ABCL, the name itself stands for dynamism, after all it carries the name of a legend - a star oops! sorry a super-star Amitabh Bachchan. The name which sent political stalwart, the late Hemavati Nandan Bahuguna, crashing at the hustings - the face which made hysteric crowd bring down an imposing wall of the district Court just to get a glimpse at. Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Limited first came to light when they took over the publicity and distribution rights of the most controversial film of 1995 - "The Bandit Queen", then came Miss World Pageant and rest is history - literally.
Vijay, the angry protagonist of Deewar and Agnipath was a hero in a hurry. So were Amitabh Bachchan and his band of young professional managers at ABCL, their dream venture. The management team worked overtime to leverage the mega stars brand equity and get into every business related to films and film-making. And two years from its inception the whole executive management is a demoralised lot. Rumours abound: intefearance of the Bachchans in day-to-day affairs, a near-total lack of professional management and a dormant, almost snoring, board of directors has led to the present state of affairs.
ABCL - what does it do? What is it all about? The answer is very simple - anything and everything to do with the entertainment business - for eg:- Make films, once you make films you distribute them, you sell the music of the film, you manage the actor who act in the films, and you have an event management group that could leverage on the actor's brand equity as well. Then in related areas you get into television production, as also in the lucrative area of selling commercial time on television.
In keeping with the vision the group moved fast, recruited 150 people, launched 15 films with cost per film ranging from Rs 3 to 8 crores, got distribution rights for Bombay and Bandit Queen - both of which were successful at the box office - got into music with Aby Baby, Diljale, Rakshak, Tere Mere Sapne etc, and ofcourse on the event side the Miss World Pageant & and the BPL Dandia.
This rapid and ambitious growth however created a problem in the area of capital. Two years ago, when ABCL made its private placement, the interest rates had been moving up and the money market was turning illiquid. Despite Amitabh's impressive presentations the bankers were not impressed and ABCL recieved less premium than expected. But the company's ambitious young managers did not see to cut back on their plans to suit the prevailing market condition. They went ahead full throttle.
The first year the company did achieve its target turnover of Rs 65 crore and made a profit of 15 crores. But in the depressing market conditions, that growth was not substantiated in the second year, as against target of 200 crores only 115 crores is expected and profits are expected to be lower. Trouble started between Bachchan and their professional managers when AB agreed to do stage shows in North America in May and June this year. The professional managers became upset that the booking were not done through ABCL. "We are the managers of his personality. If he signs contracts outside the company that is against any standard business practice", says a company source. Then the board of the company, comprises largely of Bachchan friends like Chakor Doshi, Surinder Kapoor and others, backed the Bachchan strategy of sealing back, while the professional managers held on to their position of expanding and going. The impasse finally resulted in the CEO Sanjiv Gupta, putting in his papers on 31 March. He was soon followed by Harish Chawla, general manager for film distribution, Makrand Bhambrey, vice-president for television, Manohar Arcot, general manager for HRD and S M Suku, vice-president for marketing. The entire top team had been decimated.
However, the industry is optimistic about the future of the company. "It will bounce back probably scaled down version is the quote of the company. Bachchan has brought in an old friend and confidante, Gautam Berry to take over the operation. Berry was responsible for the Bachchans making their successful investment in IPCA laboratories. Berry with his no nonsense attitude and Amitabh with his film Mrityudata together look forward for making ABCL a hit. He has adopted a different kind of a campaign for this film by launching the first-ever interactive package called "Mrityudaata Touch Screen - Game of Death". All one has to do is touch the make-shift screen attached to the computer to be involved in an ingenious "Game of Death" with the Bachchan himself. This package would be installed at Eros Theatre in Mumbai for 10 days from April 25. The whole idea was put forth by Raja Interactive - a Mumbai-based firm - to merchandise the film through "Touch Screen" technology. Another publicity gimmick by the big B to be a contender in the rat race or is he having the honourable intention of making his fellow desis computer literates is what everyone is thinking about. Come one more flop, and that could well ring the curtain down on his one-stop shop.