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Articles May - June 2019

THE FAMOUS STORY

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THE FAMOUS STORY

The more than seven-decade-old Famous Studios at Mahalaxmi, one of the film industry’s oldest and iconic studios, has come a long way since its inception in 1946. Famous has invested substantially into its studios over the years and the PT team met up with Anant Roongta, the third-generation scion, now at the helm, to find out how the company is playing the long game by rolling the dice with unique services and solutions.
As expected, Roongta spoke about Famous Studio’s future plans including the company’s upcoming co-working space and how it fits in with the company’s three main philosophies - invest in technology, do not overcommit and help make great content. Smita Rai reports on the fresh energy and perspective being rapidly induced into the family business.



Armed with a degree in Marketing and Finance and International Business from University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, and Aston University respectively, and after learning the dynamics of the Indian business world at Fanatic Sports and GVK, Anant Roongta decided to enter the family business at Famous Studios.

As he takes us around the never-ending corridors of the Famous Studio building at Mahalaxmi explaining his future plans for the company, it is evident that he is working towards achieving a larger long term goal and set the company up for bigger payoffs down the road.


Anant Roongta (l) with his father Arun Roongta

There is a lot of history, legacy and talent that has come out of the Famous Studios building in Mahalaxmi. The family philosophy of making big and early bets on new technologies and not restricting themselves to being just another studio, helped Famous get a head start in the industry. “The drive to continuously succeed in every generation and every era of the filmmaking business stems from a certain ethic that has been instilled by my grandfather Jagmohan Roongta and my father Arun Roongta – the ethics of introducing the latest technology and offering all stakeholders a chance to achieve their dreams. In 1946, when we first set up Famous, my grandfather decided that this has to be the first air-conditioned studio in Asia. Famous was one of the very few professional studios available at that time where one could come and shoot in the comfort of an air-conditioned ambience and it was a big deal at that time. Moving forward we invested in the Mitchell-camera, which was globally a very well know brand at that time. For us to be entrenched in this business, it was important that we presented more offerings to the market. We first set up the camera department and then the film processing laboratory in the 1970s and we started producing feature films. This was followed by set construction and eventually in 1985, we applied for a digital video services license from the I&B ministry, which we got, and became one of India’s first post-production houses. In the period between 1960s and 1980s, we had everything one could offer under one roof here in Mahalaxmi,” he says.


The advent of the digital age necessitated that the studio re-explored and reinvented the entire value chain. The studio collaborated with companies like Autodesk, Spirit and Arri. In early 1992, Famous entered the sound recording business with the birth of Galactica, which was one of India’s first international grade sound recording studios. This asset has served the company well, as now Famous has expanded to four sound facilities, including the recently licensed Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 HE home facility.

It’s fair to say that Famous was technically one step ahead, propelled largely by the guidance of core family values. “Though we have continuously invested in people and technology, we have never overleveraged. We have always invested and expanded in our own capacity. We have never raised any debt which we have not been able to service. It’s always been a philosophy with my family to only invest in as much as you can, which is the reason why many other studios have come and gone but we have gradually expanded and now we are offering services, which no one in India is,” says Roongta.

Not all of Famous’ bets have reaped rich rewards though. “In the early 2000s we also set up an old film restoration division. Thought it wasn’t very successful we did restore films like Sholay and Mr. India.”

FUTURE TECH AT FAMOUS

Today, Famous is laying emphasis on future tech, inspite of some who are at odds with the company’s business model. The studio has expanded into offering high end production services such as Motion Capture, Phantom Flex tabletop production, Dolby Atmos audio mixing and a brand new creative Co-working space called The Famous Working Company which is due to launch in June this year. “As a third generation member who has entered the business two years back, I have the opportunity and am focused on developing the business for the next generation,” enthuses Roongta.

Motion Capture:

Famous recently collaborated with Centroid UK, a pioneer and leading Motion Capture facility based out of Pinewood Studios in London who have worked on major Hollywood projects, films and AAA games such as Spectre, Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet of the Apes and Assassin’s Creed. As part of the JV, Famous has setup a dedicated studio in Mumbai to build an international grade mocap studio, spanning over 1500 square feet, that houses technologies capable of producing live on set capture, virtual production, cinema layout, crowd simulation and facial as well as body animation services making it India’s first end-to-end Motion Capture Lab.

