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Punjabi Film Industry Needs Good Stories More Than Stars, Says Top Producer Rajan Batra

Punjab Film Producer-Distributor Rajan Batra

While the Punjabi film industry is beginning to grow, there are many growing pains like costs of production, including star-cast salaries which are going through the roof with new producers coming in the market to offer big money but these producers end up losing their shirt. They are part of the problem the industry is experiencing because the kind of money being offered by inexperienced new producers can’t be sustained, says top Punjabi film producer Rajan Batra.

By R. Paul Dhillon

SURREY – Top Punjabi film producer Rajan Batra, who is in Vancouver for some R&R vacation and some business of scouting for future shoots in BC, says the industry needs to become more united if it wants to grow and expand its business worldwide.

“We don’t even have a producers’ association in Punjab and it is something that we desperately need.  To bring more attention to the promotion, production and distribution of the Punjabi film industry, we need to create such organizations,” said Batra, who visited the LINK offices on Thursday.

“We need a producers association to keep costs in control and to establish an industry standard where both stars and other talent work in a professional, organized environment to complete films on time and on budget so that producers can recoup their investment and make the industry stronger.

From left: Vancouver-based actor-producer Joti Sahota, Rajan Batra and Jatt James Bond producer Gurdeep Dhillon at the LINK office

Batra, who has produced and distributed hits like Mel Karade Rabba, Jihne Mera Dil Luteya, Yaar Anmulle, and Pure Punjabi, told the LINK that Punjabi cinema has grown by leaps and bounds in the last decade after being in the doldrums so long during the 90s when it practically evaporated.

But while the Punjabi film industry is beginning to grow, there are many growing pains like costs of production, including star-cast salaries are going through the roof with new producers coming in the market to offer big money but these producers end up losing their shirt and thereby are part of the problem the industry is experiencing because the kind of money being offered by inexperienced new producers can’t be sustained.

“While it is good that certain stars are making big money and they should if their films are super hits but it can’t work for everyone,” Batra said. “Sure new producers are offering big money but they don’t know that typically, it’s 40 percent cost for production (making the movie) and 60 percent to market and distribute the film. So if you end up spending 80 percent of your budget producing the movie and only 20 percent for release – it’s just not going to work and no one is going to buy the movie’s distribution rights for that high costs.

“And this is the reason there are so many movies sitting in the box (Dabbe Ch Band) because the producers spent everything on production and now want someone to release the movie but there are no takers,” Batra added.

By Batra’s estimation, most Punjabi movies, with the exception of top stars like Gippy Grewal and Diljit Dosanjh, can’t spend more than three crore ($450,000-$500,000) on all costs related to the movie, including marketing, prints and distribution expenses (P&A costs).

“If they want to ensure return of their investment and some profit, they can’t exceed these total costs of making a film as otherwise there is no return and the losses can be unsustainable for a producer and can force him out of business or delay producing future projects,” Batra said.

While the Punjabi film industry has seen an increase of 15-20 percent revenue overseas over the last several years, there is still not much revenue from satellite rights as there are not that many Punjabi channels and there is a monopoly which is keeping the price for satellite rights down.

Batra said digital revenue has been healthy and is growing with loss of DVD market due to rampant piracy but more revenue streams for the films can be established if the industry can find some unity and help to promote the industry worldwide events year-round.

“There is much to be excited about in the growth of Punjabi cinema and industry but we do have to take steps to improve – both creatively in doing many different genres of stories which the audience can appreciate and not make too many comedies which look like the old Shankatta albums that were put out by Punjabi comedians. We also need more than singers to be the face of our cinema – we need good actors and I’m not saying singers can’t be good actors as that has been proven by people like Diljit Dosanjh, who is a very good actor. But we need more professional actors in this industry and a diversity of creative stories and then I think the industry will grow by leaps and bounds,” he said.

Batra, who is visiting Vancouver and Canada for the first time for both business and pleasure, is excited about the line-up of his upcoming films which include Yaar Annmulle 2, Mukhtiar Chadha starring Dosanjh, and Hindi film Titoo MBA, which is a Hindi film with new stars.

About the Author: R. Paul Dhillon is the Editor of the South Asian LINK Newspaper. He is an award winning journalist and filmmaker. His debut feature film was Sweet Amerika starring Bollywood veteran Gulshan Grover, a drama set around the time of 9/11 attacks in New York, which he co-wrote, produced and directed.

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