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The Real Deal

Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice-President of Yoodlee Films, talks to Team Box Office India about their latest film Ashcharya Fuckit, which is creating a loud buzz in the industry, and the many others that are ready to wow the audience

Let us start by addressing the hoopla attached to your production, Ashcharya Fuckit. What problems did you face to get the film a theatrical release?

I think this was a part of the deal of making a movie like Ashcharya.... Yoodlee, as a team, as a production house, is extremely committed to making real stories. We came together to make a film like this because we wanted to make a film on Hasan Manto’s stories of Mumbai. What Manto was exploring in his writing was the underbelly of Bombay. He said – and this is as true now as it was then – that in this city, we have film stars who provide the high glamour quotient, prostitutes who are in the lowest category of this glamour and migrants coming in from all parts of India. And the amazing thing is that this hasn’t changed in the 70 years since he wrote this.

So, we wanted to make a compendium film like Pulp Fiction that would talk about different stories that were connected. Manto’s Bombay Stories anthology has many stories. We picked three of them for our film, where one is of a movie star, another is of a prostitute and the third is of a migrant who is a chauffeur to the movie star.

We made this film according to Yoodlee principles, which the filmmakers adhere to. For instance, the rules are that to achieve complete realism, you never shoot on a set or dub the movie. When you’re doing things like this, you are also going to be true to the language spoken by these characters. And people in the flesh trade have a very unique and colourful way of speaking. Their lingo has been around for a while.

What is unique here is the language because we are trying to be true to the milieu. This colourful language obviously creates a concern with our certification system. That being said, we are a legitimate and law-abiding company. Hence, we have decided to abide by most of the cuts that the censors have asked us to make for certification.

With all this, we will soon release the film but it won’t be called Ashcharya Fuckit; it will be called Ashcharya F***it. The beauty of content-driven cinema is that it won’t matter if some of this stuff which is deemed a little too edgy for the mass audience is taken away. The content still remains. In its essence, the film is a beautiful portrayal of different types of love.

We are showing the love a person has for himself, narcissistic love, of which the actor is the embodiment. Then there is obsessive love, which a pimp has for the prostitute. It is a one-sided love where he loves her but she doesn’t love him back. Then there is the real, two-sided love between the driver and the prostitute. So, we are trying to make a movie which has every facet of love in it and that content will never be diluted.

How does Yoodlee Films decide on which movies to back?

Since this is a very edgy film, it will brand us as edgy filmmakers. But, our focus is not on that. We live by the motto of ‘fearless filmmaking’, which means that we will go for absolute realism in the story and not try to milk it for its entertainment value. 

We see very little of this real, content-driven cinema being made. You have 52 weeks in a year and we see at least two movies release every week. But, all these films are in the escapist zone, which is what our country has traditionally thrived on. It is a cinema that caters to the larger masses. In films like these, you have some comedy, romance, high drama, melodrama, action and other implausible things happening. This is what makes Hindi cinema such fun.

But, then you have a whole other kind of cinema in other parts of the world, where masala movies don’t happen. In this kind of cinema, the masala, the entertainment, is derived from real life, conversations and characters with real needs. A generation of young people has grown up watching this kind of cinema. Earlier, one would watch this through Torrents and now they can do it through Video On Demand, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and other such platforms.

This young generation has seen masala movies and this different world of cinema too. So, the second part of the Yoodlee puzzle is that we will create at least 12-15 of these films every year. This can become the second leg for Indian cinema to stand on besides massy, Bollywood films. Here, it will be more content-oriented, with less emphasis on stars and more on the story.

Can you share Yoodlee Films’s line-up for the near future?

We have 10 films that have been completed and are in various stages of post-production. We have four films that are going on floors. A Tamil film that went on floors recently is about this old man who realises that his children only want his property. So, he leaves the house to fulfill a simple bucket list before he dies. On his journey, he meets a young, orphaned boy and they walk that path together. This is a sweet and non-edgy film.

Besides this, we have a movie called Hamid, which is set against the backdrop of the trouble in Kashmir. To be true to the Yoodlee philosophy, the film is entirely shot there. The story is of a young kid whose mother tells him that the father has gone to Allah. When the kid goes to school, he finds out that 786 is Allah’s number and he dials a combination with that number. It connects to a CRPF jawan posted in Srinagar. They start talking and end up healing each other. It’s a very sweet film, in the zone of Life Is Beautiful

Then, we have a film called Music Teacher which stars Manav Kaul. It is an adult love story and is about regret. What we are trying to tap into is the emotion that a lot of people have about that one love that left or that they left or the one that got away. It’s about a music teacher in Shimla who rejects the love of his student, a girl, who really loved him. She goes on to become a very big singer in Bollywood. It’s about all his feelings and memories around this person whom he used to love. It is a very different movie and we have used a lot of our old Saregama songs.

These are some of the movies coming up. It’s a mixed bag, it’s not just edgy.

Do you feel that these movies, so rich in content, will beat all the masala and implausible films?

