Kahaani was a turning point for its producer, Pen Movies. Jayantilal Gada, CMD of PEN India Pvt Ltd, speaks to Sagorika Dasgupta about the exciting plans he has in store for his banner
After Kahaani, we did Issaq. Actually, we started working on Issaq and Mahabharat while we were making Kahaani. We divided the three films between the three youngsters in our family – Kushal, my nephew, was handling Kahaani; my son Dhaval handled Issaq; and my daughter Bhavita was with Mahabharat. Both films were successful in terms of manufacturing. The box office is a different ball game but the most important is to make a film the way it was visualised. When Kahaani released, it became a superhit but Issaq tanked.
It was a good experience, though, as we have experienced ups and downs. For instance, Kahaani received 35 awards and Issaq received 35 gaalis from the audience. Now our next project is Mahabharat, which has been handled by my daughter. We are really grateful as all the leading actors, stars in the industry supported us for this film and dubbed for various characters. It took us seven years to make the film and we are finally ready to release it on December 25. I am not aiming at the box office for this film. Making Mahabharat gave us creative satisfaction.
How did you get Amitabh Bachchan to dub for an animation film?
He initially rejected the offer saying, ‘Mera cartoon film mat banayiye.’ So we made a rough cut of two hours for him and decided which actor would suit each role without their approval. When we showed Bachchanji the first cut, he was so impressed that he gave me his dubbing dates the very next day! He also marked some errors in Hindi for our creative team. Then we started approaching all the stars we had thought of casting and they all agreed without charging us a single penny.
Why did it take as many as seven years to make this film?
It took two years just to make the dummy. And we were very adamant on casting Amitji as Bhishma Pitamah since we couldn’t imagine anyone else playing that role. We even decided that we would shelve the film if Bachchanji rejected the dummy. But every big Bollywood stars agreed to dub for the movie and it feels great. This is one of the most expensive animation films made in Bollywood. It has been insured for Rs 50 crore, overtaking My Name Is Khan, which was insured for Rs 47 crore.
Is that because this is an animation film?
The most important reason we insured the film was because we were not sure which actors would agree to do the film. Secondly, we all are aware of the Mahabharat but that doesn’t mean we know everything about its history. Our team thoroughly researched every character and the story. But, sometimes, when you work on mythology, people tend to point out mistakes. That was another reason we opted for insurance.
I have always earned money whenever I have taken a risk. I took the risk of distributing VHS in India. We were distributing for someone else and we were best at it. We were also the first to release VCDs in India, followed by DVDs. One of the first VCDs we released was Sholay. In 1995, Sholay aired on television and it clocked a TRP of 76! In recent times, 3 Idiots garnered the highest TRPs, at 11! Compare 76 to 11. No one has managed to even come close to that number. So we have notched up record TRPs on television.
We have always mentioned that we are ‘India’s largest software library’, which means software runs our company. Without Sholay, Pen is nothing, without Kahaani, Pen is zero. In India, Hanuman managed to earn ` 3 crore and no one has broken that record. Recovery from animated films is very difficult and we know that even Mahabharat will not recover our investment. But whenever people will talk about animation films, I bet they will mention Mahabharat. We are also hoping this film will encourage other filmmakers to make more animation films in India.
With animation films, producers usually opt for some ancillary revenues to recover a part of their investment. Have you done the same?
We are not looking at revenue; we are looking at marketing. All the stars who feature in the film have shown so much faith in us that we don’t want to let them down. So we are looking at marketing tie-ups, not revenue.
There were technical difficulties while making Sholay 3D. It took us three years to make the film. The problem is, India has the technical skill but not the capital to make films like this. And, as I mentioned earlier, we created history with Sholay when it first aired on television, VCD and DVD. So we want to recreate history when we release it in 3D. We have used 3D effects that have never been used before, even internationally.
There is a scene where Sanjeev Kumar is hit by a bullet. When you watch that scene, you can almost feel the bullet hit you. The wooden lock scene on the train too is also very real. It took a long time to execute the film with this technology. But sound took the longest. Earlier, the sound was in stereo. In this film, the sound is crucial as people used to revisit cinema halls for the sound and dialogue of the film alone. Secondly, we cannot dub the voices of the artistes in Sholay. So we wanted to turn the sound digital and we got a studio in the UK which specialised in doing this. They separated the original dubbed voice and then we made the sound afresh. This procedure took almost a year. That’s why the release date of Sholay has been postponed so many times. The film will now release on January 3, 2014 and it will be the first release of the year and with this release we will all celebrate the real 100 years of cinema.
Mahabharat will release a week after the biggest release of 2013, Dhoom 3. Do you think the timing is right?
Mahabharat has been in the making for seven years and my entire team is waiting for the film to release. We were aiming at the vacations to release the film – in May, during Christmas or Diwali. It is the first time in 50 years that the audience will watch a film with such a big set-up. Since we were looking for a family vacation release window, we chose the Christmas vacation. Also, we want to bring back the family audience to cinemas. I think Dhoom 3 will be watched by the entire Indian audience and this will benefit our film.
Even if two per cent of the audience that watches Dhoom 3 comes to watch our film after seeing its poster, we will be blessed and assume that Mahabharat is a hit film.
What else is lined up for release?
