Indian-origin man behind Dune’s Oscar for visual effects category


This year, the Academy Awards may have attracted attention for all the wrong reasons (Will Smith’s reaction to Chris Rock’s joke) but there was more to the evening.

As the internet scrambled to bring back the attention to the first deaf man who won an acting Oscar, the first openly queer woman of color to bag an Oscar and the third woman to win the best director award — the Indian community was looking to celebrate some of its nominations and winnings.

One of the many winnings that got silenced was, Dune’s win in the visual effects category.

India-born Visual effects (VFX) genius Namit Malhotra’s company DNEG clinched its seventh visual effects award for Denis Villeneuve’s directorial Dune beating two Marvel movies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Spider-Man: No Way Home!

However, Namit is unfazed by the victory and says that the film goes beyond the award as it has set the benchmark in the world of visual effects, with a brilliant creative team conjuring up the magic that we see on screen.

DNEG, which had two nominations in the 94th Academy Awards, including No Time To Die, has so far won six Oscars, five of them in the last seven years.

Malhotra says that every film the company has worked on and projects that have won an Oscar have contributions from India and Indian artiste in various levels of complexity. “Indian talent and scale of potential is growing rapidly. The more our artists shine, the more the world will recognize us,” he said.

London-based DNEG, which was acquired by Prime Focus in 2014, raised Rs 3,000 crore in February and will soon be listed on the NASDAQ exchange with a valuation of $1.7 billion. Malhotra said that the funds will be used to increase investments in technology, expand newer businesses such as gaming, and hire additional talent.

The company has recruitment plans for India as well, he added. “We will be increasing the headcount by 2,000 people in India in the next 12-18 months,” said Malhotra.

He added that the visual effects and animation industry is poised for massive growth. “Entertainment services, especially animation and VFX, are going to take center stage and Indian artistes and talent are becoming relevant world over. There will be a marked increase in that capability.”

Prime Focus has 20-30 projects in the pipeline in 2022 and some of the current and upcoming projects include Uncharted, Death on the Nile, Moonfall, Borderlands, Stranger Things season 4, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Knives Out 2, The Last of Us, The Flash, and Shazam! Fury of the Gods, which will hit theaters next year.

He said that while 2021 was a bit of an odd year due to the pandemic and starting and stopping of production, the project load has gone up exponentially. “We are looking at the busiest time in our history,” said Malhotra.

Prime Focus, which has worked on recently released ventures such as RRR and Alia Bhatt-starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi, continues to focus on India. “We were trying to build our base in the West, which we have done. We have a decent mix of projects from India and Hollywood.”

However, India contributes just 5-10 percent of the company’s revenues as the market, while high in terms of volume, is lower in value. But spending on VFX appears to be increasing even for Indian projects. From 5-8 percent of a show’s production budget, VFX has now increased to 15-20 percent of the production budget of films, shows or series.

Betting big on the country, Malhotra said that while India has a film history of over 100 years, it has not got its due.

“Indian filmmakers have not been appreciated for their talent. But now the perseverance to put India on the map has started to play out. When I went to Hollywood, they were like, ‘We don’t trust India, we can’t work with India’.  Today, India is becoming the fundamental foundation of most big projects,” said Malhotra.


[Photo courtesy: Wikipedia]