Indian production company ‘Ultra’ has been in the business for several decades now (founded in 1982 by Sushilkumar Agrawal) and has produced several movies (smaller budget ones) but it’s work on restoration and digitization of projects has made it a respectable name int he Indian entertainment industry.
Today, the restoration house ‘Ultra’ not only has its plates full in the domestic market, they’are also executing projects for foreign countries. The company employs around 300 people, with almost 100 employees working on restoration and digitization projects.
Although the company started as a video production company, it gradually foray into production, distribution, studio facilities and digital media. The company has been providing an increasing range of restoration services over the last decade, registering 100% growth every year.
Here’s an interview with founder Sushilkumar Agrawal, who also happens to be the CEO of the company. Mr. Agrawal also discusses their current expansion plans.
Who are the clients for your restoration projects – state organisations, private companies with film libraries etc.?
Mr Agarwal: Ultra does restoration work for titles from its own library, as well as for major clients such as Rajshri, Mukta Arts and other leading Indian production houses. Currently, our main clients are private companies with film libraries but there are some great works in the world and state organizations play an important role in passing these to the right hands. Hence we have approached a few organizations to support them in restoring their films. Lately, the company has diversified into foreign markets as well, including projects for Russia.
When it comes to Indian titles, does your company undertake auteur films as well, in addition to “Bollywood” entertainment films?
Mr Agarwal: Yes. Our work embraces all types of content, whether auteur films such as “Pyaasa”, “Kaagaz Ke Phool”, “Chori Chori” or Bollywood films of the late 1980s, and 1990s. In the case of the latter, the owners of these films did not really understand the importance of their films. Although recent works, it was very surprising for us to find similar issues in terms of the source materials as found in older films and this made our job even more complicated since these films were shot in color.
How do you choose which films to restore?
We like the art of restoration and preservation of cinema and believe that every film must be restored and preserved for generations. Hence we are open to all kinds of films. However there are some titles that we would like to restore first and present them to audiences.
Basically, the restoration projects are either for some clients, or considered if Ultra intends to take up the rights that fits within their overall strategy.
Your most successful film restoration projects to date?
Mr Agarwal: We have restored over 300 films. Our prestigious projects include the works of veteran actors and directors such as Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutt, Russian titles and many more. We feel very close to some projects, such as “Chori Chori” and “Pyaasa” since the source material available was of very poor quality, incomplete and scattered, collected from various sources. Restoring these titles and maintaining uniformity was a very big challenge for us.
How are the restored films presented to the audience?
Mr Agarwal: Most restoration works have been shown via TV screenings and foreign sales, since there is very little market for theatrical releases of classic titles in India. However we are now interested in presenting our recognized titles, such as “Pyaasa” and “Kaagaz ke Phool”, at various festivals.
Do you focus only on the Indian market (films, TV, video etc) for your restoration work, or do you have international projects as well?
Mr Agarwal: So far, we have worked primarily in India for films and TV programs as well as a few projects from Russia. However, we have been receiving many enquiries from other parts of the world due to the standards of our work and our quality including our experience in restoring Indian and foreign films and our understanding of the importance of keeping these films alive. We are very open to exploring new challenges.
Now that you’ve restored Russian titles, what are your foreign expansion plans?
Mr Agarwal: We have restored a couple of Russian titles – “Quiet Day at War’s End” (1970) by Nikita Mikhalkov and the extremely famous “Kashchey the Immortals” (1944) by Aleksandr Rou. Our company is a regular exhibitor at various markets and festivals to promote restoration and digitization. In one of the Russian markets we were introduced to the owners of these titles. We are expecting several more major titles from Russia and look forward to continuing our relation and supporting the country in restoring their content. We are already in discussion to supply our restoration services to companies from South Korea, Indonesia and Canada. Of course, there is competition everywhere but restoring such works has given us a completely different level of satisfaction.
How’s your restoration work on Guru Dutt Classics proceeding?
Mr Agarwal: Our restoration work for these titles is still underway and the projects are proceeding extremely well. We have acquired the negative rights along with the copyright of all the Guru Dutt titles in perpetuity. Hence, we are now the proud owners of these titles.
How does your acquisition of the rights to the Guru Dutt titles fit in your company’s overall strategy?
Ultra forayed into the business of content acquisition and aggregation 25 years ago and since then has been expanding its library every year, which is exploited worldwide across all medias and platforms. However the Guru Dutt titles came as a personal interest to me, as I am very interested in promoting the restored versions in the overseas market to make audiences aware of the quality of our cinema.
What production activities does Ultra do?
Mr Agarwal: Ultra has produced more than 16 movies so far. Our recent film “Jalpari – The Desert Mermaid” was well received in the overseas market and won various awards at film festivals.
Although Ultra does production work, they are definitely not among the top production houses in India, there core strength however lies in their film restoration capabilities.
How do you ensure your restoration standards are high?
Mr Agarwal: We are always involved in research and development to make the restoration process easier. Our development team works very hard and with the technical advances in today’s world, we are always modifying processes and coming up with new plug-ins to ensure that our restoration work is more and more advanced.
Here’s a video that shows how Universal Pictures restores its classics.
When competing for foreign restoration work, what do you think are your competitive advantages – specific restoration techniques known only to you, effective price, faster delivery?
Mr Agarwal: “We aren’t sure whether the techniques used in our restoration process are also used abroad. However, we are definitely competitive in terms of our quality and the prices we offer.”
Well, the company might not be charging much, but it definitely pays to know what your competition is up to, and what are the latest developments in the field of film restoration. Having said that ‘Ultra’ is definitely doing a great job of restoring Indian classics and making sure that they reach a much wider audience – both in India as well as in foreign markets.