Smriti Kiran: Siddharth Roy Kapur doesn’t need an introduction. He’s been making movies for over 15 years and is probably one of the first to change the face of the Indian film producer. In the late ‘90s, there was a certain notion of who a film producer was and what a film producer did. As Siddharth and his tribe grew that notion has changed but not as widely as one would have liked it to.
Siddharth, the world is in a really precarious situation. Let’s talk about the year that we’ve had and the crisis that continues. Roy Kapur Films was launched four years back. The journey for you is pretty nascent right now and we’ve been hit by a pandemic. How did you keep your studio going through this crisis?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Smriti, I think we’re all incredibly fortunate to be in the position that we’re in today with regard to the way that the last year has panned out. I think there are so many people going through so much more that it’s hard for us to really complain. But having said that, there have been a lot of people who are employed by this industry, some of who are daily wage earners. They are people who are really dependent on a project for their survival, dependent on the work that they have on a day-to-day basis for their own survival. So, as the Producers Guild of India, we took the initiative to ensure that we were able to tide over those first few really crucial months of lockdown when the industry ground to a complete halt and do as much as we could for the people within the industry who were really on the margins and struggling to survive.
It’s been a tough year. There’s no doubt about it. But if one had to look for silver linings—and a producer better look for silver linings, because there are lots of people looking at the dark clouds—there’s been a lot of really interesting development that’s happened over the last year. Creative people have had time to be able to just sit with themselves, be able to reflect, be able to look at what’s happening around them and come up with some really, really brilliant ideas. Our team has been interacting with writers and directors really extensively over the last few months and I have to say, the ebb of creativity has not slowed down. People have found it tough to get into the groove because it is a seismic life-changing event that’s occurring to all of us as we speak. But I’m really heartened by the amount of really great content that I know is in the pipeline, when it comes to movies or series. And hopefully, once things get better, the audience will have a chance to experience all that.
Smriti Kiran: Siddharth, you wear many hats – you’re the President of the Producers Guild as well as you run your own studio. Has there been a paradigm shift in the way you’re looking at creating content now, post this massive development that we are still dealing with? What have been the learnings over the last year for you not only as the President of the Guild but also as the Head of Roy Kapur Films?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: If I had to encapsulate a few learnings, I’d say one has been that people are incredibly resourceful and inventive when it comes to figuring out ways to continue working when they have to. I think all of us have seen that in our own small ways throughout last year, but the film industry has really seen that in a big way. Full marks to everyone who’s really put in the effort to do their post-production online, to get onto zoom calls and figure out pre-production to shoot in the most trying of circumstances, wearing PPE kits and masks and gloves. So, if we have to get work done, then we do.
“Creative people have had time to be able to just sit with themselves. Be able to reflect, be able to look at what’s happening around them and come up with some really, really brilliant ideas.”
Secondly, as much as we bemoan the lack of empathy and the lack of support that we all have for each other within the industry—I think it’s become fashionable to say that the industry never stays together. In a time of crisis, you really see everyone coming together and that’s another thing I was very pleased by. Everyone came together to help those who are on the margins, so to speak.
The third thing is that you have to be platform agnostic in today’s day and age. Theatrical is still obviously the dream for everyone within cinema – that’s where we enjoy having your content shown and exhibited. But today, when it comes to content, you have the benefit of not really having to think within the boundaries of time periods, within the boundaries of a two-hour film. You can think across multiple hours of content, you can have your characters build and simmer across a longer period of time. Certain ideas make more sense to be created as feature films, and certain ones make much more sense to be series. That’s the marvellous latitude that everyone across the value chain has found themselves having in these times. And the fact that people who you would never consider would be open to looking, to exploring other platforms, whether that be directors or stars, are now looking at that. So it’s a very interesting time for the creative community, as well as for the production fraternity because the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can create. It’s just about going out there and doing it.
Smriti Kiran: What does the Producers Guild do in terms of uniting the industry and looking at the checks and balances? Have you thought about mentorship programs for producers? Is that also an aspect that the guild might look at or can look at?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: The guild was set up with some very specific aims in mind. The aims were really to be able to form a group of like-minded people who are involved in the production of movies, who needed to represent themselves to the government, to the rest of the industry, to the other associations in a way that would protect their interests and ensure the growth and sustenance of the industry. It was not set up as the commercial lobbying unit or anything like that. It was a specific reference to standards and practices, and checks and balances, and making sure of the regulatory environment that we were working within when it comes to taxation and laws. If there is something that is affecting us as a community, we should be able to address it in a combined manner. We’ve been quite liberal with the fact that every producer has got their own independent outfit to run. When it comes to commercial decisions, everyone takes the decisions individually according to what suits them best, and there are no commercial compunctions at all, from a guild perspective, on anyone. When it comes to talent enhancement and growth, that’s not something that a guild was set up to do but it can definitely be something that we do over a period of time. In the environment right now, I think it’s best for everyone to hunker down and make sure that we do as much as we can to get out of the situation that we are in, but I’m sure that there will come a time when everyone’s going to feel like they want to give back and be able to mentor younger producers. I’m sure that people will be open to that.
Smriti Kiran: I’m going to now take you back a little bit and talk about early years. You grew up obsessed with the movies in a house that encouraged the arts and you worked with Alyque Padamsee. You acted but you were very sure about the fact that you wanted to be a producer, or at least connected to the media. What did you understand about producing at that point in time because it is very opaque? People weren’t growing up saying that I want to be a movie producer. FTII doesn’t even have a course on movie production.
Siddharth Roy Kapur: You’re right, I don’t think any child grows up saying, ‘I’m going to be a movie producer.’ What most people perceive as being a producer means that the guy or the girl who puts in the money into a film and makes it happen. It’s the moneybags behind the film. The producer has got to be resourceful enough to do his finances for a film. But that’s just one part. There’s so much more to it.
I grew up in the theatre, in a sense. I did theatre all through school and college. I did what we call professional theatre in Bombay, at that point in time, because we wanted to feel important. It wasn’t really professional theatre, it was still amateur theatre. But it was really great fun being on stage and enjoying that experience.
“The director makes the film, but the producer makes the film happen.”
When I was in the Dramatic Society in Sydenham College – I was the chairperson of the DS – I had to put a slate of projects together, I had to raise sponsorship, I had to publicise the projects, we had to figure out the right mix of genres within out slate for that year, and while doing that I realised that actually making all that happen gave me a lot of joy and fulfilment — not that I didn’t enjoy directing and acting — but this gave me a bird’s eye view of what was going on across the entire spectrum. It gave me a sense of control over the entire process. That’s when the spark really lit in terms of saying, ‘This is something that you seem to enjoy, maybe that’s something that you could pursue.’ Honestly, the opportunities for anyone who was not from within the industry were pretty limited at that point. So one followed a more conventional path. But I always had my eye on coming back and doing something to do with cinema.
I’d done a summer internship at UTV back in the day, and when Ronnie Screwvala got in touch to say that he had launched a movie studio, I happened to be at Star TV in Hong Kong. I was literally on the next flight to Bombay. That journey with UTV was the spark of what I’m doing today.
