Sohum Shah talks about his journey in the industry and the critically acclaimed Tumbbad with Team Box Office India
We last spoke to you before Tumbbad released. From the festival circuit to the big screen, how did the reception evolve?
We eventually got the response we aspired for. The audience has loved the film as have the critics. The film also ran for a long time in theatres, I think around seven weeks, so its longevity was a huge plus. Everyone associated with this film was a newcomer. The star cast, the director, the producer and even the subject of this film was new. And despite this, the film has received much love.
When we were making the film, we knew it was a novel idea, it was unique, and that there was an audience that would love it. Now that we are getting that response, it makes us very happy. It makes us feel that the effort we put in, the obstacles we went through, the belief we had, were all leading us in the right direction.
To be appreciated after six years of working on one film is validation, of sorts.
A lot of people have asked me why I didn’t release the film when it was ready three years ago. But I believe that every film, just like everything else in life, has its own destiny. There are really good films which don’t get their due because something or the other happens before their release, like a strike or critical weather conditions, etc. So, like I said, the destiny of this film was to release at this time. Maybe, if it had released in theatres earlier, it wouldn’t have been as well received as it has been now.
The thing is that audiences are now more aware of content, not only in India but from all over the world. Platforms like Netflix and Amazon have raised the bar for content. Since films with unique content are getting more love now, this was the best time for a film like Tumbbad to release.
The journey of Tumbbad has been really great and I don’t think it could have been better. I come from a small town in Rajasthan and when we got wind that even a TV star was visiting, we would travel 50 km just to get a glimpse. I come from a world like that. Coming from a place like that, it is an achievement to just make a film, and get it released. It’s a big thing even if the film does not work. But I have made two films – Ship Of Theseus and Tumbbad- produced and acted in them, and both have been accepted by the industry. If I look at it from that point of view, it has been a very good journey.
Some filmmakers believe that it is more feasible to release some small-budget films directly on digital platforms. As the producer of Tumbbad, did that thought ever cross your mind?
No, I didn’t think about this because I am also an actor in the film. The craft of acting has always attracted me more and that is why I feel a film should release on the big screen. That’s why directly streaming it on Netflix or Amazon was never an option for me.
What makes you invest creatively as well as financially in smaller gems like Tumbbad and your previous production venture, Ship Of Theseus?
The reason I do this is because I come from the outside, I am not from the film fraternity, and when you come into the industry, you are a little naïve. You are not familiar with the game or the business calculations and you tend to rely on your gut. You want to do what feels right. With Ship Of Theseus and Tumbbad, I felt that both were new stories, different stories, and if we make them right with love and honesty, they would be able to reach the audience.
Thankfully, Tumbbad released during a time when ‘content’ was being talked about a lot. But Ship Of Theseus released in 2013, when films of a different type were being made and appreciated. Fortunately, it still received a lot of love. Kiran (Rao) came on board for that film because she liked it and that helped us a lot. This is an example to prove that if you have faith in the film you are making, then the audience recognises it.
Did you get the same kind of confidence for Tumbbad, especially after Aanand L Rai came on board as a presenter?
Yes, when it happened with Ship Of Theseus, I felt that if you make a good product, people will want to be associated with it. When we were completing Tumbbad, we knew the product was complete but a new battle would start as we tried to figure out how to release the film in theatres. It just so happened that the very first copy of the film that came out was seen by our team and Aanandji’s team, together. He and his team liked the film so much that we locked him coming on board in just one week. So, as I just mentioned, if you make a film in all honesty, it will find a way to reach the audience.
How did Tumbbad’s popularity on the festival circuit help you to gain more traction among the theatre-going audience?
The PR regarding where the film is going, which festival it opens or closes, all this makes a difference as far as the popularity is concerned. People think that because the film has been chosen for so many festivals, prestigious festivals, it must be a credible film. But more than that, I think it is the first trailer you put out for the audience that works. How the audience reacts to the trailer is the biggest marketing tool you have.
You speak about content-driven cinema and how important it is in today’s times. But, as an actor, do you plan to explore the world of commercial cinema too?
I want to explore everything that is out there. It’s always the case that we want something, we think something else, and we get something else. I have grown up on hardcore Bollywood drama and I not only want to explore the drama but also the melodrama. I don’t have any such issue with commercial cinema and when a good script from that genre comes along, I will definitely go ahead with it.
But I also think that nowadays, the lines between commercial, content and mainstream cinema are blurring. Earlier, if a film reached a certain audience, it was called a ‘commercial’ film. But, now, there is an audience for that as well as for the other kind of cinema, which people are currently exploring. And I, as an actor, want to reach all kinds of audiences.
Is there any particular genre that you are craving to do as an actor?
I want to be part of all the genres that are out there, including comedy, drama, romance, action and so on and so forth. I want to explore all these areas and I am planning to make these kinds of films. I am working on a few projects from these lighter genres, in the near future. This is my vision going forward for acting as well as production.
You mentioned earlier that you come from Rajasthan and have no film background. What have you learnt from the industry in these last 10 years?
I have learnt a lot and my perspective has completely changed. Like most people, you think that this industry is just about glamour and show business but it isn’t. You come here thinking that it is about glamour but you understand the hard work and intensity of the work only once you are inside. Now the craving for that glamour has died down and it is about expressing something through the medium of cinema. I have some stories, a part of myself which I want to show the audience. Acting has become a medium for me to show the world who I am.