Interview By: Drishti Pandey

Akash Chawla, former executive VP of Zee Studios now has launched his own venture ‘Fresh Lime Films’. We speak to him about his debut venture Zee5’s original series ‘Karenjit Kaur’ Biopic of Sunny Leone produced by Fresh Lime films and Namah pictures. Excerpts:

How did the idea materialise to have your own company ‘Fresh Lime Films’?

A huge credit for this goes to the place that I worked for close to 12 years, Zee. It’s an organization that teaches you to take chances, throws you into the deep sea and teaches you the value of money. It gave me an opportunity to work with some of the best minds in the industry and have an entrepreneurial mindset. My close friend Joy Sengupta (who is a founding partner at one of the leading ad agencies Scarecrow) and I would have many conversations regards wanting to tell stories and so one day we decided that there will never be a perfect time but to follow our passion and ride the content bandwagon. The result is FreshLime Films!

What made you back ‘Karenjit Kaur’- Sunny Leone’s biopic? 

Karenjit Kaur is the true story of the actual person behind the brand Sunny Leone. While Sunny is the most Googled celebrity, it was intriguing that not many even knew about her actual name , leave alone the story of a simple Punjabi girl who goes on to become a porn star and from there becomes a Bollywood star. The amazing love story with Daniel and how she has now embraced motherhood is just headline news and no one again knows details of it. It’s not an ordinary life at all and we feel it’s a story that needed to be told!

What were the challenges you came across during this project? 

The biggest challenge was to say the story honestly. This was most difficult but was made possible as all stakeholders at the time of the project set up – be it us, our partners Shareen and Kishor from Namah Pictures, Zee5 team and Sunny were all on the same page and clear on this. The other challenge was that since this is Sunny playing herself, there were many times when recreation of some of the more difficult aspects of her life was tough on her. She broke down many times while shooting but came back each time and did a great job.

Web series is a booming platform right now, also it gives you the liberty to showcase things with less censorship. What’s your take on it, do you think there are advantages and disadvantages too? 

Web platform for me is about convenience. It’s a new medium that’s here to stay and that’s clear from the way that we lead our lives and how devices and technology is an intrinsic part of it. Whether it is maps or payments or shopping, it’s all moved onto our phones and so is our content viewing moving from traditional modes to online streaming. It’s no longer about a fixed time when a show will come on air but convenience of being able to watch when one wants to. When I started with television in early 2000s, the television industry was at a tipping point and now it’s the digital medium.

Tell us about your film with Ajay Devgn based on football? What’s the status and what attracted you for this project?

It’s a true story of one of the greatest coaches in Indian sports who took a sport that India is not known for today – football, to its once glory days. It’s the story of Syed Adbul Rahim, the coach who is forgotten today but who was the architect of the Golden Era of Indian Football where India was amongst the top nations in this sport with great players like Chuni Goswami, P. K. Banerjee, Tulsidas Balaram, Arun Ghosh, Fortunato Franco and many more. We all saw the fervor during the football World Cup but sadly India is way down when it comes to this most played sport in the world. With Boneyji and Zee Studios, our objective is to bring this wonderful story with the intent that it inspires a whole generation to take Indian Football to its glory days again! Ajay sir is the perfect artist to portray this role and his enthusiasm for the story is infectious. The film is being directed by Amit Sharma and screenplay is written by Saiwyn Quadros, dialogues by Ritesh Shah.

What’s that one aim you always have as a producer?

To entertain audiences and be profitable to stakeholders; a great story well told does both.

How would you tackle with situations that come with controversy? 

We don’t court controversy knowingly. There have been instances during my career where one happens to get into one and the idea is to deal with it coolly and calmly.

How much do box office numbers matter? 

A lot! Content making is a business that has huge investment of efforts, emotions and money by many people who make that story come to screen. They put themselves out there and box office numbers decide their livelihood.

What’s been your learning so far? 

Each project comes with a huge set of learnings. On Karenjit Kaur, the simple learning has been to look beyond the obvious!

Tell us about your upcoming films?

Apart from the biopic with Ajay sir, we have a Marathi film in partnership with Namah Pictures and Zee Studios. It’s a true story of India’s First Lady doctor, Anandi Joshi and her husband, Gopalao Joshi, who in as early as 1880s stood with her for the cause of girl child education. The Film, directed by Sameer Vidwans, is titled ‘Anandi Gopal’ and will be released this year.

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