Priti Shahani, President, Junglee Pictures talks to Team Box Office India about the production house’s vision, their latest hit Badhaai Ho and how their aim is to combine content and commerce in cinema
Three successful films in less than two years! What is Junglee Pictures doing to have got it so right?
(Laughs) What has paid off in a very big way is our focus on stories. And with that, we have been very fortunate. I have said this earlier, and I will keep maintaining, that we have had amazing talent in the form of writers and directors who have worked with us. The foundation for us is obviously our writers, and the next level is the combination with our talented directors. And then moving forward, we have managed to attract the right cast to tell our stories.
Yes, in every film, the cast is right on point.
It is. It’s been the dictates of the story. We have not veered away from what the story has dictated. While that is the internal process in Junglee Pictures, there is also an external environment that plays a part as well. It’s the audience. They have also embraced our films. So this combination has paid off.
When you speak of the audience embracing stories, Badhaai Ho is a very different kind of subject from what’s usually seen in Hindi films. Were you even a little apprehensive about that?
Not at all! This is the one thing I can say about the entire team that has worked on the film. I don’t think we ever had a conversation, saying ‘wow, we are making this and how is it going to be received?’ We were so attracted and attached to this story. We wanted to tell a story that was an out-and-out family entertainer. This is the way movies have been watched in India.
As soon as we released the trailer, the reaction of the audience picked up instantly. This shows that the audience also didn’t think this was an awkward story. In fact, they embraced it at the box office. In theatres, we have noticed that the entire family comes together, from grandparents to grandchildren, to watch our movie. It is aimed at all age groups and it has been sensitively handled. The subject has not been taken lightly, and credit for this goes to my writers Shantanu Srivastava and Akshat Ghildial. In no way have we turned it into a parade. And credit for this goes to the director.
When we spoke earlier, you said the trailer is a subset of the film. When the trailer of Badhaai Ho was being cut, what did you keep in mind at that point?
This is a combination, and what we got right was that during the making of the film, we never revealed the actual concept of the film. So the PR around the film never talked about the parents’ pregnancy. All they revealed is that this was a family film and that something was happening in it. Everyone therefore assumed it was a rom-com and Ayushmann (Khurrana) was getting engaged or married.
Therefore, the trailer came as a huge surprise. We knew we were putting the concept out. We wanted everyone to know that this is what our film was all about. That is about the Kaushik parivar. We introduced the family in the trailer, and in my experience, it was perhaps the most viral trailer, ever. Cutting the trailer was actually to communicate the film.
The film not only had humour but also drama. It made us laugh as well as cry.
Think about it, it’s a reflection of all our families. Though I am a huge fan of Hum Aapke Hain Koun… I think we have moved away from depicting families like that. It is today’s family. You have drama but it does not take away from the most important fact that families stick by each other, no matter what.
If we go back to the journey of where Badhaai Ho started, we heard that Amit Sharma and Junglee Pictures were working on similar project.
It wasn’t similar at all. It was the same (Laughs). Somebody very wise once told me that, ‘just remember one thing that if you have an idea, know for sure that, that idea exists elsewhere and is being developed at the same time.’ We started working on this concept, unnamed at that time, nine months ago. I heard that Amit had started working on the same concept… the exact same concept, parents getting pregnant and the impact that pregnancy has on the children.
I reached out to Amit and said, ‘Listen, there is no point in both of us developing this individually. Then it would be a race against time as to who was going to release the film first. Let’s discuss what we have developed and what you have developed.’ We had our writer Jyoti Kapoor. Amit was already writing this with Shantanu and Akshat. Amit and I compared our work. I realised very soon that the story we wanted to tell was the one he was developing with Shantanu and Akshat. So we collapsed our story and started developing Badhaai Ho with Amit, Shantanu and Akshat. The story that you see today is Shantanu and Akshat’s.
Badhaai Ho’s numbers jumped from day one, to day two, day three, and then the weekend. Was that because it resonated with the audience?
Yes, it has been a massive weekend. This kind of jump is because the film has connected with all age groups. It has connected because it is an entire family with every character very well defined and very strong. Audiences have come in because it has resonated with them.
What was the creative process like for you as a producer?
