Kolkata: Arjo Bhattacharya could easily have fitted himself into the mould of a film star. Why? He is tall, fair and handsome. He is charming, too, and can impress you with his high knowledge quotient.
A non-resident Indian (Bhattacharya was based in the US until recently), he is now creating a new base in the city he was born in - Kolkata. Instead of pursuing his original business in computer hardware and software, he has chosen a new field for himself - producing films. It's true that he knows nothing about films, but he is a technocrat and was the founder and chief executive officer of Arcus Technology.
Arcus was a technology company offering silicon solutions for data communications and the mixed signal-embedded market. Arcus had offices in Bangalore, Singapore and in Fremont, California, where Bhattacharya and his family settled around two decades ago. His interest has now diversified into producing classic films and music albums in his home state, West Bengal, and to bring some order into the chaos that is Tollywood.
To the obvious question -''why films?'' - his answer is: ''I explored several other fields but discovered that the film industry in Bengal already has brilliant talent, but needs fresh blood and was suffering for several reasons. They are:
- the distribution system is so poor that for the creative producer, collection problems dog his way right through and after his film has been released;
- lack of profits and good sources of funding force the producer to reduce his budget and produce films of inferior quality, which leads to the narrowing of an already regional market;
- the market narrows further when the audience discovers that the film is of poor quality; and
- directors fail to tap their creative potential for lack of proper business rapport with the producer and/or the distributor.
We thought that with the capital at our service, with excellent local management pros, and creative advisors like actor-director Victor Banerjee on the board, we might still be able to rid the industry of the above problems. And, at the same time, offer quality entertainment to a widening audience.''
The idea is great, but to turn it into reality is no easy task, as any entrepreneur would know. The first movie Arjo Entertainment (AE), the film production company Bhattacharya set up in Kolkata, made turned out to be a damp squib at the box-office, though it had an excellent star cast and was a typical masala mainstream film. The film, Antarghat, dished out the story of a surrogate father and his daughter, and contained a lot of melodious songs.
It is not clear why it did not perform well, but one thing it did not do was disillusion Bhattacharya's hopes for Bengali cinema. ''I am a businessman, and I am accustomed to take the ups and downs in any business in my stride. I know we will come out of this phase because we have also set up a production line in audiocassettes of Bangla songs, which belong to different genres of music. We are keenly looking for new talent - both in music and in films - and I am not the one to give up with just one flop in the can.''
Presently, the initial thrust of the business will be in the film industry. After having reviewed the operating system and style of work in the Bengali film industry, Bhattacharya, as chairman and CEO of AE, has, along with his colleagues, decided to make a composite house in the film trade from where AE will produce films, set up its own distribution centre in the future and its own exhibition centres.
''We are also planning to bring in corporate culture and professionalism into the business of films,'' he adds. As producer, AE has already completed two full-length feature films in Bengali cinema. The first one was Antarghat and the other is Subrata Sen's Dream Merchants (Swapner Pheriwala). The second film, an off-mainstream production, also flopped miserably at the box-office. But they have placed their hopes in their third production - Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (a naughty girl's story.) And AE has plans to produce around three films a year.
Bhattacharya is happy that the music albums they released last year did fairly well in the market. Two of these were the tracks from their two feature films. Besides these, there were three music albums with new music directors setting the tune. Spelling out AE's mission, Bhattacharya says: ''Our mission is to establish an entertainment company, based on strong business fundamentals, creating quality content. Our goals are:
1. To create quality Bengali films and Bengali music to gain leadership in the domestic market.
2. To produce both off-mainstream and mainstream films in Bengali.
3. To create a platform for excellence derived from existing artistes and at the same time, to open a gateway for new talents for films and music.
4. To establish a professional and a transparent corporate culture.
5. To implement an efficient business system and achieve profitability.''
What solutions has he conceived of in the present situation? ''As possible solutions, we have decided to:
- establish a business system that addresses production and direct distribution issues that will ensure maximum transparency in collection;
- create a trustworthy business platform and incorporate quality filmmakers into the overall system;
- obtain both product and market diversification to minimise risk; and
- Establish an accurate MIS and make efficient changes to the business process.''
And Bhattacharya never sits idle. Presently he is his thinking of bringing out a DVD version of Mondo Meyer Upakhyan for the international market. The movie has received critical acclaim from the press and is slated for release this month.