It is out of the ordinary, when a legacy-family-born child, makes it big (read: bigger)—yet with the same degree of wholeheartedness, fervour and finesse. In spite of bearing the plump responsibility of conserving the repute of his family—and that too solely, Anant Roongta, MD, Famous Studios, has set an exhilarating example in his two years since taking over the heritage left behind by his grandfather. Anant is the grandson of J B Roongta—who needs no introduction, and who conceived and founded Asia’s first air-conditioned studios (Famous Studios) in 1946, i.e. in the pre-independence India.
Anant is the third-generation entrepreneur at Famous Studios, and is taking forth the 73-year legacy. As a kid, he was always deeply intrigued by content, technology and films. “I am very blessed to have parents and grand-parents, who have given me a solid upbringing. A lot of respect for my grand-father, who lived a very good life and passed away in 2014. He was the mastermind, and hats off to him for this establishment I am in today. It’s his baby. I don’t give myself credit for anything,” added Anant. “He completed his Masters in Entrepreneurship from Aston University, UK. Like most young professionals, he was passionate about sports and had an inkling to try his hand at his own business—which led to his four-year stint in the sports industry. He returned to Famous to take complete charge of the business, in 2018.
Famous Studios was a bold advent into the world of cinema and TV. A dream is all it takes to go the distance—is the theme on which the foundation of Famous is centered. The story of Famous Studios, standing tall as a landmark of Mumbai’s dream industry, was born from a similar dream.
Over the years, it has evolved into a canvas for hundreds of artists to create masterpieces with state-of-the-art equipment and expert technicians: a turnkey content solutions provider for anything that a business or film needs. Today the studios have spread into a sprawling 110,000 sq ft, to several locations across Mumbai to boost flexibility, and also to the hearts of industry folk.
Famous Studios has been honoured with the prestigious Dadasaheb Phalke Award and the Indian Motion Picture Association’s recognition for its outstanding contribution to Indian cinema, in addition to dozens of other accolades and awards, over the past seven decades. “Yet our greatest reward remains the joy and fulfilment of those who weave a million dreams every day. Ours is a family-led business; it’s not a corporate institution—which is why we believe in having close-knit relations with our team and customers. We are one big family, all chasing the same dream,” smiled Anant. Anant recently was a part of the jury, and also won the Editor’s Choice Special Award—at the 4th Annual Digital Studio India Awards 2019, held in Mumbai in October, 2019.
Coming back to family-business was not easy for Anant. He was used to a lot of travelling, and being on his own. Here, at Famous, he had to get used to a different way of working after consolidating what was already there. “It all got streamlined and settled eventually, and in 2019, things picked up pace when we first launched our co-working space,” said Anant. As the managing director, Anant has laid down a long-term vision to position the business as a fully-integrated content solutions provider and creating a hub for next-gen content creators. As much as I could make out from his humble demeanour, he believes in the power of being collective and cohesive. It was evident from the rapport he shared with his colleagues and subordinates, which is one of the key reasons why the company still flourishes—the principals and morals still show.
Anant comes across as an individual, who maintains the beam of focus towards introducing innovative technologies, learning and development in order to add new-age relevance to the industry and expansion of services at Famous Studios. He has spearheaded new offerings at the studio such as visual engineering, Motion Capture, content creation, production and post-production, VFX, a fully-equipped preview theatre, virtual production, co-working spaces, and has launched India’s second largest Dolby Atmos home mixing facility for the OTT original content space. He is determined and is dedicatedly working towards expanding its creative studios and visual effects facilities.
Anant believes that in the midst of all the tech disruption, therein lies an opportunity to offer specialised services for content creators to help them unleash their creative potential. His long term vision is to re-energise Famous Studios into a creative hub, opening doors for creative enthusiasts and learners from across the globe. He said, “The industry we are in, things change here every few months. I always strive to be a part of the change. I also want to add that Digital Studio India, as a publication has helped in the transformation of the industry. I’m an avid reader of the magazine, and follow its monthly edition closely. The way you are covering every facet of the industry is an example of how we have to change with changing times. Congratulations to you on that! We have been collaborating for years, and that is key to moving forward collectively, as one media fraternity.”
The interview set at Famous Studios, where I conducted the tête-à-tête with Anant, was a new addition to the readymade sets being curated—especially meant for young bloggers and influencers. Digital Studio was the first to shoot the conversation live on-set. “Today, we are shooting at the interview terminal. We have a beauty terminal, a walk-in closet for fashion influencers, and a full-fledged kitchen—all to promote the younger generation of content curators,” explained Anant.
When asked about how his typical day looks like, Anant said, “I am an early-riser. I’m usually up by seven o’clock, and then drop my children to school. My kids are morning-kids, haha! I start my day early, so I can make the most of the day. I spend the day with my team, either fixing things or coming up with new ideas. I involve myself in day-to-day operations as much as I can, to stay up-to-date. I don’t believe in long hours. I hit the gym in the evening and then I’m home with family. I also like to read in my free time.”
TECH TO BACK IT UP
“Let me shed light on what’s already happened at Famous, so it makes it relevant for you,” replied Anant, when asked about what’s new at Famous Studios. He explained that in the 50’s and 60’s, Famous constructed sets for producers and movies. It was also going strong in its rental business. 1985, it received a licence from the Information and Broadcast Ministry to launch its video services, which effectively mean post-production. It was not until the early 90’s, when this business picked up speed and Famous started investing heavily in technology.
Famous bought in India’s first telecine after that, which was followed by the setup of one of the first organised animation studios. There was no looking back after that. In 1992, Famous launched Galactica, one of India’s first international-grade sound studios, designed by renowned acoustic designer, Andy Munro. This was followed by the launch of the Famous House of Animation, in 1998.
RESTORING OUR HERITAGE
In early 2000, Famous saw the launch of its very own film restoration division. “We felt there was a huge need to preserve and restore old content, especially our heritage films. Government organisations like the National film Archive of India, have a lot of old footage in the form of camera negatives—from the world war, British rule and democratic era. But these negatives don’t stand the test of time, and get crumbled and destroyed easily. To restore old content, it needs to be digitised first with a scanner, and then has to be manually restored frame-by-frame by who I would say, is a factory of talent! The cult hit, Sholay, was restored at Famous, and the footage was then handed over to another animation agency, who re-released the movie in 3D,” explained Anant.
The restoration of Sholay was a tedious and complex task; it was over three-hours long and had more than 17 jumbo reels. A negative is the purest form of a film. Famous could only use seven of the 17 reels, since the rest were completely destroyed. It had to pull out content from the prints. The matching from the prints took a month to get done, while the entire restoration process lasted up to six months. Since, the movie was to be converted into 3D, Famous couldn’t afford a single scratch or distortion in the final print of the movie. Famous also restored the blockbuster, Mr India.