It’s been very interesting because we started writing this. Like any creative journey, your starting point and your end point are never the same. Where we started with Badhaai Ho, and the film that you have watched, is very different in its journey. Writing, storytelling and family reactions, some of it has to do with the fact that casting was difficult, and then we had to re-look and re-think our family and look at perspectives and points of view.
After Bareilly Ki Barfi released, this was the story I really wanted to pitch to Ayushmann. Here, I cannot emphasise enough that Ayushmann is one of the most selfless actors in this industry. He knew that this was the story of an entire family but he wanted to be a part of this journey. This is an entirely unselfish act. Then we were looking for the perfect parents, dadi, and we were fortunate to get all of them. It is a stellar cast and this is supreme talent on screen.
This is the process of making movies. You can have a crackling script and then you need a director to bring it to life. It is known to happen; a director delivers less than the script demands. In this case, Amit took the script and made it far more than it was. And then there was the cast breathing life into these characters. It has been a spectacular combination.
We have seen the box office numbers and we have seen the reactions. How do you measure the success of Badhaai Ho?
It is always a combination of both. Creatively, the journey was very satisfying. To have commercial success along with this… we could not ask for more. It has been a stupendous commercial success. And then there are some films that do well and the creative process is satisfying. We had that in Talvar as well. The creative process was very intense and it did well for the film that it was. But when you have a combination of creativity and commerce, which explodes the way Badhaai Ho has, it is very fulfilling.
All the films Junglee Pictures has been associated with have been either slice-of-life dramas or crime thrillers. With your next film, Junglee, you will explore a larger-than-life world. Was that deliberate, introducing variety into your filmography?
No, I don’t think it was a conscious decision. In hindsight, things always look very intelligent (Laughs). When a film has been a success, you can get away with it or take ownership of it.
This has been the journey of Junglee, from the beginning to what will play out on screen. We are very excited about it because we don’t make films that speak to children as the primary audience. Junglee does that. It is a film for children to come in. It has action but it doesn’t have the kind of action that is going to put off anybody. It is a family entertainer. It has been 47 years since we have had a movie based on elephants in Hindi cinema. It has been that long, so it has a certain uniqueness. We are very proud of this attempt because, as you can imagine, it is not easy to shoot with animals; it is certainly not easy to shoot with elephants, who are the central character of this film.
As a production house, how important is it for you to get a good release date and to stick to it?
The right release date is imperative for any film. It is important because you have to exploit the run of the film in its entirety. Sometimes, a film could be cut short if you pick the wrong release date. And if you release in a crowded area, even a good film can get lost. Then it doesn’t reach its maximum potential. To reach its potential, it is important to find the right release date.
Having said that, I also think that if your environment changes, you need to be nimble-footed and change your release date because, at the end of the day, it takes around two years to put a film together, to tell a story. You need flexibility to ensure that the environment of that date is best suited to your story.
I have noticed that the longevity of the box office run is not in anybody’s hands except those of the audience. We play no role in this. I have heard many times that films that didn’t have the budgets to market themselves and shout out loud were gems in reality. But for the audience, it takes time for discovery and then they run. It just comes down to the audience. The eventual box office verdict is not in our hands. You can only bring your film up to Friday, after that point, it belongs to the public. The magic we try to work ends on Friday. The audience’s acceptance, rejection or their lukewarm response depends purely on the stories that come out.
You said before that you don’t fear the Friday of the release. But with every successful film, the stakes and expectations are higher. Does that make you apprehensive at all?
I think expectations from Junglee Pictures have definitely increased. Do we feel the pressure? I could lie and say that we don’t, we are not paying attention to it. But we are paying attention to it. But when I said that we would try and bring our films to a point on Friday where we are fearless, it’s because there is a combination of things; knowing that we did everything possible to make that film what it is for the audience.
We have never had any control over the box office nor have we ever estimated the numbers. Of course, there is pressure because now our partners are asking us what we are doing next. Are we aiming for the next 100-crore film? And we are surprised because we have never aimed for any 100-crore film. We just put our films out there. I hope that what will remain unchanged in Junglee Pictures is our emphasis and focus on our stories and our writers.
Junglee will be your first solo production. What was the shift like from co-productions to this venture? Were there any added responsibilities or pressure? Or did you enjoy keeping the creative controls in your own hands?
