Ashvini Yardi is the co-founder of Grazing Goat Pictures, a film production company she has founded with film actor Akshay Kumar. She has vast experience in television production and management and has worked in broadcast companies such as Viacom 18 and Zee Entertainment. At Zee TV, she ushered in iconic shows such as Banegi Apni Baat and Sailaab. She was given the task of establishing and designing an entertainment channel in India for Viacom 18 called Colors. During her time at the channel, she brought in shows such as Uttaran, Balika Vadhu, Bigg Boss, Khatron Ke Khiladi, Veer Shivaji, Laado and took the new channel to the number one spot in India. Yardi was hailed as one of the top 50 powerful people of 2009 by Business Week.
Yardi has been frequently questioned on her production firm's unusual name. A goat, she says, is a fleet-footed consistent animal, not overly ambitious but carefully achieving its goals. There couldn't be any other name for her firm, she says. Edited excerpts from an interview with FE Brandwagon's Anushree Chandran:
After nearly two decades in the television programming business, why did you decide to venture into cinema?
I am a person who needs new challenges. After these many years in programming, it was starting to get to me. In 1992, satellite television started out in India and I arrived on the scene in 1993. We were also launching Zee's English channels and Zee Cinema and I got huge exposure in all of them. I was in the Zee network for 15 long years and got a tremendous amount of exposure and experience at the network. I was heading both the business and programming verticals, for their English channels. After that, I moved on to Colors and the channel rose to number one position in a few months, and created history. I then began thinking of starting my own company and I brought it up with the Viacom senior management. I considered producing a film, while I was still working for Colors. But with the amount of time that you need to invest in television, there is no room for anything else. I had briefly spoken about my plans to some of my friends, which included actor Akshay Kumar. After a couple of months, he called me up and said that actor Paresh Rawal has a script and would I be interested in hearing it? I loved the script. He then suggested that we put up a company jointly and do this film together. And Oh My God!, the film, happened.
What kind of films are you looking to make?
We are looking to feature strong topical issues in our films. 3 Idiots is one such example. Similarly, Oh My God! questions the fundamentals of religion and idol worship. 72 Miles - Ek Pravas, our Marathi film got huge critical acclaim. We are also doing some other regional cinema. Our Punjabi film Bhaji in Problem will release in November. Another film that we are working on is Antar, which is a Marathi film. It deals with non-resident Indians. As far as Bollywood goes, we have Fugly where we are launching a whole lot of new artistes. There's another Akshay Kumar film which we haven't titled yet. It's a remake of a foreign film. We also look at book adaptations. For instance, Anuja Chauhan's books - The Zoya Factor and Those Pricey Thakur Girls.
Are you also looking to produce television content?
By next year, Grazing Goat will start a television vertical. Right now, we are tied up with various movie projects and television needs a lot of our attention. But I have hired a lot of people with a television background, and I think that we can soon start producing television content. I've started watching television carefully to capture all the trends.
Could you talk about your digital plans?
We have started a digital arm and its first offering is a YouTube channel called FOMO (Fashion on My Own) which is catering to both Hindi and English audiences. We are targetting women in small towns who are interested in the make-up of film stars such as Katrina Kaif or Kareena Kapoor and who have no access to that kind of information. We can do a lot more in this space and I hope to be a strong player in this segment. The deal with YouTube is structured in such a way that they get the advertisers to monetise it, and it's a revenue sharing model. Because of the response we got for FOMO, we are looking at starting a couple of more channels on YouTube.
Have you ever considered using the crowd sourcing model either for funding or for scripts?
When we launched, it was an open door. A lot of people came in with scripts. Antar itself came that way. But crowd sourcing scripts is an area that requires a lot of legal checks. But crowd funding, we could certainly think about but at a later stage. I'd like to also support films from independent film-makers. I am in talks with a few people, who have great films but don't have a release frame, because they need backing.
Which are the regional markets that interest you the most?
Marathi is, of course, something that we are looking at. A Marathi film Duniyadari was made at a cost of R1.5 crore and it did R25 crore worth business. In Bengali, Marathi and Malayalam languages, you can really play around with the subjects. Punjabi is more like Hindi- it involves subjects that appeal to the masses. But the box office for Punjabi films has really picked up in the last few years. Whatever you make in the domestic market, you also make in other markets such as the UK, Canada and Australia. The Punjabi diaspora is huge. The market is growing visibly and the actors charge a lot.
How has the advent of big studios changed the business?
Studios have come in, in the last five years. The industry is more organised now and more systematic. Studios have a large part to play in some of the new trends. We have done five movies and they have all had different models. The first three were made in association with Viacom Motion Pictures. We have personal funding in Antar and we are not sure if we are selling it to a studio yet. Fugly, we are doing on our own.
We are also looking to be ROI (return on interest) focussed. The biggest hit of the year in Hindi, is Aashiqui 2. From what I've heard, they made it with a R10 crore budget, and got R80 crore out of it. I think there's a lot to learn from Vishesh Films.
What are your views on branded entertainment?
We did a superb innovation for Godrej in the film Oh My God!. There was a scene in which an earthquake ravages Paresh Rawal's shop, but the only thing saved is his insurance papers. Because the papers are locked in a Godrej Safe. Godrej was so happy with the integration that they wanted to participate in all our films. I call them our "shagun" (good omen) brand. I am talking to a couple of brands for Fugly, which is a youth film. There are a lot of brands that are looking to target the youth-like the Nano.
Copyright 2013 The Indian Express Online Media Pvt. Ltd., distributed by Contify.com
Credit: Anushree Chandran
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