On January 17, we will release Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi, and Kundan Shah’s P Se PM Tak on March 7. We are also working on some remakes like Andha Kanoon, Aakhree Raasta and Chaalbaaz. Then there’s Telugu film Leader directed by Sekhar Kammula, and Rajamouli’s Chatrapathi. We are planning to remake these films. We also have another animated film lined up called Super Machhar.
Yes, we are concentrating on good directors. We loved the script and the title says it all. In P Se PM Tak, ‘P’ stands for ‘prostitute’ and ‘PM’ stands for ‘Prime Minister’. It’s a political satire with comic punches.
After Kahaani, has the perception of the industry changed towards Pen?
We have built a good image and earned goodwill in the industry. After Kahaani, I think the industry is now confident that we can make good films. Earlier, they used to assume that we only invested in films.
Kahaani 2 was to go on the floors but Sujoy Ghosh backed out and, after that, Kundan Shah did the same. What’s happening with the sequel?
Sujoy is the original director and he was to direct the sequel too. But, one fine day, he sent us a letter demanding a massive sum. We haven’t exactly rejected the sum and there is a process that has to be followed. If he completes that process, we will start work on that project.
We need to hear the script; it should interest us; we need to know who has been cast; and we need to know what the budget of the film would be.
Will it feature Vidya Balan?
That is the director’s call. It is yet to be decided when the film will go on the floors and who will direct it.
What was it like working with a corporate house like Viacom18?
It was a wonderful experience. Kahaani was made by us and distributed by Viacom18. We have been working with Zee for nine years and deal with all their satellite rights. We did Issaq with Reliance Entertainment and are doing Mahabharat with PVR Pictures. For Sholay 3D, we are working with Disney UTV. The international distribution of Singh Saab The Great is being handled by Eros. So we are working with all the big corporate houses.
Are you planning to strengthen your distribution arm?
We are planning to do that but it will take some time. This month, we are distributing our own film, Singh Saab The Great. I believe it will take at least two years to understand how distribution works.
Currently, you’re working with senior directors like Kundan Shah and Anil Sharma and also with the newer breed like Sujoy Ghosh and Manish Tiwary. Do you prefer working with new talent or experienced directors?
It is not important whether a director is experienced or not. We should look at whether the director has potential or not, and whether he can put his money where his mouth is. We worked with Sujoy Ghosh on Kahaani even though most of his previous films were flops. Even Manish’s last film was a flop. It is crucial to evaluate a director.
When a director gives you a narration, you should see a hunger in him and assess whether he can deliver what he is showing you on paper. When you deliver a flop, you work even harder on your next film.
Are you open to co-producing films with corporate houses?
Yes, we are open to collaborating with corporate houses. My current team is very young, around 25 years old. So I believe collaborating with corporate houses will give them a chance to learn.
As a production house, do you plan to release a certain number of films every year?
Right now, we are planning to release at least four films a year. One’s mind needs to be free to work creatively on a project. For example, Kahaani needed intense marketing to reach out to its audience, and now a film like Lakshmi needs good marketing and distribution too.
How has the satellite market evolved over the years? You even opted for an exit clause with Besharam.
We were the first to introduce this innovation to the satellite market. Sometimes, films fail at the box office and the satellite deal with the film is linked to its box-office performance. We did this with Besharam, where we have a clause that would allow a cut in the satellite price if the film does not achieve a box-office target mentioned in the contract. We also have an exit clause.
Since we operate in the satellite business, we have to look at both scenarios… like if a film becomes a superhit, we have to see that the producer gets his share while the channel doesn’t make a loss. For Besharam, Reliance and also the director demanded Rs 50 crore. That’s why we came up with new clauses, like the exit clause.
It happened with Barfi! too, No one was ready to buy Barfi!’s satellite rights and we too backed out from the project.
So, you started with Barfi!?
No, we were following this with films like Vivaah, Taare Zameen Par, PEEPLI [Live]. With Barfi!, it was not the same clause; there were some date issues. They were supposed to release the film on a specific date and we were supposed to premiere the film on television on a specific date, which didn’t work out. But we eventually bought Barfi! and premiered it on Zee. And we dropped Besharam because it was a disaster at the box office.
It does but only for 24 hours. After 24 hours, the filmmakers realise that they had agreed to these clauses and, in fact, our relationship grows stronger. You can’t purchase every film that releases. Every year, we have 200 releases but we can only buy 10-12 films.
Do you think other companies will adopt this exit clause?
Pen has always brought in new clauses. We did it in the video market and television market. Now, I hope others follow it in satellite market too because it will benefit the market.
What’s happening with your audio and video business?
I kept on moving with technology and have never stuck to any business. When Doordarshan privatised, they aired our film, Khoon Bhari Maang in 1989. We didn’t have any money at the time and partnered with many people. Pen has always moved on. We were once financers, then we got into the satellite business. At one point, we had bought the maximum number of film negatives, which are now with Zee. We have worked with all the channels when we were traders. It’s been only nine years since we have been working exclusively with Zee.
Don’t these exclusive deals restrict your business?
No, I believe every film has its own life. Some films become hits and some flops. A television channel doesn’t work on goodwill. Sometimes, even hit films don’t work on satellite TV. We are businessmen, not technical people. We are not creative people. The heads of all the big production houses have been directors so they understand creativity. I never planned to direct a film and I don’t think my kids will either. So we mix and match. We are better at buying rights and doing film deals.
Are you planning Nayak 2?
Yes, we are planning Nayak Returns. Anil Kapoor is already on board but we haven’t decided on the director yet.