“We had the existing technology and all we had to do was reinvest and have it up and running for the next generation of producers. Motion Capture enables live capture, and makes it very easy for an animator to add a live character on the captured data which adds a different level of realism. It opens up a big opportunity for the gaming industry too. This technology offers solutions to different industries in media and entertainment. The benefit for Famous is that our visual effects team, Famous House of Artists gets an opportunity to explore, learn and create characters which can be offered to clients as part of a complete workflow.”

Internationally, Motion Capture has contributed greatly to film-making & gaming, through films like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, ‘Godzilla’, ‘Ant-Man’, ‘Mad Max’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed’. Bollywood however has not really embraced it though the South Indian movie industry has already. “Stakehokders in Bollywood are yet to embrace this technology. They probably feel it’s going to cost them more, but they don’t realize that they save a lot of time. Saving time is far more important than money because you will eventually save money, if you save time.”


Famous Studio’s Founder - Mr. J.B. Roongta (r) at the BBC Studios in London in 1961 for an interview on his contribution to Indian Cinema

Co-Working Space:

Also on the cards for Famous, is the ambitious co-working space business, which will offer current and next generation of creative professional access to a world-class office space in addition to the studio’s existing production and post-production infrastructure. By offering the entire content services value chain under one roof, Famous hopes to add value to the industry and cement their name as India’s leading creative hub. “This is is going to be a game changer for Famous because there is no space in India where there is a co-working space clubbed with a studio and access to facilities and leading talent. We are opening a 140-seater next month here at Mahalaxmi and it’s expandable to 400 seats once the space fills up, which we believe it will in a couple of months. We have named it the Famous Working Company so it resonates. We want to invite companies in the media and tech space who are working across the board, across different industries to come in and use this space. Through a facility like Famous, we offer a workspace and a chance to collaborate and use the facilities at much discounted rates,” explains Roongta.

Phantom Flex Tabletop Production:

Famous launched a Phantom flex visual lab in 2018. “We have been successfully working with agencies and producers on creating stunning visuals for their brands. Our in-house team of experts and engineers work closely with our clients to produce high quality visuals. A great output can be achieved with the Phantom camera and we have a whole set of lights, rigs and post-production that go with it.”


The international grade mocap studio, spanning over 1500 square feet, housing technologies capable of producing live on set capture, virtual production, cinema layout, crowd simulation and facial as well as body animation services making it India’s first end-to-end Motion Capture Lab

Dolby Atmos Studio:

Famous Digital recently joined the elite ranks of facilities globally with a state of the art Dolby Atmos 7.1.4. HE room. The former Galatica A control room in Famous’ Santacruz facility, has been converted into a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos HE certified mixing room. The new studio boasts a custom-built Dynaudio Acoustics M3 monitors, 18” subwoofer and Dynaudio surround and overhead speakers, Dolby recommended LG C8 4K HDR 65” monitor with Dolby Vision, Genelec nearfields, Avid S6-M40-32 fader console with dual Avid MTRX interfaces connected to a ProTools HDX|2 system, running 128 channels of MADI, 16 AES/ EBU, and 24 analog IO simultaneously. The studio also flaunts a certified hardware Dolby Atmos HE Renderer and the custom-built Argosy table by AVS in Germany. Full Story in Mar-Apr issue of PALM technology, pg. 30.

“We have gone ahead and secured the MPAA compliance, an integral ingredient for any post studio and haven’t left an inch in terms of investment. Everything is state-of-the art in this studio and I have very high expectations. I feel we should be able to get the entire ROI within 3-4 years and this is not an optimistic estimate, this is a very realistic estimate,” asserts Roongta.

