The men behind DAR Motion Pictures, Vivek Rangachari and Sethumadhavan Napan, talk to Team Box Office India about their return to Marathi cinema with the film Bucket List.
Box Office India (BOI): What was that one thing that prompted you to back this film?
Vivek Rangachari (VR): About a year ago, Tejas (Vijay Deoskar), the writer-director of the film, and Devashree Shivadekar, the co-writer, had contacted us. They gave us a one-liner from the film and it immediately resonated with us. There are certain things at the concept level that strike a chord. The one-liner about how a woman who grapples with certain situations and overcomes them, attracted us.
We asked them to develop a screenplay around it and that’s how we got into it. We always had one actress in mind, Madhuriji (Dixit-Nene). We thought she was the only one who could do justice to it. We met her and luckily for us, she loved the the idea, and the film happened.
Sethumadhavan Napan (SN): We could not have proceeded had Madhuri ma’am not said yes. Not only is she apt for this role but there is also a lot of traction that she brings to the film. As producers, we needed a strong marketing angle. Despite being a Maharashtrian and speaking Marathi fluently, she had not done a single Marathi film so far. That gave our film an edge and we benefitted from it.
BOI: You managed a casting coup by bringing Madhuri Dixit-Nene back with Renuka Shahane.
SN: It is a beautiful role that has been envisioned by the writers for Renuka, and we obviously felt that she would be a great choice. Thankfully, Madhuri herself was more than happy when it was suggested to her. There was a point when it looked like Renuka may not be in a position to do the film. We were overjoyed when Madhuri took the initiative to call up Renuka and ask her if she was considering to be a part of the film. And Renuka just couldn’t say no!
The kind of bonhomie and bond they share, even after 24 years, was visible on the sets. In fact, the very first day of our shoot started with the scenes between Renuka and Madhuri, which was a happy coincidence. The camaraderie between them from the very first day was lovely.
VR: It was largely an organic process. The role that was given to her was very relevant and we thought she would do justice to the part. In that sense, it was organic. But, sure, having them together in such a classic film, coming back on screen together after 24 years, adds to the lure of the movie.
BOI: How important of a role does casting play?
VR: You have to look at that on a case-to-case basis. The script is important and also the actors justifying the role in the script. There are few actors that are capable of carrying a film on their shoulders, irrespective of the script or certain elements in the film. And the audience today is looking for interesting subjects. So, miscasting can be a problem. Casting is important but I believe it is not the only criterion.
SN: Audiences today are willing to accept diverse content, which is succeeding at the box office along with the films of big stars, provided the content is extremely interesting. Star-driven films will do well, but there is also space for films not dependent on big stars but that have enough to stand by themselves. We will probably look at doing a mix of both and not restrict ourselves to either side.
BOI: Why is your focus shifting to regional cinema?
SN: For a very long time, Indian cinema was synonymous with Bollywood. In reality, that is not the case. Hindi cinema was and will continue to be a major contributor in terms of numbers. But, there are a lot of other regional film industries which have been catching up in terms of quality as well as quantity. For the last few years, Tamil and Telugu films have been outpacing Hindi films in terms of the number of annual releases. This is a fact that a lot of people are not aware of.
There is a lot of action taking place in the regional film industries. With films like Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion and the business potential that they have unleashed, shows that this is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of interesting content is being developed in other industries, whether it is Malayalam, Tamil, Bengali or Marathi, of course. We are also a little hungry. We have our own sensibilities. Both of us follow films in other languages. When we realised that we had a synergy with other languages and the people who are working there, then why not?
VR: Concepts and ideas that work very well in the regional space may not work very well in the Hindi space because it caters to the entire country. There are certain decisions that you need to take when you need to satisfy a wider audience. In regional cinema, you can be more true to a certain concept or subject instead of trying to cater to the entire audience. Sometimes, concepts lend themselves to regional cinema, rather than the other way around.
SN: Even in the last two years, even before we forayed into other languages, we were on the lookout for good films in other languages that could be adapted and made into a Hindi film. When we started doing that, we realised that as much as that model is attractive, there is also scope to do a lot of original content in those languages.
BOI: Is there any difference in the decisions you need to take between Hindi and regional cinema in terms of budgets?
VR: If you look at big-ticket films in regional cinema such as Baahubali, which is a Telugu film, the budget was huge. Tamil and Telugu films, sometimes, are far bigger than Hindi films. It depends on the star and the scale of the film. Decisions with regard to the budget are different because in Hindi films, you are catering to a larger audience. Having said that, we look at a budget based on justifying a certain concept. If a film requires a certain story to be told to an audience, it will require a certain budget and you have to take your decisions accordingly, setting aside the stars or the actors.