Smriti Kiran: Despite so much interest in the arts, you took the long road to where you wanted to be. You studied commerce, you did an MBA, you joined Procter & Gamble, you were at Star – everybody remembers the KBC campaign. You were the youngest Vice President at Star who was based out of Hong Kong, and then you took that flight and joined UTV. In three years, you were promoted to become the CEO of Motion Pictures at UTV. What were those first three years at UTV like doing the job you wanted to do?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: They were exhilarating. That was the time in my professional life when I was on fire, both because of what I was doing and because of the boss I had. Ronnie (Screwvala) was an incredible mentor and boss to the entire team. But he was a taskmaster and he remains so, as I understand it. It was great because of the vision that Ronnie had to actually set up a movie studio that came in from the outside. He was able to actually establish it in a way that it was not to the manor born, it had to come in and prove that it had the creative chops as well as the commercial chops to actually play in this arena.
“The journey with UTV was the spark of what I’m doing today.”
It was a tremendous effort to be involved in and I’m so glad that I could play a part. The other part – full credit to Ronnie once again – is that he gave us all a sense of entrepreneurship within what we were doing. Though he was the entrepreneur, he made each of us feel like it was ours. We literally had that sense of ownership of UTV, where we felt it was our company through the amount of responsibility that we were given and the ability to really make decisions and then live or die by them. Those are all things that you would need in the movie business because if you feel your hands are tied at any point, or if you feel like you’re not being able to take that risky call that you believe needs to be taken, you’re not going to go too far and the organisation won’t either. I think that’s something Ronnie sort of recognised early and gave one the freedom to grow. It was a tremendous time because we were working with some wonderful directors, great actors, and incredible stories that would never have been told in a theatrical format and released in mainstream cinema before that.
Smriti Kiran: Rang De Basanti was getting made at the time that you came in.
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Yeah. People were watching the first cut of that literally in my first three days at UTV. I thought, ‘Wow, that flight from Hong Kong was worth it.’
Smriti Kiran: The industry gives everybody opportunity, anyone who’s willing to take the punts that they take, but it can also be very insular when you are just starting out and you have no connections. Both you and Ronnie are outsiders. You didn’t have any base in the industry when you joined. What were the challenges like at that point in time for you?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: One way to look at it is to look at the challenges and be very aware of them at every point and then be really working to tackle them. The other one is to have a blind eye when it comes to that and just do what you have to be doing. People talk about relationships that go back four or five decades, which exists, but the film industry is the most egalitarian when it comes to everyone wanting to make a great movie. So if you’re going to approach someone with a fantabulous script, just because they don’t know you from Adam, they’re going to do what’s in their best interest, which is to ally with you to make that film. So, therefore, our approach was really director-driven and writer-driven rather than star-driven because we didn’t have those relationships at that point.
The way that we came at it was if we have compelling content that people want to be associated with they will come on board. The best way to do it is to be frank, transparent, open, collaborative in those relationships. Those creative collaborations are very quick to forge if people realise that you’re coming from a good place.
Smriti Kiran: Fame mostly goes to the directors, actors, writers and the people who are involved in the process of filmmaking on-ground. Producers do a lot, but it is a behind-the-scenes job. What is the producer driven by and where is this legacy recorded? Is that something that you think about when you’re propelling so much, and yet you are propelling somebody else’s vision?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: The director makes the film, but the producer makes the film happen. That’s how you have to look at it. If you’re someone who enjoys making things happen, and you’re happy to be a catalyst in other people actually being able to achieve what it is that they have set out to achieve, then you’re in the right job. If you’re someone who actually wants to get into the weeds and be deeply involved in the creative process, and be either in front of camera or be directing then that’s what you should be doing. But a producer’s job really is to bring all the resources together in the most efficient manner possible, or with a sense of team building and bonding, and to be able to give everyone the springboard to create the best piece of creative work that they can. Then to stand back at some point and let them take all the accolades. You and everyone around you knows who made it happen, so that should be enough. But if that’s not enough for you, then this is probably the wrong job.
Smriti Kiran: What do you think is your producing personality? Are you the protector, the creative steerer, the parent, the crisis manager, the conciliary, the money magnet? What do you think is that one thing that separates you from everybody? What do you think you bring to the table in terms of the experience that you’ve gathered over 15 years and more?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: That’s a hard question for me to answer. That’s much better answered by the people that one works with. I react very instinctively to a piece of material, to start with – not wearing any hat really but just as an audience for something and if that’s a piece of material that excites me, and if I can feel it in my bones, and I know that it’s something I want to be associated with, to try to make it happen, then that’s a project that I get involved in.
“Through that entire thing, you’ve got to maintain the integrity of what excited you right at the beginning.”
You have to be all of the things that you mentioned. You’ve got to be a protector, you’ve got to be a disciplinarian, you’ve got to be a resourceful person to be able to make things happen for the film, you’ve got to crack the whip when required, you’ve got to be understanding about the creative process. So it is a bit of a shapeshifting job in that sense. But through that entire thing, you’ve got to maintain the integrity of what excited you right at the beginning, when you jumped up and said that you wanted to be associated with something.
Smriti Kiran: A lot of producers say that a lot of the decisions that they take regarding scripts is a gut feeling, or by instinct. How does a producer educate that gut?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Through failure. Success teaches you. I know it’s trite to say but failure teaches you a lot, especially in this business where failures are very public and it’s not something that you can hide from anyone else. The call that you took might not have worked creatively or commercially. Therefore that does leave a very lasting impression on you. This is not to say that you should be binary about it and say, ‘I made this kind of film. So that kind of film will never work again.’ It’s probably the way you made it – the process involved or the script involved, etc. So you’ve got to learn the right lessons from failure. If you can take failure as a teacher, at some point in time, you will develop a shorthand when it comes to certain things that you instinctively gravitate towards. They will tend to be the ones that will have the commercial potential to be able to succeed. You will still go wrong, but you probably will be much better informed by your failures.
Smriti Kiran: What are your learnings, your failures, missteps that you might have taken, that have really informed your journey going forward?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: It would be a little bit wrong to name the films because sometimes what happens is that those associates feel upset and for all of us it’s a sore point. So those are lessons that I internalise. But I can give you one example of a film that I completely love called Mumbai Meri Jaan. It was one of the films that we were proud of at UTV. It was about the train blasts in Bombay, directed beautifully by Nishikant Kamat who came with a wonderful star cast. It didn’t get any traction whatsoever. It’s not like we were expecting that film to blow through the roof and do incredibly well. But we were expecting it to be loved and lauded and celebrated and definitely to work commercially because it wasn’t that expensive of a film. But I guess the learning from that is that sometimes there are real-life events that occur that you don’t want to be reminded of and sometimes it can be too soon. I think it was too early for us to turn people’s gaze towards events that they had just gone through. However compelling and gut-wrenching and visceral the storytelling, sometimes that can actually work against you. So, I guess, as a producer you really need to be aware, especially when you’re telling real-life events.
