Producer Shaailesh R Singh of Karma Media & Entertainment talks to Titas Chowdhury about the encouraging response to JudgeMentall Hai Kya following a backlash, and his upcoming films, Jabariya Jodi and Hurdang
The original title of JudgeMentall Hai Kya received a lot of backlash. How did you deal with all the noise prior to the release of the film?
The best part was that we knew what we were making. We had great confidence in the film, and in the talent whether it was the cast or the crew. From the very beginning, we knew that we are doing something experimental. We wanted to leave it to the people to decide if it was right or wrong. There will always be a few people with a different set of agenda but you can’t be thinking about them. For me, it was important to do what I felt like doing rather than thinking about others. Not only before the release, but also after the release of the film, there were so many people behind it. A lot of them didn’t want this film to work. But there are a lot of people who loved the film so much and are spreading the good word and making it work. That is a great thing; nothing is more important than the audience.
We wanted the film to reach out to people and we wanted them to decide its fate. The film was attacked but it came out as a winner. One can have a problem with an individual, but they can’t have a problem with an entire product that is created by so many people and their efforts. The idea is that one person disliking a film shouldn’t jeopardise a film created by a whole lot of people.
You have a long working relationship with Kangana Ranaut, which began with Tanu Weds Manu. How would you describe the association?
I collaborated with her on Tanu Weds Manu, Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Simran and now JudgeMentall Hai Kya. We are soon going to start our fifth film – the biopic on Jayalalithaa. My association with Kangana has been outstanding. We have worked together for so long and we have had no problem. The other producers and the director had no issue with her either. The issue sometimes is created by detractors. There will always be some people who’ll try to say things but you have to ignore them and move on. I can speak for myself - I have had a great working relationship with her. She is one of the best actors that we have. No one can take that away. We shouldn’t lose out on her just because a few people say certain things.
Do you fear over-exposure with JudgeMentall Hai Kya and Jabariya Jodi releasing so close to each other?
That is the reason we pushed Jabariya Jodi. It was supposed to release on August 2 but now we are releasing it on August 9. So we will have at least a 15-day window. It’s a good thing that so many films are being made and released. On August 15, two big films are clashing. Same goes for August 30. The situation is such that no one is getting or will get a solo release in the future. We’ve to accept and settle with the fact that multiple films will release on a single Friday. Your films will survive if they are good. It all boils down to how a product is. Yes, it’s exhausting with two of my films releasing so close to each other but we’ve to live with the reality. At least, I’m releasing two films within 15 days that are poles apart.
Jabariya Jodi and Hurdang are stories from the heartland. How did they come forth?
I come from that world, I’m from UP. Growing up, I’ve seen these characters, these incidents and this milieu surrounding me. Jabariya Jodi is based on kidnapping grooms forcefully and getting them married. It’s a big problem in Bihar where people who cannot pay dowry approach a contractor who kidnaps the groom and then gets him married for 20-25 per cent of the dowry amount. It’s a forced marriage and any relationship that’s forced doesn’t work. In 2015, 15,000 such incidents have been officially reported. If I tell someone that the film is based on jabariya shaadi, they will think it’s funny and then they realise that it’s a serious thing. Jabariya Jodi is a rom-com and it talks about this problem without being preachy. So we decided to make a film and convey the issue in an entertaining way. We haven’t encouraged this in the film.
Coming to Hurdang, there is this whole dialogue going on about reservation in our country. Initially, there were seats reserved for SCs, STs and OBCs. Now, so many other communities also want reserved seats. Hurdang is set during the time when the Mandal Commission was formed. At that time, students began protests and agitation all over the nation and it went on for two-and-a-half to three years. During those two-and-a-half to three years, there were no graduation exams and the lives of students came to a standstill. After the freedom struggle, that was the biggest agitation that happened in our country. Hurdang is a love story set against that backdrop. The background will make some difference to the love story.
How did the Jayalalithaa biopic happen?
My partner in Tamil Nadu approached me with the idea of this film. They had already discussed the film with me. Back then, it was at a very nascent stage. So we met KV Vijayendra Prasad and discussed it further. It sounded great. Then we approached Kangana together. They felt that she was the best to play Jayalalithaa. When we narrated the script to her, she immediately agreed and came on board.
You have worked with first-time directors in JudgeMentall Hai Kya, Jabariya Jodi and now Hurdang. What makes you place your belief in debutants?
When I work with a new director, they come with a lot of promise and passion which makes the process of filmmaking a collaborative effort. It’s like a partnership. It gives me new opportunities to create things together. I don’t want to work with directors who are rigid. Teamwork is important. Hence, working with new directors gives me a lot of satisfaction. Out of the 15-16 films that I’ve produced, I got to work with a bunch of first-time directors. In the future also, I look forward to working with more debut directors. I don’t mind putting my energy and efforts to back their dreams and achieve their vision.
How creatively involved are you in the making of a film?
I creatively involve myself in all my films in almost all stages, right from scripting to post-production and even the making. I don’t get involved too much in the casting. But if a film has a major lead cast, then we discuss that together. But casting comes much later. The scripting and the story come first. Discussions with the director are important as a film is ultimately his vision.
Is there any plan of producing something for the digital space?
Yes, something is going on and you’ll be able to see it very soon in a couple of months. I’m foraying into the space with a few interesting ideas. The prep and the development of the first film has already started.