Balaji Telefilms to start chain of acting, editing schools

The company launched an Institute of Creative Excellence (ICE) pilot project in Mumbai last year, said Puneet Kinra, group chief executive of Balaji Telefilms. He declined to comment further on Balaji's plans.

January 05, 2011 2:34 IST | India Infoline News Service

Ekta Kapoor, best known for the long-running soap operas produced by television content provider and film producer Balaji Telefilms Ltd, is launching a chain of academies that will train students aspiring for a career in TV and film entertainment industries. Kapoor, the creative force behind Balaji Telefilms where she is joint managing director, plans to start up to seven academies that will offer courses in direction, acting, editing and script-writing, among others, said a person familiar with the plan. Balaji Telefilms will employ graduates to work on its content; they will also help meet the needs of the rest of India's vast entertainment industry. The company launched an Institute of Creative Excellence (ICE) pilot project in Mumbai last year, said Puneet Kinra, group chief executive of Balaji Telefilms. He declined to comment further on Balaji's plans. But a company executive working on the ICE project said the company was optimistic about opening more ICE academies in the near future.

The new academies are likely to come up in Delhi, Kolkata and Hyderabad. "There are plans for rapid expansion given that ICE is getting a good response," said the executive, who requested anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media. The courses at ICE will include cinematography and sound design. Balaji Telefilms is expected to invest roughly Rs.50-60 crore in these academies to begin with. Fees will range between Rs.3 lakh and Rs.6 lakh. ICE, Mumbai, which started in July 2010, offers three-six-month certificate programmes. The academy is housed inside Killick Nixon, a modern studio owned by Balaji Telefilms. "Students have access to live shoots, actors, directors and other technicians. That's a major USP (unique selling proposition) of ICE," said the executive cited above. "Some of the students from the first batch have been short-listed for forthcoming Balaji serials too." Balaji Telefilms is seeking to tap growing demand for trained personnel in India's vast entertainment industry besides meeting its own needs. It's not alone. Whistling Wood Internationals, an academy launched by Bollywood director-producer Subhash Ghai, is also expanding its footprint. "Any family soap on a Hindi general entertainment channel with 260-odd episodes requires a core group of roughly 20-30 actors," said Rahul Puri, executive director of Ghai's film production company Mukta Arts Ltd and acting president of Whistling Woods International. "The demand keeps increasing as serials get longer."

According to industry estimates at least 200 people are working on a single serial at any given point of time and the top five production houses collectively shoot around 50-60 serials. With an eye on the 8-10 hours of original content that each Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) produces every day, Whistling Woods will open branches in the northern state of Haryana besides Hyderabad in the south and Kolkata in the east. An entertainment channel requires at least 15-20 editors, including promo cutters and assistant editors. This does not include the editors hired by independent television production houses. "As new channels come up, the demand for trained manpower will increase anywhere between 10-20% very year," said Ravindra Gautam, director and producer at RG Media Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, a relatively new content company. Whistling Woods International, started by Mukta Arts in 2006, will invest between Rs.200 crore and '500 crore to open other centres by the end of 2012. Puri said Whistling Woods in Mumbai will break even this year. In the last four years, the institute has trained around 400 people.

Tanvir Singh, a Whistling Woods student from the acting stream, will make his debut in the upcoming mainstream film Patiala House. Aahana Kumra, another student from the institute, will debut opposite Naseeruddin Shah in The Hunt. Four other newcomers will be seen in Love Express, a Mukta Arts film that will release in April 2011. "Many students have got a break as assistant directors and assistant cinematographers too," said Puri. Whistling Woods has got 20 acres of land in Jhajjar district of Haryana. It has also identified land in Hyderabad too for the academy, said Puri. The institute offers a two-year MBA programme in media and entertainment in collaboration with Manipal University. It has begun offering a specialized one-year course in VFX effects and will introduce programmes in television script-writing and new media. By mid-2011, Skype lectures and online tutorials will be on offer for those keen to learn screen writing, Puri said. According to a 2010 report prepared by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry and consulting firm KPMG, the '28,900 crore television industry is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 15% until 2014 while the film industry is set to grow at 9%. The special effects and animation sector is small at Rs.2,300 crore a year but will grow at a rate of 19% until 2014.

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