Interview of the Week- Naveen K. Manoharan, Digital Head, Lahari Music

“If you take Baahubali 1: The Beginning (650 cr) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (1810 cr) together, I don’t think there is any other movie bigger than that,” states Naveen K. ManoharanDigital Head, Lahari Music. 

Lahari Music, a music label based in Bangalore, India was established in 1974 by Manohar Naidu. Today, the company has a major distribution deal of songs in Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam languages.

Apart from film music, Lahari has also developed its presence on the regional folk and non-film music front. 

Right from the beginning, Lahari has produced an equal number of content in film and non-film songs. Non-film music has always existed in the industry but there is a stronger focus on them now with more allotted budgets,” affirms Naveen.

Lahari has also ventured into film production which later turned into a post-production studio called MRT Studios. With acclaimed acquisitions and expansions, Lahari Music’s well-known projects include films are KGF: Chapter 1 (in Kannada), Bahubali: The Beginning, (in Telugu), Roja (in Tamil), Mamangam (in Malayalam), etc. 

Discussing further the possibilities and opportunities, the regional market growth, and current challenges, Naveen talks to Music Plus exclusively for our Interview of the Week.

What are your key requirements for acquiring content?

Lahari music has always concentrated on the biggest films that have come from the South-Indian industry. But with changing times we have also seen the growth of low-mid budgeted films. It is not just the big films with star power but good content that works.

So, even that strategy of targetting only big films is changing within our organisation.

We are hand-picking content right now, yet in the current scenario, it is very difficult to release films on theatres. So many producers are thinking of how to carry content forward. 

The basic understanding is reliant on our experience of acquisition. We have a legacy of three to four decades which has enabled us to build a good rapport with most of the production houses.

In most scenarios, we can close deals with just the help of a phone call. In other cases, we sit with the producers, listen to the songs, and then take a call on it whether we need to acquire it or not. 

We do have a set combo of things. One important factor is that we rely heavily on music composers and directors. The combo between them is key to us. For example, the combination of filmmaker Sukumar (Bandreddi)  with Devi Shri Prasad, a Telugu composer, has been a hit! They have brought out blockbusters together. So, those are the first picks that we do. 

Another is, the south industry is dependent on the star value here. It has been a very “Hero” dominated industry. For example, a film with Mahesh Babu will be a blockbuster. 

There is a clear cut value attached to what we pitch for. But there’s a huge price attached to them all. 

How big a factor is the Indian diaspora to the South-Indian music industry?

Indian diaspora is very important and critical. In fact, it amounts to about 30% of Lahari music’s revenue, especially from the Tamil and Telugu diaspora in the U.K. and the U.S., respectively, the Middle Eastern countries, as well as Singapore. These two languages are very important to our revenue stream.

5 years ago, if you had asked me if a single would cross 100 million, I would have said, no. But today we are talking about Rowdy BabyRagama MagamaAla Vaikuntapuram that have broken records. Tamil and Telegu have a strong regional presence in India but there is also a very strong market in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Singapore, and/or the Middle East. And the market is just opening up for other regional languages as well.

If you put Baahubali 1: The Beginning (650 cr.) and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (1810 cr.) together, I don’t think there is any other movie bigger than that. There’s at least a 30% contribution from the international Indians to this revenue collection.

The four South-Indian languages viz., Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Kannada, have made huge contributions to the filmgoers. Telegu is the biggest of the four languages out of the four South Indian languages; followed by Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam languages.  

But in terms of the consolidated numbers, it is increasing. With movies like Bahubali in the past or new movies like KGF: Chapter 2, RRR, etc. coming up, it is a promising time ahead. Also, they are expanding to the Hindi market as well. 

Competition wise, the Bollywood industry has saturated. The only place where we see growth is the regional market. I think we are on the path of achieving more numbers and are proving points that are there on the financial reports. 


Do you agree the South-Indian music market can grow as big as the other language(s)?

The South produces more films than films in the North. Unfortunately, COVID has brought us down by 20-25%. But the numbers have always been increasing. Regional music outside of the four South-Indian languages is backed by some big labels. In terms of numbers, it has been groundbreaking, so much so, it is closely competing with Bollywood. 