We’re living in a COVID world right now, so I’m sure there are 20 writing rooms and 1000 writers currently thinking of COVID ideas. I’m not so sure that the world wants to watch something in a fictional space around COVID right now. There’s enough fiction playing out for us on the news channels already. There’s enough in our real lives, in the newspapers and on social media. So that would be one example of learning that I think was something that I do carry with me, especially when it comes to very gut-wrenching seismic events that have shaken up society, and whether we want to document that and when we want to document that.
Smriti Kiran: How do you become a producer? What does a person who wants to be a producer do at the start of their journey?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Just watch a lot of movies. You should know your cinema, you should know the cinema of the country that you’re making cinema in. If you’re a Hindi film producer, then you should be well versed with Hindi cinema down the ages.
“You’ve got to have the attitude that you want to make things happen and you want to fight all the obstacles in order to get to what you want to.”
The second thing which a lot of us would have benefited from was if there was a structured course. If that exists, then sign up for it. A lot of it might be just vocation and not really practically applicable but there’s no harm doing that.
The third thing would be to just try to ally with the production, either within a production team or in the AD team, or as a director’s assistant, or just be involved in the production of a series or a film or anything. It could be a YouTube video. Just keep understanding the way that a unit works, the way that a production works from the ground up, if that’s possible.
You need to be someone who is a can-do sort of person. It’s not rocket science, but you’ve got to have the attitude that you want to make things happen. And you want to fight all the obstacles in order to get to what you want to. Those are just a few core things that will really help you in your journey.
Smriti Kiran: What separates a great producer from a good one?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I don’t know if I have a very pithy answer to that. But I will say that a great producer has definitely got to be someone who is in love with the process of filmmaking because that process can be incredibly tough and arduous and dispiriting at times. Especially for the producer who’s trying to absorb all the pressure, rather than give it because you want the creative people to do the best work that they can. But you’ve got to enjoy that process. I’m not sure between great and good or where that spectrum ends up, but if you do that you will invariably do a good job because you’re enjoying what you’re doing. If you’re someone who crumbles under pressure or finds it hard to be able to deal with multiple conflicting priorities, then this is probably not the role that you should aspire to.
Smriti Kiran: Is it really wise to strike out on your own really early or does it serve you better when you have a tremendous experience and then you decide to do it? There are different models of doing this. You were at a studio for a very long time and then branched out. What do you need to have in your arsenal when you decide to strike out because now people will be dealing with you without the muscle that comes with Disney or any other big studio that you might have been working for?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I wouldn’t like to discourage anyone from striking out early. Just because I’ve done it this way doesn’t mean that any other way doesn’t make sense. I mean, logic will tell you that the right time is when you’ve got your financial resources in place to be able to sustain yourself over a period of time. You’ve got your relationships in place with writers, directors, actors to be able to put projects together. But who’s to say that someone young with the drive and the fire in them can’t just jump in there and make it happen for themselves? I never discourage anyone from doing it. But the uncle answer to it would be: Have all your ducks in a row and then do it.
I was heading a studio, and therefore I had the ability to be able to build my relationships, to be able to build my experience, to have the comfort of working within an organisation and being able to take big bets on projects within the umbrella of that and therefore be insulated financially from the vagaries of the business in many ways. We all felt it was our business, but at the end of the day, we were still getting a monthly paycheck. So it’s easy to say it, but the proof of the pudding is really when you are an entrepreneur in full. It worked out for me. I felt it was the right time to take that leap because I felt that I had reached the logical end of one journey. This was always the aspiration, and therefore, it felt like the next logical step.
Smriti Kiran: You took up seven years of education which you’re grateful for, and you’re really happy that you did that. But it was also education that you felt could have been of your deepest interest. You could have taken arts, but you did take commerce. What I also found interesting was this realisation that despite having a cushy job and a very, very fat paycheck, keeping a lens on whether it’s taking you to the place that you want to get to. When we start working and a paycheck is coming, and everything is going well, we sometimes lose focus of the fact that these two years are not the end-all and be-all, but we’ve got to have a career which is across 50 years. In hindsight, you can analyse these but at that point in time, you were really young. It’s not as if you had this experience, but you did take that leap. And you did reflect upon your education as education that you could have pursued in a different field. Tell us a little bit about both these things.
Siddharth Roy Kapur: You’re bang on when you say that. If I had to advise anyone today, I would definitely say that follow the path of the education and the subjects that you really want to be studying because it’s many years of the most fruitful education years of your life and you should be studying something you love and enjoy. The irony, in my case, is that my parents were actually telling me to take arts because they knew what my inclinations were in terms of the subjects that I would enjoy. But I guess, being a pragmatic 15-year-old led me to believe that you should be taking up commerce because that will prepare you for the vagaries of a job and life much better. I don’t regret it because Sydenham was great for extracurricular activities, and the Dramatic Society was known across the city as being something really aspirational and thriving and once I got in there, I was fine. But I was spending much more time rehearsing plays than in the classroom. If education is what we’re talking about, then it was a wasted five years in that sense. And then with my MBA – I’m talking 20 years ago – you better do your MBA, because you got to get a good job, and you got to keep going. But young people today are much more daring in their risk-taking abilities and I would say that that’s not something that I would recommend. I would say if you want to do an MBA, go out and do it. But don’t do it purely because it’s going to be a stepping stone to a good, well-paying job. Do it because you really love it; if not, then please go study film, do theatre, do whatever it is that makes you happy because that’s what’s going to finally get you to where you want to get in life.
Smriti Kiran: What do you do when you set up a studio? I’m sure there are many aspects to it. There’s a creative side as to what the mission statement of that studio is. How do you build a slate? And how do you logistically build a studio?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: There are two core things. You need to be clear about what you want to be doing. Do you want to be making films across multiple languages? Are you looking at only films? Are you looking at films and series? What kind of cinema or what kind of content do you want to create? Or are you language-agnostic and genre-agnostic? You’ve got to define who you want to be. It’s really important to have that focus. So at this point in time, we are working on content across the board, but primarily Hindi content. So we’ve defined that as our current aspiration, but across feature films as well as digital content of all scales. That would be long-form digital content. We’re not looking at short-form digital content at this point. We’re branching into non-fiction as well but that is a more recent development. So then you’ve clearly defined what you want to be doing so that will focus your development efforts. Otherwise, you might spread yourself too thin and get excited by every shiny object that presents itself to you and keep chasing after it, which would not be the best way to go.
“Have all your ducks in a row and then do it.”
The second thing is to identify a core team of people who are committed, loyal, who have got great instincts, are willing to be involved in all that goes into the setting up of an organisation. I have to say that I’ve been really lucky in that regard to have the team that I have. Try to keep that really tight to start with, so that you build a sense of team cohesion and you build as you grow. Don’t build and then try to fit the business into the team that you’ve built. Build a team to be able to deal with the business as it keeps evolving.
