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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



New Year’s Special: Distributor Anil Thadani in an exclusive interview with Siraj Syed, Part I

New Year’s Special: Distributor Anil Thadani in an exclusive interview with Siraj Syed, Part I

Reclusive film distributor Anil Thadani, who is known to avoid the media, talks to Siraj Syed about himself, his business and issues facing the film industry. Anil distributed films some 30 films in 2022, including blockbusters like KGF Chapter 2, Bhool Bhulaiya 2 and Kantara.

Siraj: What do the letters ‘a a’ in your company’s name, ‘a a films’, stand for?

Anil: I would rather not talk about it.

Siraj: Fine. We’ll move on. Tell us about your family’s association with cinema.

Anil: We were a joint family. My eldest Chacha (paternal uncle), Uddhav, who was the head of the family, started this business. Then, all his brothers joined in, including my father, Kundan. The business grew, and till the time of the single screen era, we were the single largest exhibition chain holders in the Bombay circuit. Those days, Indian used to be divided into territories, and there used to be distributors for each territory. We used to control over 100 cinemas in the Bombay territory, which comprised Maharashtra, Goa, North Karnataka and Saurashtra.

Siraj: As such major exhibitors, were the Thadanis never tempted to produce a film themselves?

Anil: In fact, my Chachchas did produce one film. Unfortunately, it took 4-5 years to make and did not do well commercially, in spite of having Rishi Kapoor in the lead role and Raj Khosla as director. It was called Do Premee. (Co-starring Moushumi Chatterji, Do Premee was released in 1980. The name of the producer is mentioned as Kundan A. Thadani, on the web).

Siraj: That was the only attempt your family made at producing a film?

Anil: Yes, first and last.

Siraj: I believe you lived in a joint family…

Anil: All of us lived together, in that bungalow on Linking Road, Bandra.

Siraj: Do you still own cinemas?

Anil: No. None.

Siraj: The family gave-up all of that?

Anil: Well, it was a joint family business. After my Chachcha passed away, the next generation was not into this business. It was just me and a cousin of mine. Others were all overseas, so they wanted ‘out’ of this business. We liquidated all our assets, and shut down the exhibitors’ business.

Siraj: When did you become a distributor?

Anil: I became a distributor while the exhibition business was still on. Till then, I was helping out my Dad and the family in the exhibition business. I wanted to do something on my own, but my Dad did not want me to compete with the family business. So, I chose another vertical. A cousin of mine also decided to do the same, but he is not active in the field any more.

Siraj: Have you produced any film yourself?

Anil: No. Not really, but I have had the pleasure of being associated as a Presenter in a few films.

Siraj: Have you never felt the urge to…

Anil: No. It is not my cup of tea, and I might not be good at it. So, I would rather do what I like.

Siraj: What are some of the standard distribution contracts like? Give me some general terms.

Anil: There are different permutations and combinations. There is no rule of thumb as such. We just take over the rights for whichever territory that we negotiate for, and take over and distribute the film. I could even do it for free.

Siraj: Free?

Anil: I am just saying that if you walk into a shop and want to buy something, the owner might give it to you at a fixed price or at 50% discount or 60% discount, depending on your relationship with him.

Siraj: There is no standard or benchmark…?

Anil: Since age old days, things have been going on. There is plus and minus, and that is how it works.

Siraj: Is it common now to sell world rights to just one distributor?

Anil: That is the norm. But there is also the option to divide the rights into all-India and overseas. That’s the preference of a producer and that is the preference of a distributor. In the old days, producers had to deal with ten different people, and that is a stressful situation. It is so much easier to deal with one distributor, or with a studio that produces the film with the producer, and releases it for them.

Siraj: When studios produce films, they do not need distributors, right?

Anil: Right. In such cases, people like me do not come into the picture.

Siraj: What is your stand on the Virtual Print Fee (VPF) that exhibitors charge the producer? In the olden days, a Print Fee made some sense if prints (copies) needed to be made to be shown at multiple cinemas. But now, there is practically no cost involved in making a digital copy, so why should a VPF be charged?

Anil: Earlier, the cinemas used to charge this fee for installing equipment and upgrading technology. But now, it should not be continued. Overseas (Hollywood) has done away with it. I think, with negotiations, conducted by bodies like the Film Producers’ Guild, we will have it discontinued here as well.

Siraj: Do you think it was a good idea to give incentives to multi-plexes, given that their owners were big businessmen?

Anil: It was a good idea. A lot of investment was going into buying land and building multi-plexes and the incentives were helpful in building an industry. I look at these incentives as kind of subsidies that some states in India offer when anybody shoots there, and the same applies to some countries, who offer high incentives to attract producers.

Siraj: Tell us about your tie-up with Karan Johar in Bahubali 2.

Anil: Karan is like family. It’s a pleasure working with Dharma (Productions) and Apurva, and everything was fantastic, so was the producer, so was Rajamouli Sir, so it became an association of like-mined people. It turned out be fruitful and path-breaking and it worked out fine for everyone. I have done such a tie-up with KGF 2 as well. Today, Baahubali 2 and KGF 2 are the two biggest top grossers of India. Luckily, my brand ‘a a films’ is associated with both of them. It’s just a pleasure. The producers, directors, actors…of both these films, have become like family today…Prabhaas and Yash…too. We started small, with Bahubali 1 and KGF 1, but they turned out to be giants in the sequels. It’s been amazing.

(End of Part I. Await Part II)

P.S.: This interview was possible solely through the good offices of Raveena Tandon, Mrs. Anil Thadani, with whom I share a very old acquaintance.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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