Main performance parameter of Mughal-e-Azam is not ROI but impact- Deepesh Salgia

A tale as old as time, Mughal-e-Azam is back from the grave. And this time it surely seems to have sworn immortality. A rendition of the classic movie produced in 1960, the timeless love story of Salim and Anarkali has taken form as a sell-out musical that has dropped many a jaw with it’s scale and grandeur among other finer details. So much so that the show initially traveling till 17 September in Delhi has extended its stay by another week! While the direction by Feroz Khan is noticeably impeccable, we were also quite intrigued by the end-to-end production. Ahead, excerpts of our conversation with Deepesh Salgia, head of creative and strategic vision, who takes us behind the scenes.


How and when did the opportunity for producing Mughal-e-Azam come along?

We are the IPR owners of Mughal-e-Azam since its original release. In Nov 2015, Feroz approached us for our NoC for doing a Musical Play. He offered a royalty of Rs 5000 per show which is the norm in theatre world in India.

We immediately liked the idea of musical play on Mughal-e-Azam. but our vision and scale for Mughal-e-Azam was completely different. We asked Feroz to match the same by reworking his design with ten times the scale and briefed him to work towards making a world-class production. Money, we said, will never be the bottleneck towards achieving this. We also advised him on the technologies that should be used towards this end.

Feroz agreed and reworked the concept. Once the broad framework met our beliefs and ethos, we signed on the dotted line and became partners in the project.

Given that theatre is quite under leveraged in India what about this idea convinced you?

Today there is no dearth of video content on the net; saturation levels have started reaching in that segment. Sophisticated consumers are, therefore, looking for live and dynamic content. A normal theatrical play is live but not necessarily dynamic. Musical play perfectly addresses this gap.

With no pre-existing infrastructure for theatrical shows in JN Stadium, how did you manage the setup? Did you bring an event agency for production?

Besides, Jamshed Bhabha theatre (at NCPA Mumbai), as of now, there is no theatre in India that has ready infrastructure to host India. We did 57 shows there and all were houseful. But we realised that if Mughal-e-Azam has to grow to its potential, the infrastructure challenge had to be tackled.

The passion to take musical to greater heights made the team think out-of-the-box. We did three recces of all available venues in Delhi and realised that the weight lifting stadium in New Delhi has the potential to be remodelled to provide a world-class theatrical experience.

All our vendors joined hands with our production team. A team of 300 personnel worked to achieve this almost impossible task. Trusses were installed to carry tonnes of moving loads,

50 trucks and trailers were moved from Mumbai to Delhi, entire auditorium was masked to improve acoustics; carpeting, painting, shampooing of seats, stage construction etc. were part of the hundreds of activities.

What is the USP of the show?

The combination of high production values and Indian culture is the USP. High production values addresses the elitist’s taste, Indian culture provides the popular appeal.

It is common at the show to see young ones in twenties coming along with grandparents. And both enjoy equally- a very rare sight these days. The emotions exhibited post the show is our biggest achievement.

The setup, costumes, grandiose surely speaks of a lot of investment. Have you been able to accrue similar benefits?

Whenever the purpose is to set new benchmarks, the first performance parameter is not the ROI but the impact on the consumer.

Almost every person (across age, across social-economic background) has been mesmerised by the show. So we are extremely delighted that we achieved our first target.

Monetisation of content is a big challenge in the entertainment world. Towards generation if surplus, our focus, will be Innovation in set design, addressing logistic challenges, creating multiple production teams and new modes of revenues. We will, however, continue to refuse brand associations if they do not add value.

What was your marketing strategy that ensured the show would be a sell-out?

The focus of all our communication has been that this musical is very high quality product. Mughal-e-Azam as a brand sets high benchmarks, Feroz Abbas Khan is known for his perfection and thirdly, there was always a silent communication to consumers that if Shapoorji Pallonji has backed the project, it would have doubly ensured that the product is of extremely high quality.

What is the long-term plan? Will the show travel to more cities?

The Delhi success has confirmed the fact that the show has a very wide appeal. The immediate target is to take it to other cities in India. 2018 onwards, we will start travelling abroad. The sense that we are getting from opinion makers in Mumbai and Delhi is that the long-term target of this show should be to showcase the soft power of India. We hope that we can keep up to the expectations and aspirations of the nation.

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