An Indian-owned company just won an Oscar for Interstellar’s incredible special effects

Shining silver.
Shining silver.
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

This post has been updated.

Namit Malhotra was still a teenager when he founded his own company in Mumbai, working out of his father’s garage.

It was 1995 and he had opened an editing studio, which swiftly moved into film production equipment rentals in two years, and eventually became Prime Focus, the visual effects force behind Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and this year’s Academy Award winner for Best Visual Effects.

The Oscars victory was led by Double Negative, the London-based VFX studio, that merged with a subsidiary of Prime Focus in 2014. That created one of the world’s largest 3D, animation and visual effects outfits. Over 80% of the merged company is still held by Malhotra’s Prime Focus, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange.

Some of the funds for the 2014 merger came through Reliance MediaWorks, the film and entertainment arm of the Reliance group, that infused Rs120 crore ($19.2 million) into Malhotra’s company to buy a 30.2% stake.

Update: In a statement on Feb. 24, Prime Focus said that Double Negative provided all the visual effects for the film, including the wormhole, a massive black hole, robots and space landscapes. “I have always been a great admirer of Mr. Nolan’s films,” Malhotra added, “and hence it is really heartening for me to see our work on Interstellar being recognised as the world’s best.”

For Malhotra, who moved from India’s film capital to Los Angeles five years ago, an inclination for lights, camera, action ran in the family. His grandfather M.N. Malhotra was a cameraman, and he even shot the Indian film industry’s first colour movie Jhansi Ki Rani in 1956. Malhotra’s father Naresh Malhotra has worked as an associate director and producer in Bollywood.

When Malhotra started Prime Focus along with three others two decades ago, his aim was ”to find a bridge between Bollywood and technology because our industry did not really use technology as easily as you saw in Hollywood,” as he explained in a 2011 interview.

Of course, Bollywood films till this day are notorious for shoddy homegrown visual effects—and borrowing too much technology and too many techniques from Hollywood for its films. In such a situation, for an Indian company to win an Oscar for VFX is a tad ironic.

Although he has worked on a long list of Indian films, including Go Goa Gone, Agent Vinod and Rockstar, Malhotra’s claim to fame comes mostly from the West.

To his credit are Hollywood entertainers like Gravity, Avatar, Shrek, Tron: Legacy, among others. Avatar and Gravity are both Academy Award winners for Best Visual Effects in 2010 and 2014.

In 2011, the company collaborated with American film production company, Lucasfilm, for the 3D conversion of Star Wars: Episode I-III. A year later, Prime Focus bagged five Oscar nominations for the studio’s work in Tree of Life, X-Men: First Class, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Hugo.

Here is the full list of movies whose visual effects have been made by Prime Focus.

Today, the Mumbai-based company, which went public in 2006, has more than 4,500 employees situated across three continents.

“We should be the Indian Pixar or the Indian version of Pixar or Marvel which we can absolutely create,” Malhotra said in a 2013 interview. “We have the opportunity, we are the company that can do that.”