Smriti Kiran: You’re working in that ecosystem where numbers are not really available. So how do you operate in a dark space where numbers are sketchy? How do you set that up in a space where data is not really transparent or accurate?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I think in the last two decades, we’ve made tremendous strides when it comes to the amount of information that we have today. So while I agree with you that it’s not 100% like it might be in the US or the UK or other markets around the world. Today, I think with 90 to 95% accuracy, we can predict the theatrical box office of a film and here we are quite well aware of the non-theatrical numbers that films get. That is as opaque or transparent as it is in the West because these are private companies who are not obligated to divulge the non-theatrical syndication numbers as far as films are concerned anyway. I would hope that in the next few years, we come to complete transparency and complete 100% accurate real-time data for the theatrical box office. It’s just waiting to happen. But we are 90% there at this point in time. So it isn’t that difficult to be able to come to projections or estimations of what a film might have to do to be able to break even, to really know what to base those decisions on in terms of the empirical data for the last 10 to 15 years. Those are decisions that today can be made with a reasonable amount of sense.
Smriti Kiran: A creator might approach you with a particular script that might not speak to you, but tomorrow the same creator might come back with something that really excites you. So a large part of a producer’s job is also to know how to say no. How do you do that?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Creative people respect clear, transparent and candid feedback told constructively. So it’s really important to do that because you do want to keep working with people. And like you said, not working with them on one particular thing doesn’t mean that you don’t want them to come back to you with something else. But I think they respect the frankness and candidness and the fact that something is constructive. Suppose you’ve hated something completely, to just let the person down easy, you don’t need to be brutal, but you can be honest. And that’s so subjective, it’s really about the way that you convey it. But people do respect it when you come back to them with clear, candid feedback.
Smriti Kiran: The producer is in a constant state of dealing with variables. You have to be consistently alert. What can a producer do to make sure that they are prepared for whatever curveball is going to come their way?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Preparation is obviously crucial. But you can’t be prepared for events that are beyond your control and that hurl themselves at you. And that does happen in life. What I’ve learned is, it’s really important to immediately zoom out to 30,000 feet and look at the larger picture, and then come back and deal with the situation. Very often you can look at the problems staring you in the face, and that feels so insurmountable that you just feel like you can’t move forward. But it’s really important to just zoom out and say, ‘These are the things that are working for the project; I’ve got this one or two or three problems that I need to fix,’ and then just be resourceful and figure out how to do it. You’ve got to keep your optimism up otherwise you’re the one who’s going to be imbuing the whole team with that. So there’s no way that you can let that slip. But preparation is crucial. You need to prepare as much as possible. And be honest. If you’re not prepared, then either delay or shoot, call for an emergency meeting, make sure that you’re being honest with everyone involved and move forward. But don’t just barrel on thinking that the problem will sort itself out without actually sorting out the problem. You need to address it and, at the same time, be a little bit optimistic, otherwise, you won’t be able to move forward.
Smriti Kiran: In your experience, how do you make that decision to keep pushing? And when do you know you have to stop pushing and have to pivot? It’s a very fine balance because one of the qualities of a producer is that the producer doesn’t give up, the producer stays but sometimes they also have to take that decision to stop pushing. It can go right or wrong but how do you do that?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: By keeping people around you who aren’t Yes Men or Yes Women, and to encourage them to speak their mind to you and to be open to listening to what they have to say. Very often you might have this because you’re this optimistic can-do producer, you’ve got this whole attitude of ‘Let’s keep going, let’s not stop’. But the people around you might have a bit more objectivity when it comes to the issue at hand because they’ve been with you on the journey. It’s really important to keep that mode of communication open because if they are just executors following what you’re saying you’re never going to have that reality check. So you need to be open to that.
Smriti Kiran: In your case, it’s a success story, but is being a producer a sustainable job?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: It depends because that’s a broad question. It can be. There’s no doubt that it can be but it is a tough environment. Today, theatres are shut in Maharashtra, Hindi films are not releasing, so it’s really hard for me to come here and tell you, in the short term, that it’s a sustainable job. But long term, given the population of our country, how much we love our entertainment, how much we love our local entertainment, the fact that you’ve got theatres that have been built to support content, the fact that you’ve got platforms that have come in here with big ambitions to be able to create huge franchises and to actually be able to mine the talent that we have, I would say being in production is definitely something that has a lot of potential for the future. In the short term, it might look bleak. It might look like it’s really only the established producers right now who are going to be able to ride it out. But I definitely say that long term, if being a producer is your ambition, then this is the right place and the right time.
Q&A with Dial M For Films Participants and Viewers Watching Live on YouTube
Raghav Roy Kapur: What’s been the shift in revenue from theatres to OTT? Has this been a setback for producers, especially those who already have films ready?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: It has been a temporary shift, for sure. But these are not times that I would take too seriously with regard to the long term impact. It’s the need of the hour. The platforms have been available and have been willing to be able to take on a lot of the theatrical productions and stream them as Originals. The industry is really fortunate that we’ve had that outlet to be able to put our movies out there, but the theatrical window is not going away at all. The theatrical window is here to stay.
The type of movies that we make for theatrical in the future might change because people are much more used to watching content on-demand in the last year. Therefore, they might come out of their homes for that big blockbuster franchise, or for a horror, or a really wild slapstick comedic entertainer. They might not come out that easily for social drama, light romance or for light comedy. Those might be genres that find a more natural home on the platforms. But really, I think we’re living through it right now so to analyse it too much will be detrimental. We just need to be backing great stories and then finding the right platforms for them as we go.
Gaurav Mehra: What are your views as a producer on the current censoring and curbs being put on filmmakers by government bodies, for example, Tandav?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I am personally not in favour of such curbs being put at all. In this case, it wasn’t specifically a government body that did it, but it was a group that asked for it. And then, it found its way into court. But having said that, I think we should be mindful of the freedoms that we have and make sure that we protect them fiercely because we have an outlet for self-expression today and we should make sure that the sanctity of that outlet is maintained. At the same time, while the government has drawn up a certain redressal system right now, we should give it a chance to see what the tonality of that redressal system turns out to be. Any system that’s put in place is only as good as the intention with which it has been drawn up. It exists in television as well. If we go into it with an open mind and we say that if this redressal system has been set up, how can we work together with the ministry to make sure that it is as talent-friendly and creator-friendly as possible, number one. Number two, anything frivolous escaped out of it. Number three, we don’t have a parallel stream of FIRs and court cases still going on now that our redressal system is in place. That should definitely be something that is streamlined. Then what is the level of liberality within the redressal system? That is very important. That is the subjective part that we need to discover as we move forward.
What the government probably, and which our constitution also, talks about is the fact that anything that is a threat to law and order or to national security is something that we should be well aware of. But that should be exercised with restraint because if you take a very broad interpretation of that and leave it very subjective, then we as creators are in danger of so many things that we’re doing being labelled as that, which is what we don’t want. The next few months will really tell us how this will play out. But in principle, the industry is very clear that we would like to be able to tell the stories that we now have the opportunity to tell, especially on platforms that are subscription platforms, and are around demand, and you need to actually seek out that content to be able to watch it.
