Mamata Banerjee with Shrikant Mohta at the Lake Mall on Wednesday. (Pradip Sanyal)
“Venkatesh, tara film-tilm toh koren onek kichhui. Ei byabsha tao korchhen… korun khub bhalo kore.”
With these words, while inaugurating the Lake Mall on Wednesday, Mamata Banerjee signalled the start of the second — or maybe — third innings of Tollywood’s movie moguls, Shree Venkatesh Films.
Having started their journey 35 years ago, not with reel but with rakhi, real estate looks to be their third coming. The Lake Mall is the first project of Venkatesh Foundation, their real estate wing, executed as a public private partnership (PPP) with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.
No wonder the chief minister hailed their move from movie to mall and exhorted them to do it well. “The Lake Mall is a test case. This is a message to industry and business houses also,” said Mamata.
For Team Venkatesh, this Rs 70cr project — of which they have contributed half the amount — is a decisive step in a new direction. “We have been making films since 1995 and are proud to contribute to Bengali cinema but this definitely marks the beginning of our journey in real estate,” said Shrikant Mohta of Shree Venkatesh Films.
“It’s a very good break from films, like the break films had provided from our rakhi business after the first 10 years,” added Mohta, who steers the fortunes of the firm with cousin Mahendra Soni.
Having gobbled up the lion’s share of the Tollywood production pie in Bengal, the maker of the Challenge films has now set its sights on “challenging” realty projects. “Not just any building but landmark destinations, which could be a mall, a resort, or even a residential complex but one that calls for novelty,” said Mohta.
All this in a year when the Shree Venkatesh Films has bags full of Tolly biggies ranging from Meghe Dhaka Tara to Mishawr Rahasya, Goynar Baksho to Satyanweshi. So will the latest move help marry reel and realty for Venkatesh? The Lake Mall, spread over six floors and housing 100 retail spaces, has a four-screen multiplex spread over two floors.
No Ashok Dhanuka or Reliance Entertainment Films, right? “The multiplex has been handed over to Fun Republic Cinemas, who can screen whatever films they want,” assured Mohta with a smile about the plex expected to be up and beaming in the next five months.
Shree Venkatesh that has distributed more than 250 films in Hindi and English, controls over 80 theatres in Bengal, promotes four television channels apart from being involved in production, digital cinema, music and online store.
The realty plunge by the rakhi-to-reel company was taken 10 years ago when the Lake Mall arrived as a “business opportunity” and “the idea seemed very exciting”, recounted producer Mohta. “Especially because it was in a happening place like Lake Market. At the same time there were around 350 stallholders who needed to be rehabilitated amicably and compensated for any loss and more than 70 hawkers who needed to be removed,” he added. Now that the job is done, he is “feeling very good and confident”.
The Lake Mall is designed by architect J.P Agarwal who created Forum, Mani Square and the yet-to-open Atria complex on Gurusaday Road. Venkatesh focused on the rehabilitation, choice of retailers, design, architecture and space allotmen, while collaborators Space Group looked into the construction side.