SN: From a cost of production aspect, whether it is a regional film down South or a Hindi film star, there is not much of a difference. If at all, there is a difference in the budget, it will be with regard to distribution and marketing.
In Tamil and Telugu, where big-budget films are being made, the local producers’ association employs a certain restriction on the limit to the P&A budget of films. You have to work within that restriction. That is the reason there is a stark difference in terms of production costs of big and smaller films.
BOI: How was this second collaboration with Dharma Productions?
VR: It has been fantastic. The Lunchbox was the first time they had collaborated on a film and this time too they have been great in terms of the distribution, marketing and support that the film has got. Having them on board takes the film to a different level in terms of expectations and the reach of the film. It’s been absolutely great working with them once again.
BOI: As producers, how much were you a part of the creative process?
VR: We were there right from the beginning, when the script was being developed, and through certain alterations. We were there to get the finances in place and everything else. At the point when you are satisfied with the script, with the set-up, with the budget, then you leave it up to the director. We have, in all our films, trusted the directors to execute it to a certain level. In this case, it will be Tejas who is the director, and we have given him the freedom to do just that, provided it sticks to a certain budget. We all agreed on that.
SN: To give you an example, one very interesting thing was what Tejas and Devashree did during the initial stages. The script went through various revisions, as happens with any film. And every time a draft of the script was ready, they would have the narration done with a target audience. That target audience would keep changing every time.
With every narration what happened was that there was a different set of people coming in to hear the story. So sometimes, there were only women, sometimes youngsters, at other times there was a mixed group of people. The reason they did this was because they thought it would be great to have interpretations from all kinds of sections of society.
Eventually, it is a family film and not restricted to a particular age group. And we, between us, always made it a point that at least one of us would be available for these narrations because we were also onlookers and trying to figure out what was happening in the story. And we wanted to give the inputs that we had in the story. That way, we were always clued-in and available.
BOI: Do you think that releasing the film alongside Hindi films will affect your film’s business?
VR: There are not many films that are coming out. I think there is John Abraham’s film Parmanu: The Story Of Pokhran that is releasing. The audience for both movies is very different. Obviously, Madhuri has a pan-India presence and that will have an impact and there are her fans who will come to theatres to watch the film. There are also subtitles in the film, so we will have a wider reach.
I firmly believe that the market is big enough to accommodate a number of films releasing on the same weekend and which cater to different kinds of audiences.
SN: With all due respect, to add to this, with Madhuri’s presence in the film, it doesn’t remain a pure Marathi film. It has gone beyond that. With the association of Dharma Productions and AA Films, it is also getting a very wide reach. With her fans present across the country as well as overseas, there will definitely be a spillover of the non-Marathi audience who will go to watch it.
VR: A lot of interest has been generated overseas with all these fan clubs approaching us to showcase the film out there. From Canada to Australia to the UK, the buzz is everywhere.
SN: Yes. Before the release, we were talking to a fellow industry professional in Dubai whom we are trying to do some work with, and she pointed out that the film was releasing there on Thursday because that is the norm in Gulf countries. I told her that it seems very uncommon for a Marathi film to make it there and she said that to the best of her knowledge, after Sairat, this is the only film to get a release there. That means things are moving in the right direction.
BOI: A lot of regional films release on digital platforms after their theatrical release. Any such plan for this film?
VR: We are still in talks with a few players though it is a little too early for us to reveal the details.
SN: What we can say is that it will be available on a leading digital platform very soon. But, I would also like to add that not just for us but for anyone, just like satellite is a big revenue stream, the digital sector is slowly emerging as a revenue generator. It is a space that cannot be ignored by any producer.
BOI: Did you take the digital aspect into account when preparing the budget of this film?
VR: Yes, considering the revenue of the film, we do consider satellite and digital platforms as well. Digital platforms are competing with satellite channels right now. So, that is a huge chunk of revenue for a smaller film that releases.
SN: In the early stages, there is a production budget that is made and we also make a rough plan as well. It is not an academic exercise, so we need to gauge what will be the theatrical share, what will be the share of satellite and now digital. Earlier, there used to be a big chunk coming from music and videos which is now nonexistent or very negligible. There was no digital earlier but now it is giving satellite channels a run for their money.
VR: Digital platforms have become a boon for a lot of films to cover the cost of the film. We have done some smaller films last year in January like Haraamkhor, also Monsoon Shootout came out last December. The only reason we could release those films was because Netflix came on board and a large part of the revenue and the production cost came from that, which made it feasible for us to do that.