FCAT (Film Certification Appellate Tribunal) being scrapped is an unfortunate development for filmmakers. So far, we had one more layer between us and the courts before we had to seek redressal from a court. What the FCAT did was that it gave the filmmaker a chance after the first committee and the revising committee viewed the film. If they were not happy with the decision, they would be able to appeal to the FCAT. If they weren’t satisfied with the FCAT’s ruling, then they would go to court. The argument of our government is that it is streamlining tribunals across the board and this was one more of them that existed and that only 0.2% of cases have actually been referred to it. If you look at those five or six cases of where those producers would go today, they are going to find it difficult to be able to seek redressal because many of them might not have the resources to be able to go to court, number one. Number two, they might not have the time, because it takes a certain amount of time to be able to go through the court process and by that time your film is on release, you’ve got various pressures that you’re contending with. So it is an unfortunate development and we intend to speak to the ministry about it and try to resolve it in a productive way if we can.
Sharmishta: Do you have any diversity policies? When would we have Spike Lee or Ava DuVernay kind of directors? Are you taking the next liberal leap?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I believe these things have to happen organically. I mean, Ava DuVernay was not given a grant by the government to make the projects that she’s making. She’s done it of her own volition. You have someone like Anubhav Sinha, whose last three films have been about subjects that have social relevance, that have been about caste. You’ve got to have filmmakers that care about these issues. Hopefully, then the system will support them to be able to tell the stories. So I believe that these stories are best told when they are told from a place of truth and a place of something coming from a filmmaker, from a writer in a very organic manner from their lived experience probably or from their viewed experience. That’s when it will have the most impact – not a subsidised scheme to be able to tell these stories in a very planned manner.
Momita Jaisi: If you can sum up all your experiences as a producer and put it down in a list of pointers to understand filmmaking, what would that include?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I’ll boil it down to one word, and that word would be resilience. You’ve got to be resilient.
Yukta Admane: I am 21 years old right now and I have enough contacts and resources with me. So can I become a producer at this point?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: If you feel you’ve got the contacts and the resources, that’s a great start. The next thing that you need to do is to ensure that you’ve got great material. Do you have a great script? Do you have a great idea, you have a writer working on that, do you have a director associated with that? That would be the next step. And if you want to involve other creative people who you respect to be able to be a part of your team who can review, that would be the right way to go. The most important thing for a producer is what they are producing. They might have the contacts and the resources but they need the material.”
Rohan Bhowmik: How can someone build their skill set during this period by staying at home to eventually become a producer?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: It might sound like an odd thing to say, but at this point of time, your best resource really is the fact that you’ve got the internet at your disposal. If you’re able to take masterclasses online, watch as many Making Ofs as possible, watching interviews with producers and seeing the issues that they face. Since we are all locked up at home, read material about being a producer, read biographies, autobiographies of successful producers or filmmakers. That will give you a great overall understanding. The best way to do it is to really get involved in the production. But given that you’re trying to enhance your skill sets and add value to yourself right now, just make use of all the time that you have on your hands to do this.
Karan Kabir: What is the weirdest, most unexpected skill you bring to your job, and how did you learn it?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: A skill to be able to handle people and personalities, probably, which is a little bit indefinable. It is something that either you’re born with, or you pick it up along the way. Just being really sensitive to vibes, feelings and moods, and being able to understand where everyone is at. It’s not a weird skill, but it’s definitely one that will be good for a producer to have because these are the things that people are not able to say but their body language is conveying it. Or that you feel that there’s something amiss when everything seems okay on the surface. We often go wrong as well. We presume things that are not true as well. But that’s a skill that I think is useful.
Smriti Kiran: What are the three things you should not do when you are a producer?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Don’t become the director. A lot of producers are so wedded to the idea. The idea might have come from them and then may they have taken it to a director and might have creative inclinations and aspirations of their own, then they start jumping in there and doing the writing themselves and becoming almost a co-writer or jumping in and working with the director as a co-director virtually.
The whole point of a producer is to be one step removed from the creative process so that you have some objectivity. You still have to be passionate about the material but in a traditional patriarchal sense – the way that a mother and fathers roles are divided in a sense. Thankfully, that’s changed now. But in a sense, that still works for a director and producer. So, the director is the nurturer, the mother to the project, the one who’s sensitive, who has no objectivity when it comes to the project, is completely immersed in it and is living just that.
The producer is maybe one step removed from that and able to see things maybe a little bit objectively, but is not as passionately involved in the day-to-day running of the project. You need to have a yin and yang going on there because it’s very important to play that role. And once those roles get sort of blurred, then I have seen many projects actually falter. I can’t think of three, but that’s definitely one.
Swaratmika Mishra: You have experience with many films, complex and beautiful, commercially successful small stories and everything. And sometimes a story or a screenplay looks very easy on paper, for storytelling, but it’s very complex in execution. Which film was like that?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Maybe Barfi! was one film. It wasn’t the easiest film to make though the story just sounds so lyrical and beautiful and easy.
But I guess it was all in Anurag Basu’s head. And I think for him to actually be able to tell that story in a way that moves you and touches you and to be able to bring those performances out of Ranbir, Priyanka, and also Ileana, for whom it was her first Hindi film, then being able to get Pritam to actually give music that brought the mood of the film out in a way that was so sensitive and so compelling, that amazed me the most in terms of going from story to screen.
Anush Desai: When there is an absence of star power, what are the elements you look at, in the artistic part of a film and the business part of the film? What are the elements that are important in order to decide whether a film is producible or not?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I think it’s something that producers grapple with all the time. Your content has got to be so compelling and so clutter-breaking that you’re quite confident that you’re going to be able to draw audiences even without a star.
Another thing is, how controlled is your budget in that case because you need to ensure that you’re being able to make the film in a sensible manner. You probably won’t be able to sell your non-theatrical rights at numbers that are going to be skewed to a large extent. Therefore, you need to be quite sensible about how you are budgeting the film.
Films like ABCD and Kai Po Che in terms of the ones that we have done would be the best examples of ones where we took the lead. We wanted to make a 3D dance film and we believed in Remo D’Souza’s vision of the way that he had intended to make it, and Prabhu Deva is a brilliant dancer and someone we all know. But you’re talking about that star power of the top seven-eight heroes,which we wouldn’t have. And with Kai Po Che, we kept it tight, we kept it controlled. We tried to give Abhishek Kapoor exactly what he wanted, without being too intelligent about it. Our ambition was to cast three relative newcomers in those roles because we felt that we wanted the story to be leading the entire narrative rather than the image of a star.
Parinda Singh: Is there a process to identify the right stories that balance the earnestness of the topic and bring in the commercial viability angle as well? For example, if we talk about Yeh Ballet, the topic is not a typical commercial topic, and yet it went on to become so popular.
Siddharth Roy Kapur: There’s no easy answer to that question because it’s so subjective. But in the environment that we’re in today, a few hacks would be: if you’re going to be pitching to platforms, then understand from them what their brief is, in terms of what they’re looking for, and then figure out the genres that you’ve got in your development slate or that you might be considering that fit into that brief. Otherwise, you will be groping in the dark a little bit to figure out the pitch. But when it comes to theatrical, you need to be able to have something that really cuts through the clutter. So, either something extremely high concept – it could be horror, it could be comedy – or it could be something that has a big star cast, or is franchisable.