Labels like Speed Records have a massive production. Similarly, even T-Series. But I believe if there’s any other language that can give a tough competition to other successful languages in the market is probably Telugu and  Tamil. 

The people in the South listen to film music mostly. But there are non-film songs coming out too. We (Lahari Music) are concentrating more on singles right now with artists we believe in, and their content. It is all in the pipeline.

We see that the growth pattern is really high for a folk song coming out of Tamil, or Telugu as compared to film music. I can give an example of Bhavageethegalu which is prevalent only in the Kannada music industry. Similarly, Tamil folk is only prevalent in the Tamil industry, Telangana folk, or any other is a very market-specific genre. But with many singles coming out with no difference in production value from film music, the growth seems inevitable. 

Hence, we have started concentrating on producing our own content. We have started an initiative called ‘Hidden Talents’ where we are promoting artists from all over the country with their original and cover songs. It is a serious attempt and in the future, plenty of non-film original music is in the offing. 

That being said, marketing does help in pushing content, maybe, marginally by 10%-20%. But most of the music’s success is on the recall value and if you have a returning audience on the platform. Campaigns and budget pushing, increasing the YouTube numbers, the content is the deciding factor. And, it can influence the audience and drive them to the platform once or twice, but it is always content-driven that will bring consumers. 

What hindrances do you think, if overcome, can help labels from the South to build a stronger presence?

The immediate challenge is the post-COVID situation. When are the movies going to release? The film industry is one of the biggest businesses in India. A lot of industries like ours are dependent on the movies and the whole production business and with that being stalled, all of us are suffering. The non-availability of that content has become a big problem for every music label across the country. 

Also, futuristically, the content for us to acquire is also getting more expensive by the day. We need to see what is more realistic. 

And there are regulatory issues in terms of the appellate board, broadcasting issues, technical glitches that are called by the government which is also a huge concern for us across the country. The copyright board order of 2% that is set for music industries across the country as a way of compulsory licensing is really unfair for the business. Having the government put out such orders that are only friendly to a particular industry, which in this case is the private radio broadcasters.  

This problem is bigger than the pandemic but we are trying to battle it out.  

The removal of these policies will enable a free and fair market for all thereby, leading to a very progressive industry.

How do you see the competition with major labels venturing into the regional market?

I think this is a vice-versa phenomenon. Regional music is also trying to go pan-India. Even the bigger labels who have a large Hindi presence are also percolating themselves into the regional market, for example, T-Series. It is building a regional presence with affiliations to us (Lahari Music). Also, we distribute our music through T-Series. 

Similarly, we are also planning to venture into the Northern belts with languages like Punjabi, Bhojpuri, Gujarati languages, etc. So, it is a two-way street. 

It is sort of a mutual exchange but in many instances, it is not. Be it a Hindi music label or a regional language label like us, we both have a global audience in terms of our distribution network. So the only thing left for us to grow into is probably by venturing into a new language space. That can only total into us becoming bigger. That is something even we are confident of and there is a lot of thought behind this. 

What are some of the major differences between the South-Indian and other regional industries?

The South-Indian film industry makes movies for the local audience and it is an extension of the local market with people from abroad. The Hindi industry, on the other hand, is somewhere getting lost in making movies for the Indian diaspora alone.

The South-Indian market relies heavily on the local market, so much so, almost 70-75% revenue share comes from here. The audience here is very dedicated. They will watch one movie at triple the ticket price on an opening day. It is a very festive opening similar to those of Rajanikant movies. 

Even in Bollywood, if you can notice, the movies based on real lives like biopics or with a local connection has become a hit. 

For example, Allu Arjun is lovingly called “Mallu (short for Malayali) Arjun” in the Malayalam industry. Not that Bollywood does not have a major fan following, but here every actor has at least two major territories that gives him a surplus of about 100 crore plus movies. I think the 100 crore mark has broken long before in the South-Indian market. 

If it’s a huge success it crosses 100 crores, that’s the kind of figures we have been looking at even at the Box Office. In that way, the regional industry is growing exponentially. 

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