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‘Fearless’ Filmmaking

Siddharth Anand Kumar, VP, Films and Television, Saregama India and Producer, Yoodlee Films, talks to Bhavi Gathani about the journey and growth of Yoodlee Films, their recent release Music Teacher and more

Yoodlee Films started its journey with the film Ajji in 2017. It is now 2019 and you have  backed quite a few films, including the two Netflix Originals. How would you describe your journey?

It is a dream come true. Yoodlee has made 15 films in the last 30 months. A lot of them are in post-production and will be out in the months to come but initially we set out with a promise of 100 films over five years. If you do the math, that’s 20 films a year. Of course, that’s almost impossible to achieve but in 30 months, we have done 15 films. It is very gratifying that the films are getting a great critical response, they are finding their way to OTT platforms and the viewers on those OTT platforms are writing on social media how much they are appreciating our movies.

Of the 15 films that I mentioned, 10 films are with first-time or second-time directors. A lot of them are with actors who played the lead role for the first time. One of our very first Netflix Originals was Brij Mohan Amar Rahe! with Arjun Mathur as the lead. He had never really played lead roles until Brij Mohan Amar Rahe and then he did Made In Heaven. Now he is a name to reckon with. It is very gratifying when things like this happen.

Now the focus is on content-driven films rather than on stars. Do you think content gets eclipsed by stardom?

I don’t think stardom will overpower content; I think often stardom overpowers budgets and the feasibility of a film. For us, a star is a burden on a film and an actor is someone who fits into the business of the film. So the same person could charge a very high price for something else but work for us for a very low price because they really love the content. That’s when we say that we are focused on content, not on stars.

Besides content-driven films, you also said you believe in ‘fearless filmmaking’. How does your recent release Music Teacher fit into that?

Music Teacher is a film that Sarthak Dasgupta, who is the director of the film, has been developing for 17 years. In fact, he just had a lovely moment… recently we had a private screening at Sunny Super Sound, and he came along with his 17-year-old son. He said to me, that ‘I started writing this film while I was changing my son’s nappies, and, today, he is here at the screening as a 17-year-old.’ It’s a film that this guy had written so many years ago.

Music Teacher is a very beautiful film. It’s a romantic film, which generally works in India. In fact, a lot of people on Twitter had said that Music Teacher is the kind of film that Gulzar saab would have made back in the day. It’s slow, it’s philosophical, it has very interesting songs, and it’s about a mood.

As a company, we are not afraid to back something that has a really deep, interesting story. We don’t want to make only fluff stuff. We are very lucky to live in an era and produce in an era where you have platforms like Netflix that support movies like this, buy them and put them as Originals on their platforms. That creates a viable business model for producers.

How do you market these content-driven films in order to attract more viewers?

Marketing is a big challenge and we learnt a lot in the process. I think what really works in any film, whether it is a big film or a small film, if you take out the star, we call it word-of-mouth publicity. The chances of people watching a film are greater with this. At another level, you have critics. The critics are talking to a certain people who are fans of the critics or who at least trust the aesthetic and judgment of that critic and they form the circle of influence for them.

For our films, in particular, a lot of our marketing revolves around the conversation starting for that movie.

Previously, Music Teacher was to get a theatrical release. What made you release it on Netflix?

When we make a movie, we are not trying to figure out whether it will have a theatrical release or an OTT release. Our philosophy is, let’s make the movie. Let’s give the movie everything it demands within certain parameters, so that we don’t end up spending excessively. I think after 15 films, our team has learnt what is excessive spending and what is correct spending. Once the movie is made, we show it to various partners, some of whom are theatrical distributors, some of whom are from OTT platforms and some of whom are from traditional cable and satellite platforms. We try and gauge the kind of response we are getting and then decide where the movie should go.

Can you shed some light on your future projects?

We have some interesting films coming up. We have a film called Noblemen, which is set in a boarding school in Mussoorie and talks about bullying. It’s a very dark film which will have a limited theatrical release in May. Right after that, we have two light films. One is a Tamil film called KD, which is a story of a unique friendship and adventure between an 80-year-old and an eight-year-old. The film has a lot of humour and is also emotional.

Then there is a Marathi film called Habbadi, which is set in a village. It is called Habbadi because the main character lisps. He can’t say kabbadi and hence says habbadi. It’s a sports film about a 12-year-old kid who becomes a kabbadi champion. So the upcoming three-four months are interesting for us.


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