I feel the box office is a conundrum. Box Office India is all about solving that puzzle, right? (Laughs). Because numbers get misreported by certain disreputable parties that have vested interests. We also have a very unique situation in our country, where the per capita screenings is very low. Officially, we have less than 10,000 screens whereas the number is far less. We make a large number of films to serve that small number of screens. When you make a film with a big star, a lot of people are drawn to the film immediately because of the face value and you get quick box office numbers.

What kind of marketing strategy do you have in mind for these films?

The kind of films we are making needs word-of-mouth publicity to spread but it takes more than a week for it to work. What we are trying to do at Yoodlee is find innovations within the whole distribution angle to release a film so that it can stay at the box office longer.

One of the experiments we are thinking of doing is to release a film like Hamid first in Srinagar. We are not doing a countrywide release. We will take the press to Srinagar. Then, they will start talking about it and the next week, we will release it in another city. The week after that, we will release it in a third city. Gradually, word-of-mouth will grow and the box office prospects will increase.

We have to find space for smaller films within the system oriented towards a large star cast and big blockbuster films because small films die due to a lot of attention given to the box office.

The other thing, to answer your question, is that, I think, films do not fail; film budgets fail. Because we now have the vast experience of having done ten films, we are also constantly looking at numbers aided by magazines like yours and the effort that the whole community is putting in.

We understand the box office potential of a film and we understand that there are other ways a film can be monetised. Traditionally, you had broadcast – that’s TV channels – and now you have digital. When you combine all these, you should get a budget that you should be willing to spend on a movie.

As long as you are spending within that budget, you have a business that is sustainable and then you can imagine that each film, in terms of box office revenue, is just a lottery ticket. If you win on that lottery ticket, you are going to get multiple returns; and if you don’t, you are still safe and you can go on and make the next film. That’s the philosophy under which we operate.

 A movie like Ashcharya... has been through a lot with the censor board. Isn’t it easier to release it on Netflix or Amazon?

Yes, it is easier. But, when you make a film, you want everybody to see it. At Yoodlee, our philosophy is that content matters, not the screen. People watch things on their phone which is one-on-one viewing. There is also a different kind of fun when you are sitting in an auditorium full of people and watching a movie. Somewhere between that is your TV screen at home. We believe our content should go everywhere.

Ashcharya... is more likely to go on a single screen or a tiny screen than on the big screen. The people who see it on the big screen will still have an experience, they will have an experience of slightly censored content. This is the law of the land. The law was very different five years ago and in another five years, it will be very different. So, that’s not something we can predict.

There are larger forces at work here. As artistes, as filmmakers, our job is to try and get that content across to as many people and on as many different screens as possible. For that, we will go through the censorship process, to get them released in theatres and put them on broadcast and digital mediums.

You said you will make films that will concentrate more on content and less on stars. Are you worried this might impact them on the marketing and promotional fronts?

Having a star does help a movie on the promotional front. We were talking about organic pull, right? When you have a big star on a poster, which is static promotion, or in a trailer, it helps to draw a lot of people immediately. But, then the big stars come with their own baggage. Let us use the food metaphor. You want to open a restaurant and you go to a Subway. So, the big star is Subway. The big star is a big star because he has a certain public image. At Subway, you know you will get a certain type of sandwich. If you come to Subway and I try to sell you aaloo ka parantha, you will be like ‘what is this?’ So, when you make a film with a big star, you need to make sure you are fitting in their perceived personality, which is why a film like Tubelight did not work as well because Salman Khan is not perceived as a bumbling man-child with a heart of gold. Then you make a Tiger Zinda Hai and boom, you are back because you stuck to the formula there.

What we are trying to do, to come back to the restaurant menu, is open that small thela which has really amazing food. Now, that thela is known for a certain kind of chowmein or that you get a different chef because we are working with different directors.

Yoodlee has a plan to produce 100 indie films over the next five years. Can you elaborate on that?

The answer to this brings together many of the things we have just spoken about. First, there are not enough indie films for 52 weekends. The other thing is that the audience is very used to watching typical Bollywood masala films. They are not used to watching our indie films. When they see more indie films, they will get used to watching them. So, we want to serve that more.

As a business, we also want to swiftly build a catalogue because, in a catalogue, you don’t know which film is going to be that winning lottery ticket. So, we want to have a number of films at different targets – a few of them will hit the mark in a very significant way and the rest still don’t lose any money, so you are financially stable. These are all the reasons to create a large number of films.

We also feel that there is a large community of filmmakers, even if they are very well-known filmmakers, some of whom want to work with us – they have their dream project. They want to come to us to make those films. Yoodlee Films has the ability to absorb those people as well, which is why we set a very large target – a hundred films in five years.

We quickly found out that it is impossible to make 20 films a year, but we do believe that 12-15 films is doable. Last year, we made ten films. So, a hundred films? Yes. In five years? Maybe seven. We hope to achieve a good number in the coming years.

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