Business Today

Eros' Kishore Lulla on Bollywood's future

Kishore Lulla, 49, who heads Eros International, was ranked among the richest Asians in Britain in The Sunday Times list of 2011. Edited excerpts from an interview with Anusha Subramanian.

Anusha Subramanian        Last Updated: February 20, 2012  | 09:42 IST

He was among the richest Indian with a net worth of 240 million pounds and with a family fortune of 206 million pounds as per The Sunday Times rich list released in 2011. He has Hollywood studios running after him trying to buy him out. But, Kishore Lulla's (49) plan was always to create an Indian rival to Hollywood studios through his Eros International , the global integrated media and entertainment company.

He played a significant role in the launch of the UK's first 24-hour Bollywood digital satellite and pay TV channel on the BSkyB platform. He has been instrumental in evolving Eros from a film distribution company into an international vertically integrated content business.
Business Today's Anusha Subramanian spoke to him on how he plans to build a global giant and his views on the Indian film industry.

Could you trace the journey of Eros from the time you started till date?
We had a humble beginning in the late 70s, merely selling film rights to local agents overseas. Today, after 30 years, we are India's first vertically integrated film company.

Why did you decide to access the capital markets so late?
By mid-2000 Eros International became quite well known and we had a huge library of almost 2000 films. In 2005, some Hollywood studios and US media companies came to meet me and wanted to buy out Eros. That's when I decided that this is the right time to access the capital markets. Also because I realised then that the next ten years would be the years when this business and this industry had the potential to grow leaps and bounds. I had decided that even if I have to sell this company, I will do it after 10-15 years and definitely not now. In 2006, Eros Plc was the first Indian promoter company that got listing on AIM and in 2010 Eros International Media- the India company - listed on BSE.

You had a global business, you could have gone anywhere, why did you list your shares on Alternative Investment Market (AIM) first?
Yes, we are a global company. 40 per cent of our revenues come from India, 60 per cent comes from international - namely US, UK, Far East and Middle East. Then I was also based in UK for over 20 years so when we were thinking of going to the capital market, we had various option, whether to go to India or US or London. Then looking at the peer group, Eros was comparable maybe to the five studios in the US or the nearest was Lionsgate; hence we listed in London looking at the requirement on AIM which is less cumbersome than the Nasdaq in New York. UK was also quite an obvious choice rather than India as there were no peer group companies in India that we were comparable to.

Where do you see Bollywood heading in the next decade?
Bollywood today is where Hollywood was in the 1940s. It's at exactly the same point, structurally. But, what Hollywood did in 50 years, India will do in ten. This will be made possible by today's new-age technology, such as the internet and because India is booming. This is reflecting in the box office revenues where some Indian movies have started clocking over Rs 100 crore. That day is not far when a Bollywood film will gross $100 million within two weeks and that's the day when the world will also take note of Bollywood. I am convinced that the growth has started and Bollywood will become a global phenomenon in the next 10 years. India is doing all the right things. The atmosphere in India is conducive for growth. There are over 400 million middle class and its growing. We have the technology and talent and we make films at 10 per cent of the cost of Hollywood films.

What are your rules in business? What gets you worried?
I have only one rule in business - Don't lose money. Nothing gets me worried. As soon as I hit the pillow I am fast asleep and I sleep very well at night. My philosophy in life is that 'Whatever happens, happens for the best'.

Three things you want to do to enhance shareholder value?
Give it your best, deliver what you promise and be honest. Believe in your own conviction and have your targets and meet them. The way I work is I make a wish list at the end of the year - which is my plan for the next five years. Then I take baby steps and execute the plans. When I began in the 1980s, I could not have planned for the next 30 years then. But today I know in the next ten years where the company will be. I believe in taking baby steps and have a grand vision which can be executed with a great team in place.   

Do you partake in the creative aspects of the film? Have you ever changed a film?
I do part take in the creative process. If I am not convinced and do not believe in the project, I will not put my money into it. It's better to have your fights and disagreements well in advance before the film goes on the floor. We are normally there at the ideating stage before the script is locked. Once the script is locked we do not interfere after that.

What would you attribute your success to?
Hardwork, honesty, family, management and all the partners we work with. This is a team effort and without a team effort we can never be successful.

What is Kishore Lulla like when not at work?
I go to sleep at 10 pm. I start my day at 6 am with a little bit of meditation. Then I go to the gym. I set out to office around 10 am. I get about 250 mails a day and I respond to each one personally. And then my day passes in planned meetings that have been scheduled and conference calls. Earlier, I used to travel quite a lot, almost 180 days of the year I used to travel on business. Now we have different business heads for various divisions. I have reduced my travel and do conference calls instead. Now, I only travel for my holidays and probably 3-4 times to India on business.

When do you plan to retire?  
My dream is to see an Indian film gross $1 billion.. and that's the day I will retire.

Your favourite films?
"Sholay", "Kagaz Ke Phool", "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" and "Love Aaj Kal"

Five years from now where do you see Eros.. globally and in India
Next five years is going to be the most exciting year. We have been growing and therefore have to tread with caution to maintain the position we have achieved. We cannot afford to make any mistake at this stage. The next five years will bring in lot of growth. And our focus is going to be on digital. We have already started launching several initiatives on the digital front.

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