Fox Star Studios India is raising the bar for distribution of Hollywood product in the territory, while co-producing Bollywood films including blockbuster My Name Is Khan. CEO Vijay Singh talks to Udita Jhunjhunwala
Vijay Singh enjoys the process of creating new companies. So when he was presented with the challenge of establishing Fox Star Studios India (FSSI) in Mumbai in 2008, he jumped at the chance. Two years later the film production and distribution outfit, established as a joint venture between 20th Century Fox and broadcaster Star India (both NewsCorp entities), has already scored a Bollywood smash outside of India, distributed numerous Hollywood titles and become a leading producer.
Seated in the conference room of the FSSI offices in Star House, Mumbai, CEO Singh declares himself satisfied with the company’s swift growth. “The objective of the two years was to lay the building blocks for the business and to develop a strong foundation for the future,” he says.
Since its first Fox release, What Happens In Vegas in 2008, FSSI has been aggressively marketing and distributing Hollywood films such as Avatar, Slumdog Millionaire, Ice Age 3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The A-Team, Knight And Day and Predators. It has raised the bar for distribution of Hollywood product in India at a time when the multiplex arena is showing strong growth.
“We want to build relationships with the best people in the industry and change some of the rules of the game.”
The company’s strategy, Singh explains, has been to establish a national theatrical distribution operation by working closely with multiplex operators. “We are relevant to a chain because they also need a pipeline of product and, over time, we will be providing both Hollywood and Bollywood too,” he says.
Singh says that Hollywood titles, which are claiming a rising marketshare in India, are “not just a flash in the pan”. And with a line-up including Wall Street 2, the re-release of Avatar, Unstoppable, Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader and Gulliver’s Travels, he is optimistic about the future of that business.
Another key building block is Bollywood production. FSSI co-produced blockbuster My Name Is Khan and has announced a slate of five films, all co-productions with Indian partners.
“We decided to do about five to six films a year playing the role of partners in the process of production, as opposed to just cutting a cheque,” Singh explains. “We want to build relationships with the best people in the industry and change some of the rules of the game.” As co-producers, FSSI’s strength lies in being able to leverage its Hollywood stakeholders and provide co-production partners with access to talent from the West.
Among the forthcoming Bollywood projects are Rohan Sippy’s Dum Maro Dum, two films with producer-director Vipul Shah and two Tamil films with AR Murugadoss.
“We had a sense that producers were questioning what value a studio deal could add, which is why we chose My Name Is Khan. The objective was not only to establish a relationship with [director] Karan Johar and [star] Shah Rukh Khan and to partner on a very prestigious project, but also to take a project and demonstrate what we can do with it. My Name Is Khan is now the number one film outside of India and we have opened up new markets for Bollywood, like Syria, Jordan, Poland, Spain and Italy.”
FSSI also worked closely on promotion of Khan with Star TV, a part of joint venture partner Star India. Its other Indian release so far has been Quick Gun Murugun, an acquisition.
“We were a late entrant but I think we are succeeding in building a differentiated advantage”
While he is reluctant to share budgets, Singh does say that FSSI insists on financial transparency. “The co-production model ensures transparency on budgets, as against acquisitions where you pay a premium. And if the film works, then both parties stand to make money.”
Singh is clear that his decisions are informed by “what appeals to the Indian market and diaspora around the world”. In this he says he has the support of the company’s partners: “This is a very important initiative for both Fox and Star. We get a lot of support from Los Angeles. Sanford Panitch, who heads Fox International Productions, works closely with us. And I work closely with Uday Shankar, CEO, and Sanjay Gupta, COO, of Star India. It’s a synergistic relationship.”
Looking back at the last two years, Singh says: “We have laid most of those building blocks, but we are also aware there are ongoing challenges and ongoing priorities. And even though we were a late entrant, I think we are succeeding in building a differentiated advantage.”
- Graduated in economics from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. After completing an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai in 1977, Singh joined Tata Administrative Services.
- After a short stint with the Unilever group, he became managing director of Sony Music Entertainment India in 1996.
- Moved to London in 2002 as managing director, developing markets with the Tetley Group.
- Joined broadcaster Star India in April 2007 as president, strategy and corporate development.
- Set up Fox Star Studios India in 2008.