People@Work

A recasting role in tinsel town

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on May 23, 2018

The Art of Packaging - Rana Daggubati’s Kwan South wants to change the way films are created. Above: A scene from Nene Raju Nene Mantri, for which the agency helped assemble several elements

Rana Daggubati’s Kwan South is trying to call the shots in southern show business

 

They have been the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers of Hollywood for a long time now. In the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, where thousands of hopefuls line up, it is powerful talent management agencies such as William Morris Endeavour, Creative Artists Agencies, United Talent Agency and International Creative Management that call the shots, reshaping roles and lives. Between them the four top Hollywood agencies control over 70 per cent of the industry, representing not just tinsel town’s A-listers but young debutantes.

In Bollywood by contrast, where stars are managed by family members or secretaries, the evolution to a structured agency format has been fairly recent.

It was only around ten years ago that professional agencies such as Kwan Entertainment began to wield influence. Till then for those wanting to break into showbiz, there were no formal channels. Of course, long ago, Amitabh Bacchhan with his ABCL had tried to get into Hollywood-style talent management but the venture bombed.

Today Kwan Entertainment generates around ₹3,200 crore business annually for the entertainment industry, looking after the interests of actors, writers, musicians, comedians, choreographers, sports stars and authors. Some of the big names on the Kwan roster are Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan, Kabir Khan and Vir Das.

Now, dashing Telugu star Rana Daggubati – Bhallaladeva of Bahubali fame – has got into the act with Kwan South, a joint venture with Kwan Entertainment, that wants to alter the way things are done in the South.

Southern show

“It’s really going to change the fragmented, unstructured way the entertainment world worked here in the past,” promises the articulate Daggubati, who sounds as comfortable in his skin as investor and businessman as the sharp characters he plays on screen. “What we have done is set up a marketplace for talent, stories, brands, augmented reality, new tech formats …”

Kwan South is attempting to “package” movies and shows for studios. It takes on the job of assembling the creative and marketing elements that a studio needs for production and distribution. All the studio has to do is sign the cheque.

To give an example: For Nene Raju Nene Mantri, the recent political thriller in which Daggubati starred, Kwan South helped with a host of things including casting. “We also did a lot of in-film placement and brand partnerships for the film. Three brands were brought on board. We also sold the digital and satellite rights for the film as well,” says Himank Duvvuru, who heads the company.

Kwan South’s biggest asset is undoubtedly the go-getting tech-savvy Daggubati. Not only does the actor, producer and visual effects specialist who descends from a pedigreed Tollywood family (his grandfather was producer D. Ramanaidu) partly own Kwan South, he is also represented by the agency, shining the torchlight for others. Daggubati’s screen appearances, live appearances at events and TV shows are all managed by the agency. For instance, Kwan packaged the show No.1 Yaari he hosted, and apart from getting him as the host, also helped get several celebrities forit. This may have helped other stars go with the agency too.

A year into the business, Kwan South has got on board actors such as Nayanthara and Venkatesh and also represents star kid Shivani Rajasekhar. “Nayanthara moving into Kwan is a big thing and shows she understands the new ways,” says Duvvuru.

It has helped cast Niddhi Agarwal, a new find from Mumbai, in two films with big stars – Savyasaachi opposite Naga Chaitanya and another movie opposite Akhil Akkineni.

And software engineer turned filmmaker Sankalp Reddy, who made the submarine war film The Ghazi Attack is with Kwan South too. No doubt the connections – Daggubati starred in The Ghazi Attack, for which Reddy really struggled a long time to find backers – helped.

Scripting supply

But the big demand gap, according to Daggubati, is for writers. Films, TV, and now especially the Web all consume a lot of content. Kwan South is attempting to fill that gap, he says, by training literature students and helping them to understand screenplay writing. It is tapping authors as well and now represents Kevin Missal, a young author known for mythological fiction novel Dharmayoddha Kalki: Avatar of Vishnu.

Apart from managing their schedules, long-term career plans are chalked out for each client on the rolls based on their interests, skills needed to build their profile and so on.

Beyond talent, Kwan South is into many other things. Duvvuru points out how, when a production house was looking for a good VFX company for a big spectacle film, it arranged one very quickly. “The movie is in pre-production stage and is going to be a 2020 release,” says Duvvuru.

“The time taken for a project can take from 1-3 months based on its complexity,” says Duvvuru.

Daggubati’s passion for technology – his involvement with Anthill Studios, a media and entertainment accelerator programme which is also into augmented reality – also means he is getting into new streams that the older Kwan Entertainment has not yet entered. “We tried augmented reality posters for Nene Raju Nene Mantri,” says Daggubati. For fans, a selfie with the AR posters is a surreal experience, and now Kwan South says there has been a surge of interest in using AR in films after that. For Mumbai-headquartered Kwan Entertainment, the southern venture is an important one. Around 10-15 per cent business of its business comes from the South. And, the Telugu film industry especially is growing really fast – it recorded a 13 per cent growth last year. “The number of screens have increased,” points out Daggubati, who says Kwan South is also working with Tamil and Malayalam films. Kannada not so much as yet.

Also, as Vijay Subramaniam, founding Partner and Co-CEO Kwan points out, the way the South operates is totally different. “India is many Indias and the South is very dissimilar. And we wanted to go with someone who understands local pop culture in microscopic detail,” says Subramaniam.

Coming back to the challenging world of talent management, especially stars, what is Kwan South’s talent acquisition process? Do they scout for new talent?

“We get a lot of profiles via email as well as walk-ins. Usually, we have a quick interview with them, examine their portfolio of work, their credentials and the training that they have had. We then evaluate the potential and possibilities and take them on. We also look for new talent via theatre productions and modelling agencies,” says Duvvuru.

The agency operates on a commission model. “The commission rates and percentage hover around 10-20 per cent depending on how new the talent is. They are marginally higher for new talent, mainly because the process is tougher and we also have to work on a lot of aspects overall for the talent,” he says.

New shifts in the making

Daggubati says Kwan South hopes to unify the arts as well as the languages. Now a Hindi or Tamil or Malayalam film can be made from Hyderabad. Bahubali showed us a national product could do that, he says, and one of the objectives is to break the barriers.

Meanwhile, even as Kwan is just beginning to connect the dots in Mumbai and the South, across the oceans in Hollywood, the script is changing. The all powerful talent agencies are edging into studios’ turf by getting into production and have sparked off a fight. Things could get ugly there. As they say, there is never a dull moment in showbiz.

Published on May 23, 2018

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