Heading a media entertainment company that has been operating successfully in Pakistan since 1946, Satish Anand can best be described as a dynamic professional who has mastered the art of turning every entertainment venture into a lucrative business.
Taking over the company as successor to J.C. Anand who founded the Eveready Group of Companies and is still remembered as one of the most distinguished contributors to the Pakistan film industry, Satish Anand comes across as an optimist and a die-hard entertainment specialist.
He says: “Since ours is a business house that has been operating under the Eveready banner, it is difficult to take one position in the media business and survive. Money is an important factor and unless you have other spin-offs that make a profit, you’ll have no leeway to operate successfully. But whatever you do has to have more meaning than mere profit and loss. And for me, the call centre proposition began as a way of addressing the issue of unemployment in Pakistan.”
Coming to Satish’s original line of work — media entertainment — it is only natural that the shabby state of the film industry comes under discussion. As the managing director of Eveready Group of Companies, Satish says: “All that I do is part of my original line of work. I am in the information industry.”
So how does he judge today’s films — part of the more cultural side of information — that are presently in such a state that some say the entire film industry should close down altogether. “How can anyone say that?” he says. “Films, drama, song are all forms of expression. For as long as the right of expression is there nothing can shut down. That is a harsh statement.” However, it remains a fact that what is being churned out these days is of questionable value and sorely tests the intelligence of the public. “When we came into film distribution and production in 1946, we made films that competed with Indian big screen ventures such as Aawara, Baiju Bawara, etc., since those were allowed to be shown here at the time. And we made some great movies and the box office returns were good, too. We went on to make many quality films for a very long time. Why has the public forgotten hits like Umrao Jan Ada, Aina, Zindagi, Miss Colombo and later Haathi Mere Saathi and Madam Bavary,” he says.
On why the industry has spiralled to the sub-standard fare now being fed to the public, Satish says: “As I said earlier, it’s all about economics. In the last few years the economics of making Urdu films has gone totally topsy-turvy.
We are operating in a market which has one of the highest piracy ratios. Even Hollywood movies don’t do well here because we have them available right at our doorstep in the form of pirated videos, VCDs and DVDs.
“Secondly, movie watching in cinemas is now more of a social outing. Abroad, it is a habit that people often indulge in because the environment is so good. There the cinemas are well-kept, the sound, light and even the canteen/food court makes it all so conducive. Hence, big money is invested as big returns are ensured. But here the money going in and the returns coming from uch an investment are decreasing regularly. The habit of going to the theatre, too, has been on the decline since viewers are no longer interested in watching the current lot of movies. How can you expect to make quality products with such factors at play?”
But the argument remains that if the product is good, people will want to watch it. After all, at one time Urdu movie watching was quite an active part of the movie scene. The blame, in this case, must lie with poor quality productions, so poor that they should not be made at all. Satish admits albeit reluctantly: “I know that the movies being made today are not good, which is why the economics are suffering. Today’s films cannot be compared to what we had 10 years ago. Today’s films are total flops as the same stars are being cast over and over again with the same old themes being constantly rehashed. What has seen a resurgence is regional cinema in that it is coming up with new concepts. But I still feel that outside factors are to blame as well — the public which opts for pirated movies, the print media which has stopped promoting films as Urdu and English newspapers do not give movie advertisements everyday, and PTV which does not run the promos for new releases.”
So with today’s films being a total loss, there seems no point in making movies, right? “Again I repeat myself that reaching such a conclusion is wrong. Yes, what should happen is that the present set-up should be allowed to take its natural way, which means die a natural death as the industry has reached a dead end. But just as great nations were born from the ashes of destruction, so can our film industry — provided the young blood works with integrity and works hard at creativity. And the financiers coming from shoddy backgrounds who presently rule over storylines should be replaced by educated, intelligent writers, producers, directors, etc. I know that the industry can be revived, as I am a businessman who has taken opportunities as they came and I see opportunity here as well. A few bad patches doesn’t mean the end of the world. One example is Ajab Gul’s Kyun Tum Se Itna Pyar Hai, which has not only received a fantastic response but is being termed as a hit. Hence, I reiterate that the show must go on.”
Elaborating on his ‘close-to-the-heart’ topics, Satish says: “For me, the money I earn has to be purposeful. Except the textile industry, most of our national businesses are not doing well internationally. On the other hand, we have a whole generation of young people right now that is smart, educated and yet unemployed. Call centres are translating this powerful human resource into a force which can not only develop itself but can also earn the country valuable foreign exchange.” Does that means that the business is going to take off and earn money for the country? “I truly believe so,” comes his reply.
So has Pakistan’s softer image as painted by our present regime paid off? “Perhaps. Investors are encouraged to come and survey the environment and when they find that we have energetic and bright young people, the perception has since undergone transformation. And of course the financial viability of employing our people which would come to about $13 to $14 per hour as opposed to $25 per hour for the US, definitely makes Pakistan a lucrative option. We have state-of-the-art environment with regard to technology and our human resources are good,” says Satish, sounding off on a positive note. (Satish Anand interviewed by Maheen Rashdi in 2005).