Interview By: Rohan A Sawant

Spontaneous as he can get and yet professional in every manner, Deepak Dhar, the MD of Endemol Shine India talks to us about their latest film ‘Traffic’ in a light hearted chat…

“As a producer I am little selfish”

When you are producing a film, what are the main elements that look out for?
First we see if the story of a film is engaging and emotional enough and second is the captain of the ship, the director. It’s the story and the vision of the director that are like the two legs that we are constantly looking out for. We know that if these two things are sorted, we will have a great film.

The original film with the same title, ‘Traffic’ was made back in 2011 with the same director which was a big hit in Malayalam cinema, so was this one of the factors involved when you decided to back its Hindi remake?

Not really. The main reason to go with this movie was the emotional connect and the fact that it is a very strong story. We were looking for a real story and as we are considered as pioneers of reality TV, we gravitated towards a real subject, something that would give us goosebumps because of its emotions, the thrill and the pressure cooker kind of environment. Initially when I saw the original Malayalam film with my team, half way through the film we all looked at each other and we were like this is the film we want to go ahead with for the Hindi audience.

Is it a conscious effort from your side to be associated with projects closer to reality?

Not really. It is not something that we have designed as a strategy. Given the choices we had on the table ‘Traffic’ seemed the best to take and I am pretty sure that it is going to pay the dividend because it’s a story that is very real and a story that we all really believed in. Also we have been doing all kinds of stuff because last year we did Brothers which was a mixed martial arts sports drama very different from what we are doing. We do a whole lot of diverse stuff in reality from song, dance, and comedy to Big Boss and also action, adventure. We don’t believe in getting slotted in one zone because our strength is to play with diverse genres of both TV and films.

What are the challenges that the MD of a production house can face?
I don’t look it as a challenge. For me it is an opportunity to be engaged with the right team, right creative people, right and creative minds. I am always looking out to work with people with whom I can learn a few things and tricks and the trade from. During ‘Traffic’ I was trying to learn from Manoj Bajpayee on how does he play a character or he can change from one character to the other. So I look at it as an opportunity to be associated with the best minds be it writers, directors, technicians or actors. As a producer I am little selfish (laughs) in the sense that I love to work with these people so that I can learn more and more things from them.       

Your last produced film ‘Brothers’ did not do well, so was that like a setback for you as a producer?

‘Brothers’ for us was a big announcement and I think the film did what we had designed. With Akshay Kumar, Sidharth Malhotra Jackie Shroff and Karan Johar backing it, the film was something that we were really committed to and are most happy about. So it was a very different kind of a film and ‘Traffic’ is also very different kind of a film. ‘Brothers’ was a sports drama with mixed martial arts and set up at a very big scale whereas ‘Traffic’ is a very different because it is inspired from a real life story with different genres, different scales and I am pretty sure that its impact will be good.

How was the process of making this film once you decided to back it?

This film had come to us while ago. We took a little time to put it together because I must admit that we are one of the youngest producers in the film business whereas we have produced strong content on the TV side. I am not embarrassed to admit that we are still learning. So we took our time to put all things in their position along with getting the right cast, engaging with the director. We had to adapt the story to Hindi because we cannot just take the script from Malayalam and carbon copy it to Hindi. So a lot of effort, time and money was put into it. The idea was not to do it in a hurry; the idea was to do it right with the right people.

“As a producer, it is an opportunity for me to be engaged with right team, right creative people, right and creative minds”

How did you get such a good set of actors on board?
We had a good director Rajesh Pillai as the captain of the ship. So it was necessary that we had a good star cast too. So getting actors like Manoj Bajpayee, Jimmy Shergill, Divya Dutta, Prosenjit Chatterjee, Parambrata Chatterjee was great for us. It was a choice between getting great actors or Bollywood stars. We took some time as a producing team to understand what was needed. The role Manoj is playing could have also been played by another Bollywood star. We could have put a commercial star in the lead and the entire dynamics could change but that change in dynamics could upset the fabric of the film and it tales out the essence of it. When an actor becomes larger than the film, the film suffers. In this case, Manoj and Jimmy have slipped so well in their characters so well, Divya as the mother will make you cry. I have seen the film at least 20 times and every time I have been biting all my nails; maybe that is because I am the producer and so I am nervous, but genuinely I am completely into it.

The movie hasn’t been marketed as much and yet the trailer has received tremendous response. So how assuring is that as a producer?

Definitely it is very assuring being the producers of the film. It was a conscious effort from our side to not to conventional marketing of the film because it is not a conventional film. We looked at the film and decided to do real stuff. Everything that we have done has been in the realistic zone and I hope it pays off. Also having actors like Manoj helps a lot because he is coming fresh from his critically acclaimed role in ‘Aligarh’. We believed in the story and so we are going about it in a very realistic and transparent manner and to the right people.

The director of the film Rajesh Pillai passed away just some months back. So loosing the captain of the ship at such a crucial time can be disheartening for the whole crew. So how did you go about it after that?

It was a very shocking news and we all were left wondering what just went wrong. Also I look at it as a fact that 90% of the job was done and the last mile was left when we lost the captain. But these are things that we can’t do much about. We all internalised it and came in together as a team. In every team when there’s a captain, there is vice-captain as well who takes the charge. So that was a beautiful story in the backend because everybody stepped in to take charge. We couldn’t let the vision disarray because the last mile which was left is very critical. When you start with something, ending it is very important and tough. But then everyone stood up including the actors, the technicians, Fox as the presenter really came together to make sure that there were no lapses in the vision and that the story was still told the way Rajesh wanted and I think he would be happy the way we have ended it.

This film has also given a boost to the Green Corridor Initiative.

Yes, certainly. This film was started long time before the initiative started. Today everyone else is thinking that because of the initiative this story is been told, but actually it’s the other way round. The incidences of organ donation across two twin cities have happened largely in the last 6 months and this film has been in making been before that. So it is good to see that a film has started this trend and I am hopeful that the police machinery and the doctors can work together hand in hand.  When I see an ambulance stuck in traffic crying for help you can’t do anything about it. The sense of responsibility is lacking somewhere I feel and this movie should help everyone understand this, because there’s somebody who’s dying in that ambulance. This film has it to make everyone realize that there is a difference of fraction of seconds between life and death.

Lastly as a producer what do you expect the movie to do?

I hope the authorities look at the Green Corridor Initiative on a larger and broader perspective and rule out polices that towards its betterment. It is a huge problem in all the metro cities because the roads are always filled with traffics. Also commercially the film should do well because we have a fantastic star cast and a very strong story which is completely balanced on realism because we haven’t deviated any part of it. So we are really hopeful that it reaches out to a wider audience and all of us make some money (laughs).

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