With Yeh Ballet, we always looked at it as a straight-to-digital film. We knew that we wanted to cast newcomers and wonderful dancers who can act, not actors who can dance. There was going to be an Israeli American dance instructor who comes in there and he’s got to be someone who is white. It’s a film about ballet, which is such a rarefied dance form that not many people, even in urban India, have access to. You have to be realistic about the content. You might love the script and say, ‘It’s incredible. It’s a story that has to be told.’ But get realistic about which platform is the best platform for it to live on. Therefore, I think Netflix as a home was just the right home for it because they understood it. They nurtured it. They helped it to really find its audience around the world.
We approached the platform with the screenplay. But if you’re talking about coming into it cold and saying, ‘I want to be able to produce content for a platform’, it’s important to understand, either from talking to them directly or from people who might have interacted with them, what exactly they’re looking for and then maybe going to them with content that is in the space they’re looking at.
Dhruv Suri: As an independent production studio, where do you source your pitches from? What are your channels to find the best stories, the best writers and directors out there? And what do you look for in a pitch?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: We’ve got a team that interacts with the industry and accepts submissions on a regular basis. We might not always have the time to go through every submission in complete detail but we definitely try to and then try to get back to the people who have written to us or who have cold-called us. Then we take the process forward from there.
What we look for is a very clear voice. If it’s not a complete screenplay, then at least the theme, the story, the characters, or what exactly the film wants to convey. If it’s a series, it would be great if we’ve got a season arc, a sense of what the second and third seasons might look like, a sense of the characters involved, a story outline. If there’s an episodic breakdown of the story, that would be wonderful but that’s not always necessary. If it’s something that’s very visual and is a story that is all about mood and atmosphere, then if there’s some visual representation of that as well, that would be useful.
Smriti Kiran: I always find it fascinating that the director and producer both want to make a great film and tell a great story. But they’re also looked at as people who would be at loggerheads because there’s money and there’s creativity. There are many things that you have to consider apart from logistics and budgets and all of that. There are also legalities. Where does the buck stop as far as plagiarism goes, as far as the legalities of a project go, especially while making stories based on real people?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: It’s very important to go through that process and have a good team of lawyers on your side. If you’re dealing with something sensitive and actually potentially controversial in that sense, the buck stops with you. If you’re working with a platform or working with a co-producer, then it’s a joint ownership of responsibility.
But you need to really vet your material very carefully and ensure that you’re not infringing on anyone’s rights, you’re not defaming anyone in a way that in our courts is seen as defamation. So those are things you need to put through a legal process and consider. Now that process can tend to be a little bit subjective sometimes because there are some things that the lawyers will tell you is an absolute no. But there are some things that they’ll tell you that fall in a grey area, and then it’s really about your risk appetite, whether you want to take that risk or not. What I would recommend to anyone doing something like this is to take something called an E&O (Errors and Omission) policy, which covers you from the perspective of an insurance claim on being able to account for even any litigation that is frivolous that might come up in the course of your film – hitting the theatres or going on a platform. So, if you feel that you’re involved in something that might fall into that trap, then an E&O policy is useful for producers.
Smriti Kiran: Unfortunately, credits have been a huge issue across the industry. Now it’s become better. As a producer, how do you ensure that proper credit is given? Is there a checks and balances system that you have where people’s names are not just taken off projects if they leave during the course?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: We’re very clear and we have contractual understandings in place with our writers and with our directors when we embark on a project. Then we will follow that contractual understanding. So, if my understanding with a writer is that they cannot be removed from a project at any stage, then we would not do that unless we’ve had a discussion with them and they are mutually agreeable to step back from a project and bring another writer.
When it comes to directors wanting to be co-writers, that’s something that we clarify right at the outset, whether a director is actually going to be a co-writer on a project or whether a director is involved in the writing process but will not take a co-writing credit. And it’s important as producers to be very vigilant of this right at the time that you sense that there might be a little bit of a grey area in your project, and that happens very insidiously and slowly and sometimes it can go under the radar and then months later you realise you haven’t addressed it, and by then, everyone is so wedded to their positions that you’re not able to. So, be very mindful of it, and follow the spirit and the letter of whatever it is that you’ve agreed with creative people because credit is something that is very important to all of us, especially to writers who are not in front of the screen and not directors or producers who are not able to always get the right credit, literally and also figuratively, for the work that they put into a project.
Aakansha Bisht: Do you have an internal barometer when it comes to how much feedback one should give?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Not really. In a very objective way where you know to only give this feedback and no more. But I definitely think that you need to do a consensus in your internal group before you’re giving feedback to a creative person because there might be little things that might only have been niggles that are your problem and that might not be a battle worth fighting. It might be something really random and small that you don’t really need to get into with a writer or with a director. So, you need to pick the ones that you really want to convey. That’s important because otherwise what can happen is the smaller minor feedback can get conflated with the larger stuff and then the larger stuff loses its weight and clarity because it’s also been put with something – like, if you feel there was half a second more of a shot there and giving some feedback on a character as well, then one can be put off by that little feedback about the half-second and not listen to your larger feedback about the character development. So, it’s really horses for courses but important to be strategic about the extent of feedback that you give.
Aakansha Bisht: Has your personal morality ever come in the way of feedback? Personally, I might find something regressive, but in the larger sense, the consensus is that it might work. So, then what is the balance there?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: You know, I think that kind of feedback is always good to give because it just lets people think a little bit. They might not even have considered it, there might be some unconscious biases that people have that they’ve not even addressed. So, if you feel something like that, I would say you should say it. Then everyone around you might say that that’s not really relevant, you’re being a prude or whatever, but there’s no harm in giving it.
Siddharth Menon: There is a fine line between exuberance on a project and creativity. How do you manage to be malleable when it comes to particular projects? For example, when you were a part of UTV you headed very diverse projects, ranging from very intense Haider to Rowdy Rathore to Dangal and so many others like ABCD and so on. How do you manage to pick such projects?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: There is a fine line between extravagance and making something that’s actually going to be seen on screen and appreciated. It is a fine line and you need to be always mindful of it as a producer because the director’s job is to make the best film that they can make and bring it to life. The producer’s job is to make the best film within the construct of what is commercially viable and what is going to make sense creatively. So having that creative and commercial balance. Very often you have directors who also think like producers and therefore are really sharp when it comes to that. Then you have some directors who just want to do what they want to do because that’s the way they see it. There’s no right or wrong there. As a producer, you need to assess what kind of director you’re working with and then understand that this is the kind of director who needs that support to be able to pull back in certain cases because that’s not something that they are looking at themselves. Then you need to put yourself in that position and make sure that you curve those.
At UTV, we were looking at a very diverse slate because it was a large studio, and therefore there was a slate to fill for the year. We were also a public company for a large period of time. Therefore, there was a quarter-on-quarter situation when it comes to the number of titles that you put out, the genre, the scale. You have to be on a self-sustaining mode as you go forward. So, some of our decisions were definitely based on having a wide array of movies across all genres, scales, styles, budgets. As an independent production house, because your overheads are smaller, you’re a tighter operation, you’ve got the ability to let your taste come into play a little bit more or completely when it comes to the kind of content that you are picking to be able to go forward. Therefore, you can have a very defined sensibility of the kind of content that you will put out because that’s what you want to be putting out into the world completely.
