Telugu film producer Daggubati Suresh Babu: ‘In big films, stars have become producers’ 

The legendary Telugu film producer shares his thoughts on the divide between Hindi and South Indian film industries, changing roles of producers and the revolutionary new OTT platform

Murtaza Ali Khan

You have been associated with the Telugu film industry for a very long time. How has the role of a producer changed over the years?

The control has moved from the producer’s office to the director’s office, from the director’s office to a corporate’s office, or a star’s office. Earlier, the producer was the person who was putting everything into a film, whether hiring the story writer, getting the story done, taking it to a star, director and technicians, putting the finances together, etc. But once the distribution model started changing and once we started having people buying films instead of just distributing them, the entire dynamics changed. Now, the story writer doesn’t come to the producer to narrate a story. He directly goes to the director or a star to tell the story. Then they set the things up and eventually get a producer to finance the film. Today, the producer’s role is larger in small films than it is in the big films. For the average big film, the star himself and the director have become the producer. So, they have complete control.

There has been a great divide between the Hindi film industry and the movie industries in the South. Have you witnessed any changes in the recent years?

Hindi cinema has always taken the best talent from the South, whether a great heroine, cameraman, or technician, because they could pay much better. That is still the case and it will continue to be so. But our styles of storytelling have always been very different. Regional cinema is still very strong and it is very important for the country that it stays that way because only then, you will continue to hear different voices. Otherwise, just Hindi cinema will remain. When the GST was being implemented, I had keenly hoped that regional cinema would be given separate benefits. While some regional cinema industries like that of Telugu and Tamil are quite strong, the others are much smaller. They all need support and the government needs to support them. Only if you support them, the local stories will be told. India is one country but we have so many different cultures. We can’t just standardise and create one Indian culture.

How does the box office drive content in today’s age and time?

Today, everybody looks for a strong opening weekend. For that, everyone’s focus is on putting an eye-catching trailer in place. Earlier, the focus was more on songs and the poster to grab eyeballs in the lead-up to a film’s release. The first weekend has become very important today because viewing habits of people have changed dramatically. Nowadays, not many people are watching cinema during weekdays because of busier schedules and heavy traffic congestion.

So, the major business now happens over weekends. Also, there are so many alternative content options available at our disposal these days. This has reduced the number of tickets sold in cinemas. That’s something very alarming. Although, Baahubali 2 is the biggest hit, but it is not the most-watched film in the country, in terms of tickets sold. The number of tickets sold has actually come down over the years and it is only the value of money that has gone up. We must now concentrate on bringing more people to the theatres. Otherwise, films will be watched on other platforms only.

Hindi cinema is witnessing a dramatic shift in the recent times. Today, a Thugs of Hindostan fails but Badhaai Ho creates new records. What are your thoughts on these changing trends?

I feel this trend will continue. Every few years, you will have a big film that will bomb at the box office even as small films do well. There is no denying that people’s tastes are changing, but I still feel that the audience wants to watch big cinema. There is no doubt that if you make the right big cinema, people will watch it. But if you don’t, you can’t expect people to spend their hard-earned money on it. We still need stars. Today, we may have Marvel characters but people will always want stars. Take the case of cricket. There may be great cricket played all around but when Virat Kohli bats, everybody watches. We need to have stars and that’s what the media likes. It’s certainly heartening to see small-budget films doing well but we also need big cinema, and it is true of the world of cinema as a whole. But, it is also true that it’s becoming more and more difficult to put a big film together these days.

How are technological advancements changing cinematic storytelling? Are there any disadvantages of relying so heavily on technology?

I think we have only just begun. It’s going to be on the rise in the times to come. It’s a pool that will help us tell some old stories better. You see we have told Mahabharata many times in many formats but the next versions will be really amazing. We are trying to do a mythical film on Hiranyakashyapa now, which should be really amazing. Now, VFX will help us tell the same stories much better and I am sure Artificial Intelligence will further help push the boundaries of storytelling. Speaking of disadvantages in the times to come, we may no longer be able to tell simple poetic stories. Or even if we tell them, we will be using so much of technology that they might lose their essence. It is similar to asking ourselves whether mobile is good or bad for us. The fact is that, as a society, we have accepted it, whether it’s good or bad. So, the thing with technology is that we have lost out on a lot of things, but we have gained on something else.

What do you think the future holds in store for the Indian entertainment industry?

I think going forward, more over-the-top (OTT) platforms will come up and make a huge difference. There will be a blockchain-type of OTT technology sitting on the top of OTTs which will prove to be a real game-changer. It will allow people to access more content with more ease. Also, it will ensure that the content producers are able to generate the right amount of revenue for their content. We ourselves are currently working on such a technology. Once it’s ready, anyone would be able to put their content on it and for every viewing, you will get your exact value of money. I believe there is no accounting process than blockchain. The blockchain will see that the ledger is fixed and if you want to change one piece of the block, then you have to change the whole block. Hopefully, we will have it in place in another year.

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