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How these IIT alumni bootstrapped their way to a top film production studio

(Sindhu Kashyap)

Hyderabad-based Raasta Studios lets companies, services, and brands use different kinds of content - from digital to AR-VR - to tell their story. 

For Sai Kumar, travelling and making films seemed the most glamorous way to live. Bitten by the filmmaking bug, that was all he wanted to do. While he did travel and even bought a small camera, life had different plans. An engineering degree and a corporate job followed; filmmaking was put on hold.

But not for long. Today, Sai, along with his IIT-Guwahati classmate Prem Kumar Vislawath and friend Naren Raparthi, are making money from it. As co-founders of Raasta Studios, they charge anywhere between Rs 4 lakh and Rs 20 lakh for a corporate film, and Rs 10 lakh and Rs 30 lakh for a commercial film. It doesn’t end there. Bootstrapped Raasta makes digital commercials, product launch videos, event videos, post-event films, internal communication films, musical videos, 360-degree videos, aerial videos, and even e-learning videos. 

Raasta Studios has many clients, including ISB, TCS, PWC, IKEA and GMR. But things didn’t begin this smoothly. It was after a short but frustrating stint at Samsung’s R&D department that Sai realised the corporate world wasn’t for him.

In 2013, he teamed up with Prem, who was then working at DataWind, and started Raasta Studios.

Learning the ropes

“We didn’t know how to make things work. While I had freelanced earlier, doing this as a business was different. We didn’t know how to make things work, and what needed to be done. I had a small camera, a recorder, and a laptop. So we decided to start with small projects. It was just Prem and me, and we hired the first admin person,” Sai says.

The duo started with small loans and sought help from friends and family. “Everyone said you’re IITians, why do you want to struggle? Just take a job,” Prem recalls . During their first three years, the two focused on creating and finding content, selling and making money.

The idea was to find different kinds of video content that could be made and sold. They realised that everyone needed content - SMBs, corporates, startups, and the government.  “We realised video is part of a complete marketing package for an agency. They work with studios for creating the content. It is then we decided to tie up with them,” Prem says.

Prem, Naren and Sai, the founding team of Raasta Studios.

Working directly with clients

Through word of mouth, the team soon began to work directly with clients. Their first customer was KP Sanghvi, a jeweller based out of Surat. During Sai’s travelling stint, he had met the jeweller and had filmed a music video for his friend. They reconnected when the jeweller wanted a corporate and a CSR video.  Raasta charged them Rs 20,000. Next project on, they were able to charge more than twice as much - Rs 50,000.

With digital picking up, many wanted to experiment with the idea of making internal corporate films or films around CSR activities.

“After our first project, we were able to invest in a bigger camera and charge a little higher,” Prem says. Today, the team can charge about  Rs 5 lakh for a similar project. The cost can go up to Rs 30 lakh, depending on the number of elements and work needed.

Building a differentiator

When Raasta began working directly with clients, it helped them understand the different nuances and situations where filmmaking could be used.

“When we started making commercial films, we began with short digital films and  moved into ad films and theatrical trailers. During this time, we realised that corporate events also need films. And many of these could be purely used for marketing purposes, which  is when we began making post-event films,” Prem says.

But several production houses are already working on advertising, corporate, and marketing films. These include Nirvana Films, Marching Ants, Early Man, Asylum, and Chrome Pictures. According to an IBIS group report, the total revenue global filmmaking generated this year alone was approximately $50 billion.

The Raasta Studios team.

Most of these companies charge anywhere from Rs 30 lakh to Rs 5 crore. Comparatively, Raasta charges way lesser. “For us, initially, it was about looking at making films in different ways and at different cost structures,” Sai says.

Raasta Studios began working on shorter films, digital films, product videos, and others so they could charge less. “At that point, we were looking at every opportunity and stumbled upon the ideas of events. We worked on the GES (Global Entrepreneurship Summit) teaser and the  post-event film,” Prem says.

Events remain a big focus, and the team has set up a separate arm, AMPLIFY, for this. Currently, Raasta works 70 percent with corporates, 15 percent with governments, 5 percent startups and 10 percent with studios.

Also, while the team makes corporate films, product and event videos in-house, it works with agencies for commercials. Typically, when an agency charges a brand, the price is between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 50 lakh.

Future plans

With the rise in AR/VR content and films, it is not surprising that Raasta is exploring this pool as well. The team has already worked with Tirupati to create a VR film for the temple’s darshan, and has set up Virtual Raasta for creating similar content. For this, they charge anywhere between Rs 30 lakh and Rs 50 lakh, depending on a customer’s requirements.

Raasta claims to have worked on a similar VR project for global Swedish furniture brand IKEA, for which they charged Rs 60 lakh.

“Three years ago, we were a 12-member team; we have now grown to 70  with more than 100 freelancers. We will soon have a very strong studio base in Hyderabad, but are looking to build a presence across cities” Sai says.

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