Sagar Malkar: Being a Bollywood producer, what percentage of your job includes handling the logistics of it and what percentage of the part includes being a creative producer, that is making sure that the vision of the script is coming through? What is that percentage right now in day-to-day jobs, what should be the ideal position and how can we get there?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: If you’re able to get your operations down to a well-oiled machine that’s able to function in a really efficient manner with you getting involved in key aspects of it to ensure quality control and checks are in place, then you can reduce the amount of time that you focus on that and increase your amount of time on development, on ensuring that you’re playing the creative producer role as you put it. The outreach to the rest of the industry and making sure that you’re being able to develop a network of people that are going to support the projects that you’re working on, be able to raise the funding for the films that you’re doing, are very important. But if you don’t have those nuts and bolts sorted out and that’s not running like a well-oiled machine, then you’ll end up spending most of your time there. Whereas actually, that should be the least amount of time that you spend.
Oindrila Sarkar: Since movie production is not like a very regular form of business, it’s very emotional and artistic, and you have been an artist yourself. So how do you balance the two sides of yourself? Was there a time you wanted to tell a story as an artist to the world but as a businessman, you thought it might not work?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I’ve never looked at it as a balance because I don’t think they are mutually contradictory. We chose to be businessmen in this business. We could be industrial businessmen, we could be bankers, we could be running a trading company, we could be doing lots of other things.
We’ve chosen to be businessmen trying to bring dreams to reality in a sense. So obviously, there is an element of the artistic in that decision we’ve taken anyway. Now we’re involved in a commercial art form whether we like it or not, and everyone should understand that, from the actors to the directors to the producer. We’ve not chosen to do painting or to write literature or to do something that’s only us and coming from us, and fulfilling our own artistic ambition. We are choosing to raise money from someone to do something that we want to do. Therefore, we have a fiduciary responsibility to whoever it is that we raise money from, to make sure we give that money back and that responsibility is to the directors and the producers, not just the producers, because we’ve all chosen to be involved in this enterprise.
So, I feel that it’s not mutually contradictory in my mind. This is the movie business. It’s show business. It’s not show show. So, I guess, that’s what we’ve all signed up for.
Suhas Naik: Which are the most common sources of funding for Indian production houses and movie studios?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: A couple of decades ago, one would say that the sources of funding were quite fragmented and they came from people who were patrons, who wanted to support movie-making more as an adjunct to the mainline of business that they already were in. But today, you’ve got most of the foreign studios in the country actually making movies here. So, when it comes to the theatrical, you’ve got a lot of studio funding, whether it’s foreign studios or Indian studios. That actually comprise the bulk of the funding involved in our film. And yes, I think bank financing has increased quite significantly – much more as bridge funding, rather than funding for the entire project. So, the industry now is seen as a legitimate vehicle to be able to give debt to and there’s a more than reasonable expectation that that debt will find its way back. Therefore, that’s definitely something that is looked at today. Then on the digital front anyway, you’ve got all the platforms out there. Those would be the main funders of a project.
Mrinal Kapadia: What were your initial difficulties in your transition to being an independent producer?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: The difficulties were much more internal than external. It’s about patience and really understanding that you might have been part of a well-oiled machinery that you were a large part of setting up but not the only part. Therefore, there was a certain ebb and flow in the way that your day would go, the way that your month would go, your year would go, with releases coming back-to-back. As an individual producer, there is going to be a certain amount of time taken in development and setting up; for someone who’s not used to that pace of activity, of not finding its way to the screen that fast, that will take a while for them to come to terms with. But once you’ve made your mental peace with the fact that these are the initial stages where you’ve got to put in those hard yards on development and on building projects from the ground up – some falling …. before you’re back on that treadmill – you’ll realise that that is the most crucial part for you mentally.
Smriti Kiran: How did you lay the foundation of Roy Kapur Films? What should the producers do when the environment is not conducive to freedom of expression?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I’m not going to get into the logistics of setting up a company and offices, and admin, and HR and all those basics that you have to do in any business. When it comes to a production house, the main thing is the material. So defining what you’re looking for, in terms of ideas, subjects, concepts, stories; going out there and engaging actively with the creative community and saying that this is what you’re doing now – you want to be able to work with them on something, seeing the ideas that they have, brainstorming on ideas that you and your team have and then going out and actually developing those into screenplays. That would be the core of what you have to do to start with other than all the logistics, and only then will that give you the springboard to be able to then actually go out and make that.
To your other question, it’s important that we just keep plugging away and we keep making what we want to make and facing each step at a time rather than sort of beating our chests about it, because we just have to. This is the environment that we’re in today, let’s deal with it head-on. Let’s make sure that we’re not being gratuitous about what we want to be telling just in order to make a point because that is seen easily through by both audiences as well as the powers that be. But if we want to tell the story in a certain way, then we should go out there and say it, and if we have backers to help us do it, then all the better. But I haven’t lost hope in any way. We’re in a much better place today than we were a few years ago. We have the platforms to be able to tell these stories and we should go out there and say it. At the same time, there’s no harm in saying that we should make all kinds of content, we should make political, crime and we should make things on social issues but we should also make love stories, fantasy, mythology. OTT is not just a place for dark, grim, social reality sort of material. But if that’s what you want to make, and you have a backbone for it, then go into it.
Sourav Sarangi: How do you look at the non-fiction scenario, especially creative feature documentaries in India with a global perspective?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I think it’s nascent right now in India. We have a really strong history of documentary filmmaking, but it’s still very niche, and it hasn’t really broken into the mainstream in the way that it deserves to. And today with the kind of unique talent that we have who aspire to be documentarians and the fact that we’ve got platforms who are interested in non-fiction content, it’s definitely a stream worth exploring if that’s your interest.
Smriti Kiran: What do you think is the scope for a producer of short films?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I don’t have a very good answer to that because I haven’t yet seen a very commercially viable model for short filmmaking, where you can get a great return on your investment. There have been a few sponsors who came in and sponsored short films over the years, but I don’t think you can be dependent on that to sustain it as an individual business model. So, it’s a great showcasing for a director and a producer when they’re going out to a studio or production houses to say that this is a sort of material that we can make and create. So, much more as a showcasing rather than as a monetary situation.
Smriti Kiran: What is the process of a producer who has a successful film compared to one who has an unsuccessful film? What do you do right after you now know that this film has done well and this film has not done well?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: After the film has done well, you pop some champagne and party with the cast and crew, that’s basically what you do. If it’s not done well, you should do the same and drown your sorrows, basically. If it hasn’t done well, you can wallow in it for a few days and then just dust yourself up and move on. It might be a little bit harder to put the next project together, to get another set of people to believe in you the way that they believed in you earlier, but if you have hopefully developed enough work by then for people to know that this was one that didn’t work but there’ll be others that do work. If it’s your first one that hasn’t worked, it might be a little bit harder to put the next one together. If something works, then you should leverage it and keep going forward. If it’s something that you think is franchisable, you should build on that. If it’s something that can catapult you into now making that dream project that you wanted to make next but you needed to have a few wins under your belt before you did that, then you should take that step. So, you should leverage the success of the film that’s just been made.
