Remembering Ravindra: The man, the music, the movies

By John Ross I have been meeting with Ravindra Patel over the last month and interviewing him for a series of articles. Ravindra was an amazingly gentle man, soft spoken
19 Mar 2014 10:56

The late Ravindra Bhai Patel

By John Ross

I have been meeting with Ravindra Patel over the last month and interviewing him for a series of articles.
Ravindra was an amazingly gentle man, soft spoken and calm, even under pressure but he had a great passion for the music and video industry, an area he had been involved with for a very long time.
Ravindra was truly the founder of the industry in Fiji and continued to dominate it until today. What follows is a Hard Talk that was approved by Ravindra before his death on Sunday but was yet to be published.

What was the motivation for starting SPR?
While I was completing my studies in England the music industry was going through a revolution, with lots of new artists, new types of music and a new delivery method, the audio cassette. When I returned to Fiji there was no local music industry here and I decided that I could build on the opportunity.

When did you start SPR?
We started in 1976 in Nadi. There was a big opportunity in the market for cassette recordings of music as there was no-one else in Fiji producing these. We bought in reel-to-reel masters from overseas and had our own dubbing equipment to produce the cassettes.
We were able to get amazing quality with our equipment and we packaged the product well. In 1977 we bought more equipment and started to record local artists and bands. The music was mainly groups as there were very few single artists at the time. In 1980 we built our own studio, which was pretty much state-of-the-art then.

SPR became a very strong brand. How did that happen?
SPR started in Fiji but we very quickly moved into marketing our music products around the Pacific. As time went on we also produced releases from musicians outside the Fiji area so we became a Pacific brand, a household name.
We produced music in Hindi, Fijian and English and that helped us to address all the markets. We were also releasing Hindi music from famous Indian singers into the Fiji market.

Most people remember SPR because of the retail shops. How did that develop?
We initially opened a shop in Nadi and Suva to give us an outlet for the cassettes we were producing. The general retail market was not initially very interested in selling music. There was a good demand for the music and we expanded the retail network, which at the peak had sixteen locations around Fiji.
At the start we only sold cassettes but expanded into instruments, electronic gear and other items related to music. We were at the heart of music in Fiji and there was a strong demand, not only from musicians but from choirs, schools and the general public.
We bought in equipment and dubbed overseas movies onto tape, mainly Betacam. We bought the rights to these movies in both India and the USA. Video was a huge business for us but the music grew and eventually was equal in value. The rental business for movies created a very busy environment in the shops.

SPR got into local Video production. How did that happen?
The video business had grown quickly and there were opportunities for us to produce locally. Mike Brooke’s company, Videopac, became available so we bought it. In 1994 we bought all the equipment and a lot of library footage and we operated out of his studios in Toorak.
The business continued to grow, so we bought a property in McGregor Road in Suva to get larger studios and this allowed us to put a music studio in Suva as well as Nadi. We moved heavily into the production of television commercials when television came to Fiji in 1994 and we worked with a number of independent producers, as well as having our own people.

You are not in the video production business now, what happened?
The production business was very good financially, but after a while, the cost of equipment for video studios dropped dramatically as digital technology became widespread.
This made it possible for others to enter the business economically, so a number of competing production companies started up. Because there was only a limited advertisers base, the companies cut their costs to get work, making the business marginal, so SPR decided to withdraw and direct our energies elsewhere.

SPR Retail was a very large business, but you have now closed a lot of the outlets. What happened?
Piracy was the problem. In the early days piracy was basically non-existent. The copying process on videotape was slow and expensive unless you had the right equipment and to get that was expensive. But again, with the advances in digital technology, copying onto CD, and later to DVD, became easy and a great number of people entered the market.
And the copies to DVD are really good quality. The problem is that these people dubbing off genuine masters only buy one copy and then they do not pay any royalty for the material they make. They are stealing from the rightful owners, but there is little policing here in Fiji. SPR always pays the royalty and that makes our products more expensive. We refuse to steal so we lose sales to the pirates. We still have a small number of shops, but not as many as in the past.
Piracy is a huge issue in Fiji. It costs the copyright owners hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Because there is no financial incentive, the musicians are doing a lot less original recording, they are earning a lot less and the government is losing a great deal of money from forgone tax revenue. But there doesn’t seem a real will to stamp out piracy, so the situation continues.
With SPR withdrawing from the market, a lot of composers and musicians in Fiji are missing out on their rightful payments because of the piracy. In the days before piracy, some of the leading artists would make over three hundred thousand dollars from record sales over a period of a few years. Now they make almost nothing. But they still record because they love their work and they love music.

Do you still record music for local artists?
We have a very modern studio, which has just recently gone through a major upgrade. The quality we are achieving is world class, and all the musicians who work with us are very happy with the studio.
But the volume of recording work is a lot lower than in the early days, mainly because of the pirates. We also record a number of artists from other Pacific countries, who come here because of the standard of the studio.

And what happened in the movie rental business?
We still do quite a bit. We are able to get a lot of material that is not easily available to the pirates and we can make our own DVDs, pay the royalty and make money. But we are down to less than ten percent of what we would have done out of one shop in the days before piracy became a big issue.

SPR now seem to be very involved in Bollywood movies
Yes. SPR got into Bollywood many years ago. We have been dealing with Hindi movies since we started the retail shops. We have dealt with most of the Indian distribution companies and the Indian producers over those years and our relationship has always been good.
We always paid for the material, they know us well and respect us. So moving from selling their movies to helping make their movies was a very small step. We already had all the lights and sound equipment for the live shows we help present so the upfront costs were not great. Even so we have recently spent over a million dollars on extra equipment to be able to handle a major production.
When a production comes to Fiji they need to bring everything they can’t source here. Lights and sound gear are bulky and heavy so there is a financial barrier to bringing them by air freight. So we have concentrated on being able to supply the demand for this area. We have not bought cameras. These are easy to transport and technology is advancing rapidly, making existing cameras obsolete in a short period. Lighting, on the other hand, seldom changes. Also, productions use cameras for the full period of the production in Fiji, but lighting is often required for only limited times, so the Indian production companies want to hire the lights here

What is the secret to success in international film production in Fiji?
Fiji needs to have the right people, people who understand the needs of the production companies, and then the Fiji government needs to let them get on with the job without a lot of red tape.

Do you see a future for movie production in Fiji?
Yes. The potential is huge, but we need to fully understand what the foreign companies need and we need to meet their needs in total. I also see a big future for Fijian music, Hindi, English and iTaukei, but only if the government can get control of the pirates, otherwise there will not be enough money for the local musicians to worry about it. And I believe that it is only fair that movie companies get their just rewards for their product and again that will only happen if the pirates are stopped.
-John Ross is a prominent Nadi-based advertising and marketing specialist who knew Ravindra Patel well.

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