Bringing fresh content to small screens

One was in Singapore, the other in Mumbai but brothers Sudhanshu and Saurabh Tewari were facing the same dilemma - their careers had reached a plateau, they were no longer excited about their corporate jobs and they wanted to strike out on their own.

Mr Sudhanshu, 34, came to Singapore from Lucknow in 2000 to do a degree in computer engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS). He then worked as a technology programme manager at Credit Suisse before moving to JP Morgan, retaining the same position.

His elder brother Mr Saurabh, 40, who has a bachelor of arts from Lucknow University, has worked with a variety of TV channels in Mumbai, including Zee TV and Colors. As associate vice-president and head of content for fiction programming, he played a key role in the launch of the channel Colors and was involved in creating the full line-up of fiction shows for it.

Since they were not keen on continuing with their jobs, the brothers decided to start a company focusing on television, where Mr Saurabh's expertise lies. Said Mr Sudhanshu, who is now a Singapore citizen: "I wanted to explore something other than the banking technology sector because I was getting bored with it. Furthermore, we saw room for improvement in television. There are many similar shows focusing on family melodrama catering to the female audience. We wanted to introduce new content." He also roped in Mr Deepak Gurnani, 55, who he met through a mutual friend at NUS, for the start-up.

In 2014, Mr Sudhanshu, who is married with a 2½-year-old daughter, set up Tequila Shot Entertainment (TSE) in Singapore while his brother started Parin Multimedia in Mumbai at the same time. Mr Saurabh is in charge of the drama content shot and produced at Parin Multimedia, while Mr Sudhanshu and Mr Gurnani helm operations at TSE and raise funds for the start-up's productions.

Mr Saurabh leads a team of 10 employees in the operations, finance and creative departments in Mumbai. Every alternate month, Mr Sudhanshu and Mr Gurnani take turns to fly to Mumbai to keep track of the finances and discuss the progress of dramas with Mr Saurabh and the team. For every drama, the team hires about 150 people in roles such as creative artists, directors, actors and production staff.

Their first drama Rangrasiya was aired on Colors in January to November 2014 and their second drama Phir Bhi Na Maane… Badtameez Dil was shown on Star Plus from July to December last year.

But it wasn't a smooth ride for them initially as investors were apprehensive. "We were starting a company, so creating the credibility to raise funding here was a challenge," shared Mr Sudhanshu.

Still, they have managed to overcome that, raising close to $1 million from investors in Singapore for the first two dramas. They're expecting about $500,000 to $800,000 in funding for their upcoming productions this year.

The start-up's most recent production is a web drama series that was launched on March 29 on a platform called Voot by Viacom 18 Digital Ventures. The platform enables viewers to watch the drama via the Internet on their smart gadgets, without requiring them to subscribe to a traditional cable or satellite pay-TV service.

The drama titled Chinese Bhasad is an Indian-Chinese love story shot in Lucknow and Mumbai. It will be aired on Voot around the first week of this month. Initially, the team wanted to hire a Chinese actress from Singapore to play the lead female character but they managed to find one in Mumbai who has had roles in dramas in India. The Chinese character's family members are also played by Chinese actors from India.

Now, the start-up is facing another challenge, said Mr Sudhanshu, and that is "transitioning from TV to digital content on-the-go where people can easily access web dramas from their smart gadgets while waiting for the bus or train".

He added: "We want to offer drama content for viewers on the go. We shouldn't just be known as a TV show producer. If Netflix is coming to India and is looking for original Indian content, it should look for us."

Currently there are many online channels in India such as TVF and AIB, which focus on making dramas on-the-go for audiences. But Mr Sudhanshu shared that their content is targeted at the 20 to 30-year-old age group. "The shows might not cater to someone who lives in rural India. So there's a huge demand to cater to a different audience. We want to get onto online channels and produce shows that will appeal to a person living in a small town - something different and unique."

What's next Aside from breaking into that market, the team is also continually working on their next TV drama, which will start shooting in mid-April. It revolves around a girl who thinks she can solve problems by cooking. It will be launched in June and aired on one of the global Indian channels.

The start-up earns its revenue through each TV contract with the channels that air its dramas.

Mr Sudhanshu feels that seeing the content come alive on the TV screen is the most rewarding experience. "From thinking of the idea, getting the show approved, delivering it and then seeing it on the TV screen - it's a big achievement."

The team plans to scale new heights and produce content for the silver screen next year, releasing one Hindi film each year. It also plans to set up an acting school in the near future. This will not exclusively be for actors with Parin Multimedia but also for other production houses in India. "In five to 10 years, we see ourselves as a premium content-making production house," said Mr Sudhanshu.

amritak@sph.com.sg


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