Smriti Kiran: Do you take business decisions based on what that film did, as far as box office is concerned? Or do you also take into account what is said about the material?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: Sometimes in the industry and the media, we have a perception of something purely based on our own liking or disliking for that particular genre or that brand of cinema. It might have got one or two-star reviews, and therefore everyone feels it. But the masses have loved it and they’ve lapped it up and it does well and either breaks even or makes money. I think anyone involved in a film like that has made it because they don’t really care that much about what the industry or the media is going to be saying about their film, otherwise, they wouldn’t be making a film like that. But on the other hand, there are a lot of movies that are widely loved within the industry and the media and that people are shocked when they realise that it’s actually lost money. So that’s the other side of it.
As a producer, your first responsibility is to get your film to make money because you have raised money – either put it in yourself or taken it from a source. Your first responsibility has to be able to give that money back to whoever it is that you’ve raised it from. A very close second would be to make a great movie because you’re not just doing this as a trader. You’re doing this because you enjoy making movies. Now, if you are happy with it and it’s made money, but people haven’t liked it, then sure you can reflect on it but it’s achieved the two objectives that you made it for. So, it’s really a very individual thing, I feel. There are some filmmakers who actually would crave the appreciation, approval of the industry and the media much more than that of the audiences. Then hopefully they would make movies within that construct where they make it in a sensible enough way for it not to be something that hurts someone’s bank balance who’s invested in it.
Mitali Mane: As a producer, you are also first a cinema lover and have a taste of your own. There might be a potential project which might not be your first preference as an audience. What lens do you use to gauge the potential of such projects,?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I like to not judge complete genres. Technically, horror is not something that appeals to me that much but there have been horror scripts that I’ve gotten into completely. You will do yourself a disservice as a producer if you eliminate complete genres from your consideration set.
But I still feel you have to respond to the material as an audience at the first level. We have made that mistake in the past a few times, and we have gone horribly wrong, because what you are thinking the audience likes might not actually be the reason that they like something that you haven’t liked it in the first place. So, you might as well not make it.
Sunny Vachher: Being a producer in Bollywood for so many years, how do you see the core productions happening between Bollywood and Hollywood? And how can producers from Hollywood be able to cross over and have a chance to be able to work with creative executives like yourself, and be able to tell stories that have an impact and can actually bring a difference?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I’ll give you the example of a film called Delhi Belly. We had a producer called Jim Furgele, who worked with Akshat Verma, the writer who was based in LA. Jim and Akshat developed the script together. Akshat wrote it, and Jim was the champion for it and the producer. When they came to India, they reached out to production houses here to get it made. Finally, Aamir Khan Productions with us picked up the picture, and we made it and it was a huge hit.
So, Jim’s an American and he had no link to the industry whatsoever. But I guess what he brought to the table was having nurtured a script that he felt would work really well in India and had crossover potential to a certain extent. So, if you’re looking at doing something like that, then it’ll be useful to be able to bring to the table something that you have worked on, that you believe will have the potential to be something that maybe India’s not making but can work for an Indian audience and also for a US audience in some way. Those are more productive discussions that can happen with the studio.
Avinash Madivada: If a project is planned for a limited budget and halfway through if the budget gets exceeded twice or thrice, how do you handle that situation?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: That really depends on your producer and your financer. It depends on the person who’s backing the project. I heard that Baahubali was greenlit on one number and went up five times that number, but then it became Baahubali.
So, it really depends on someone having the guts and gumption to back something that they believed in all the way through, but I won’t judge them harshly if they say, ‘You’ve exceeded the budget two or three times of what it is.’ Because you have got to take some responsibility for that. So, it really depends on your relationship with your financiers. Transparency is very important; being able to communicate with them at every step of the way so that you don’t just suddenly go to them and say that it’s 2x or 3x over budget. You have to actually talk them through it every week, every day of production so that they are there in the trenches with you and they understand the problems that you had all the way through. Then they’ll be much more empathetic to the situation that you’re in.
Akanksha Bopardikar: Is it really important to have a very strong marketing and PR plan before you start with the production because that affects the sales of the film later on? And how will the finance recovery work post-pandemic for features and web series?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: I do think it’s always useful to have a plan of how you’re going to position a film right from the outset. Therefore, it’s really important to keep your marketing and PR hat on right from the time that you’ve decided to go ahead and make a film because that’s when the clock starts ticking. You want people to know your film, you want them to be excited, you want them to be primed completely by the time your first trailer is out and to be expecting something spectacular. So, it will be great to put that hat on early and along with your pre-production discussions. Discuss your Making Ofs, your social media campaign, your PR campaign, how you’re going to be building excitement and interest around the casting of the film, the shooting process of the film, so that for people it’s not just a shock when your trailer releases and no one even knew that film was being made.
On the other hand, when you’ve got a really big film, your PR strategy might be to keep a lid on everything completely because everyone knows about your project anyway. You want to build this air of drama and suspense around what is being made in the hallowed portals of this one place in Film City that is so carefully guarded by armed guards. It really depends, but that should also be a strategy. So, you should think it through.
And to your second question, the recoveries in terms of the movies that are released theatrically would work exactly like they were working earlier, where there’s a deferred cash flow. Once the theatres get the films, they might give you an advance and then there’s a cash flow that comes in post-release of the film, which is agreed upon between the exhibitor and the distributor. But if it’s a straight-to-digital film and you’re not releasing it theatrically, then that’s between you and the platform – you pretty much get paid on delivery or maximum on your first day.
Smriti Kiran: Earlier, either the film was an OTT film or it got a theatrical release. But during the pandemic, a film gets a theatrical release and then two months later, it comes to OTT. So, do you see some sort of a shift happening when we go back to the theatres? Do you think this will become the norm?
Siddharth Roy Kapur: You know, it’s a bit of a sensitive issue, because there’s an ongoing dialogue between the exhibitors and the distributors and producers about what the right windows for films should be. The contention of the exhibitors is that by destroying the theatrical window, you’re actually training people to understand that movies are going to be released very shortly on an OTT platform and so you’re reducing the exclusive window. The distributors and producers point of view is that in any case with piracy, your film is available on various platforms already from day one of your release. So, it’s not like someone really has to wait eight weeks to watch it on a digital platform. So, there are two points of view. There are some producers who actually believe that an eight-week window is the right thing to do because they want to maintain that exclusivity. So, there isn’t a complete meeting of minds on this even when it comes to the players within the industry. But I do think that going forward the way that it happened in the US, with the windows collapsing quite significantly in the cost of the pandemic, similarly, in India, there will be realigning as well. It could be based on the scale of the movie, it could be based on the run in theatres, or once a film has completed its run in theatres, it could release digitally.
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