on the business plan that is being worked out, would be invested.
 

How much revenue does Zee Telefilms mop up from producing and distributing films and related activities like marketing the music of the films? What would be the percentage this revenue in the overall kitty of Zee Tele?
As you know that I have recently joined and am still to get acclimatised to the finer points of the business. We will discuss these figures at an appropriate time.

 

What are the revenue targets for the films division, considering it’s in expansion mode?
We are in the process of working out a business plan and I can only answer such questions once the plan is ready.

 

Would you be able to give us a break-up of the revenue that can accrue to Zee from distributing films in the domestic and the overseas markets?
As I said earlier, we are in the process of working out a business plan and I can only answer these questions once the plan is ready.

 

Would Zee produce, distribute and market films and music under a different brand name other than Zee?
Presently, we are looking at using Zee and Padmalaya.

 
Would Zee’s films division also undertake third-party distribution assignment like simply distributing a film from, say, Subhash Ghai’s Mukta Arts for a commission or on some other prevalent revenue sharing model?
Yes certainly. All revenue models as per mutual agreement would be explored.
 

Is there a possibility that Zee's films division being spun off as a separate company and what is the time-frame, if any?
At present, the films division is a business unit of the Zee Network. As you know, a business can throw up a number of opportunities. Those possibilities would be evaluated as and when they come up.

 
Lastly, what made you come back to Zee?
I left Zee to pursue “movies”and not to join some other channel. I made Gadar for Zee. Since Zee has plunged into the movie business in a big way, nothing could keep me away from the institution I contributed to since inception.
 
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