We are actually a very tiny team. We are what I call a ‘boutique company’ but in the content business. So, it is not possible for us to produce all our films in-house. If we were to do this, of releasing a film every six months or so, we would be down to one every three years. And that’s not ideal. This is also a business of collaboration. If there is a story we like, we will find a partner and go ahead with it. In the case of Junglee, though, it is something we believed in very strongly. We had a lot of opportunities to bring in partners but they were coming in as financial partners. So, when you do not have a creative collaboration, there is no point looking at financial partners at this stage.
There are other productions out there that would be happy with this arrangement.
That’s true. A lot of people would go in just for financial partnerships but we wanted to make this film, the belief was ours. There are a lot of things that are different in the film. We have an English-speaking Hollywood director making a Hindi film. So there are a lot permutations and combinations that make this film seemingly a very brave attempt. We wanted to take that risk ourselves. We had the confidence, we believe in it.
You have worked with many directors on your films. How do you make these collaborations happen?
As for Badhaai Ho, I am fan of the ad films that Amit has made. If you watch his ad films, Amit has made me cry in 2 minutes! The story of Badhaai Ho was custom-made for him. There was not a single moment when we hesitated. If Amit had not directed Tevar and this was his first film, he would have still been the perfect person to tell this story.
As for the others, our directors seem to have chosen us. The only director we have gone out and chosen is Chuck Russell for Junglee. The reason is that we didn’t have any yardstick to compare with any film like this because a film like this has not been made in our industry. As I said, you haven’t seen elephants on screen for 47 years. Chuck has done action, comedy, he has made The Mask, which is with music, and all his films have an animal featuring in them. Hence, he was our choice for this film.
You said your aim is to concentrate on your stories and your writers, which was not the case a few years ago. Now, everyone is singing a similar tune. What do you think has changed?
Content is always about writers. There has been a huge shift in the commerce of the business and in the expectations of the audience. Our audience is now consuming global content. Today, you can consume content while you are on your way home, watching Netflix. You can be watching a film on a digital platform when you are travelling by train. So, your consumption of content is huge. Hence your expectations of what you want to watch when you have to give up four hours of your life in a movie theatre, is also huge now.
Up to five or six years ago, packaging worked for the audience. Great music, a great cast, big stars and fun films constituted entertainment. But the definition of entertainment when it comes to stories and storytelling has changed with the audience.
Since you have a marketing background, does it help while drawing up marketing and promotional strategies for your films?
A marketing strategy is always based on the film itself. It is about who you are going to speak to and how you are going to reach out and find that audience. In the case of Junglee, if you see the teaser, it has completely shifted its communication to children and family. And that is why it was moved up, to get it released with Badhaai Ho. You know that Badhaai Ho is going to speak to large family groups. The film dictated its audience and then, on the basis of that, you start customising.
Around five to seven years ago, it was one size fits all. Now there is customisation. There are huge digital platforms and social media platforms that drive a lot of traffic. Music is actually consumed more on YouTube than it is on television. Platforms are now dictating the way the customisation of film communication is happening. That said, in our country, the impact of a story’s print and PR, the impact of music on radio, is still very high.
Any updates on developments with Junglee Pictures’ first web series?
There is development there. We haven’t closed our platform, we are in discussions with platforms right now. It is being directed by Abhishek Chaubey. Shantanu (Srivastava) and Akshat (Ghildial), who wrote Badhaai Ho, are my writers for this web series which is called Dus Assi. This is a story that was inspired by a report in the newspaper.
It talks about how video clips of rapes are circulated via smartphones. In Haryana, UP and Bihar, people actually record gang rapes on their phones and sell these clips to local shops and others. These are then edited and sold as pornography. This was the news article and we said, we need to delve into this further, we need to research it, we need to understand what was going on and we need to tell a story. So, it is a hard-hitting drama with action that throws light on what is really going on, the politics, the patriarchy and the role women play in it. And since Shantanu is from Rohtak and Akshat is from Meerut, they kind of get the language.
There was also a superhero-mythological film with Anurag Singh in the making.
Yes. We are also working on the story and the script. Anurag is also very busy with Kesari, so as soon as Kesari releases, we will move on that.