When queried if the saturation of recording studios in Mumbai poses a challenge and his take on balancing the investment in a recording studio, Roongta says, “The past few years has seen an explosion of new recording studios. Some of India’s leading creative sound designers and sound engineers have set up their own shop. The challenge is definitely there, but for Famous, along with the audio services, we also have the opportunity of offering the video services as a package deal. Famous is more of a one-stop shop solution. Sound is an integral part of an experience. The next big technology is going to be immersive media so at the end of the day, our technology has the capability to complement the visuals. Yes, in today’s scenario, to invest in a big studio in Mumbai may not be easy simply because of prohibitive overheads. That being said, with the introduction of 5G and cheaper devices, the business and demand for content will only grow and there will be a requirement for state of the art sound studios”

Feature Film Production:

“For the first time in over 10 years, we are betting big on IP and production with a feature film. It’s a 90 minute feature on a very relatable topic with Kirti Kulhari, Nivedita Bhattacharya and Medha Shankar in lead roles. Kay Kay Menon plays a cameo as well. We are looking to invest in content and build our own IP. We have stayed away from producing films because of the nature of the film industry but this time around the right people have backed us. The movie is scheduled for a July/August release.”

In the last decade alone, Roongta admits to having invested in the range of 25 to 30 crores plus, which includes buying property, continuous upgrade in Visual effects facilities, overhaul of Color Grading/Online Editing facilities, the recent Dolby Atmos studio, investment into content security like MPAA compliance and now the the Co-working space. “Although it may not sound very high as compared to some other global studios out there, we are proud that 80% of our investments have been successful and this again goes back to our philosophy of not overcommitting. This investment is just in technology and space. I don’t even know how much money has been reinvested into this building to maintain it. That’s a separate investment altogether,” he says.


The former Galatica A control room in Famous’ Santacruz facility converted into a state-of-the art 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos HE certified mixing room

"Although the story remains the same,
the writing has changed."

With Roongta moving in so many directions at the same time coupled with the grand scale of the ambition, selling the plan to the family must have been complex. Difference of opinion in any business is inevitable and Roongta admits wrangling with his father, though he believes that the advantages of being in a family run business far outweigh the disadvantages. “At the end of the day, he has so much more experience. I would say there are a lot more advantages then disadvantages. You naturally get a lot of mentoring from your seniors and the team that builds around the family business becomes a family, so that’s key. The team is a very close-knit team with some of them having more than 25 years of experience. They have all started their careers at Famous. Many of the team members have seen me grow up and they see more similarities between me and my grandfather and my father. Our team meetings are very casual but highly productive. I see potential in our team and my informal management style has propelled every team member to act as a leader. We set targets and then reflect on performance in order to make certain adjustments. There have to be certain management elements which are corporatized but the family owned business aspect adds a lot of freedom,” he explains.

FUTURE VISION

Going forward, the company plans on introducing an incubator for the Media and Entertainment industry by adding labs, live demonstrations, masterclasses, education and investment opportunities to for upcoming media and tech companies. By hosting master classes and inviting the best speakers in the industry to talk about their experiences, the incubator service would provide tech-savvy and creative companies or individuals an avenue to convert their ideas into a proper business. Mentorship would also be an integral part of the incubator and eventually Famous would like to host events where companies can pitch to corporates for investment.

“It is very important to reinvent, offer the best and maintain the legacy. It is very easy for the legacy to fade away. There have been a lot of significant changes in terms of the company structure ever since I entered the family business two years back. It is operating differently because we now have team strength of over 250 creatives. Earlier, we worked out of Mahalaxmi, but now we have five facilities in Santacruz. Although the story remains the same, the writing has changed. I’m adopting a different approach in terms of hiring talent. In the 1990s and early 2000s when the post business was really picking up, we focused our recruiting based on experience, but now I’m changing my approach by hiring graduates and young professionals who are keen on learning, exploring and adding value to our business. They blend into the culture and it’s already proving successful,” he says.

“My main vision is to give back to the community through the workspace, through mentorship, incubation and training. Secondly, we want to scale up our VFX offering because of the huge demand. My aim is in the next five years to have a team of atleast 400-500 people in our VFX team constantly churning out work for all platforms, whether it is OTT or feature films or TV commercials. Last but not least, my dream is to reenergize the original Famous Studio building which saw a massive slump when lot of people moved to the suburbs. We still have producers calling Famous their home. That’s a very big takeaway for me. I want the next generation of talent to work out of Famous Mahalaxmi and bring it back to its erstwhile glory,” he concludes.


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