The strategy was to minimise the P&A spends. Why should one front load a movie that does not cost so much (in terms of production)? It does not make sense to have a P&A spend which is much more than the movie. The idea was to create the right noise at the right time. The primary audience of the movie is fixed and it won’t change. It’s very clear that (a movie like) Ugly is not going to open to packed houses, whether we promote it for four months, or two months or two weeks. This is a word of mouth film. So all we needed was a second week, which was clean. It has a 300-400 screens release, concentrated in the metros.
Also, the film has got good reviews from the critics (at various film festivals). When people have seen the film and appreciated it, there is bound to be good word of mouth.
With Bombay Velvet, you will turn into a ‘commercial’ film-maker. How does that fit into the scheme of things?
I think Ugly is a commercial film. It’s a thriller. Gone Girl was also a thriller and it was a commercial film. Ugly is a (kind of) thriller which people in India have yet not seen. But it’s a low budget film.
It (Ugly) fits into things as it positively will affect the audience of Bombay Velvet. When you see a film and you feel that there is a sense of storytelling, there is interest in the film maker’s work. As you move along, and a film with bigger stars comes along, everything (you have done till then) becomes an added advantage.
I have always seen films like Gulaal as not niche. They seem niche because of the absence of ‘stars’. The content is not niche. I feel we need to redefine our mainstream cinema. I have never believed my content has been niche, barring a ‘No Smoking’ or ‘Yellow Boots’. Rest of my films have not been niche. But what a star does to a film is expand its reach and scope. But I still maintain, the story should be the star and that’s what I try to show through my films.
At a time when everyone wants to make the biggest movie, how do tackle costs in order to have good returns on investment?
I always work backwards. When I narrate a script, I ask my financers and producer how much they think the film will make at the box office on a bad day and on a good day. I ask them to take into consideration the cast of the film in this case. And then I calculate from there, how much I can spend on the movie. If they say on a bad day the movie will make Rs 2.5 crore or so, I try and make a film accordingly, so good content can be available at a viable cost.
Ugly, for example, cost Rs 4.5 crore and we worked on the costing like I mentioned. The P&A is very minimal because like I mentioned, we did not want to spend a crazy amount on the P&A of a film that did not cost so much to make in the first place.
So for the smaller movies, do you have a separate strategy for distribution considering OTT platforms and DTH releases are possible now?
For the smaller films, yes. But there the problem is the same as television. Everything is so ad-driven. It’s a problem within the country. We have been corrupted since the Nehruvian time when everyone got everything free. People have grown up with the idea that things like electricity and water should be free, so today when they have to pay for it, it’s a problem. The same goes for content, especially on digital. There is a cost involved in providing any service or a product which needs to be recovered.
We are very ad dependent. But I do believe that as long as we focus on content, we shall survive. At the end of the day, it is about survival for us as well. Even if everything is accessed only through the internet, we will be the content providers.
But until it becomes popular, it will be traditional exhibition?
I think we really need more exhibition avenues and spaces. When 80% of the avenues are going to be occupied by one big movie and it becomes a formula, out of the 52 Fridays, we’ll have only 26 available to us. It’s not healthy for a country making more than 1,000 movies a year.
Either we need more exhibition spaces or some kind of regulation in this regard, like the south. There they have regulation on the P&A of the film too so that a film is not front loaded too much.
Business (in Bollywood) in the long run is suffering and people are not realising it because of very high mounting of movies. People today are so content with their first three days of business and are easily number satisfied. If I am making a commercial movie, I am going to be very ambitious about it. I would want it to do as many hundreds of crores as possible. Why strop at 100 or 200 crore.
They are easily satisfied because their eyes are on the other guy’s number and all they aim for is beating that. Nothing is valued on the basis of what it has the potential to be.
You have also dabbled with television. How was the experience?
There is a big different (between the two mediums). It was a big learning experience. I realised you can’t do something atmospheric on Indian television as of now. There are so many ad-breaks. It breaks the mood, disrupts the atmosphere you are trying to create. Indian television is not so upgraded technically. In America, you can get the cinema experience on the small screen. In India, it is very difficult to do so. For example, our movies when shown on TV, go on for hours with all the ad-breaks and all. A TV show can’t go on for that long (at a stretch). And, one would want to make as much revenue from the product as possible in every episode. But it has to be limited, so that the product not affected. But somehow, the dynamics work such that if something has potential to make money, it is exploited to the hilt.
In the US, HBO tried something different and changed television there. Here someone has to take that step. Until things change, I know not to do television that is atmospheric.
Is that what went wrong with Yudh?
Yes. The product was so disrupted on Tv that what we liked in the edit room, we ourselves didnot like on television. It has a lot to do with technology as well. You lose colours and sound and everything starts looking like television (content). Also, a story moves at a particular pace and ads have a different rhythm. The rhythm and tone changes and the loudness (of the ads) comes in. By the time you build your pace again, its time for another break.
So will you stay away from television?
Not really. Right now I am still getting around (what happened). Another thing we faced was that a huge number of Amitabh Bachchan fans were not watching it as a serial. They were watching it as an Amitabh Bachchan work. So they wanted that Amitabh from the movies; the larger than life one. They did not want him to be real. I think it’s a great performance by him, but the audiences just did not want to see it. They did not want to see him as weak and vulnerable and sick! That is the exact feedback we got.
We learnt that a star’s image can also become detrimental to the success of the content.
We will be doing more television, but Vikas will be taking charge of it. I feel the kind of television I want to do, may not be possible as of now. It was different in the 1990’s when I did Bestsellers on Star Plus. It’s all changed now.
How does it work at Phantom with four directors?
Madhu (Mantena) looks at the logistic while Vikas (Bahl) and Ranjan look at the promotions etc. Vikas, Vikram (Motwane) and I also look into the creative bit. We have three different tastes so it works very well for the variety we can give audiences.
We meet once every month and plan ahead. We are looking at least one film every two months in 2015. It will range from Rs 5 crore films or even less to films like Bombay Velvet, Shaandar and Bhavik Joshi, which are medium to big budget. Irrespective of the budget, we want to make films that break new grounds in whatever genre they may play.
We also work with new directors and try to mentor them.