Interview By: Ankita R. Kanabar

With ‘Raazi’ still running on the minds of the audience and its roaring success being a testament of that, we catch up with this lady who’s been instrumental in putting the film together – Preeti Shahani of Junglee Pictures. We speak to her about the film’s success, and all about making movies. Excerpts:

“It’s a serious commercial commitment we make to bring a story to the audience”

At the script level, didn’t ‘Talvar’ and ‘Raazi’ seem risky? Of course, that they turned out so well is a different story…
Not ‘Raazi’. It’s based on a true story, that’s the challenge. But ‘Talvar’ was very challenging, because of the kind of responsibility that the story carried, the fact that the case was still under-trial so it was a sub-judice so we couldn’t touch the judiciary part of it. The other thing of the story was nobody wanted to know the story because in their head justice had been served. It wasn’t like ‘No One Killed Jessica’ where there was an entire media movement, because the people and media believed that the guilty had not been punished so there was a movement. So the rewards of that, if you really look at it, then it’s like, in everyone’s life, you get one such chance to be able to tell something so important. It was important to tell that story. I am glad it turned out the way it did.

What has been the biggest challenge on ‘Raazi’, from the inception level to the release?
That’s what is amazing about ‘Raazi’. I don’t think at any point anyone thought of this as a challenge. It just was so fluid in the way it happened, the way it got made. When a story is meant to happen, sometimes it happens so seamlessly. Yes, it was one and a half years of putting it together, it was our collaboration with Meghna second time, in less than a year. We had a great collaboration with Dharma, Karan and Apoorva, Alia and everyone in the cast, we were so fortunate that the kind of talent which came on board, it made the journey very smooth.

‘Talvar’ not only set a benchmark for you as a company, but it also was a benchmark of sort in general for the industry because of the way it did, purely based on great content. Also, as far as the return on investment is concerned…
Of course, we want a return on investment because at the end of the day it’s a business, but if we allowed ourselves to get intimidated by our success, it would not allow us to see more stories and at Junglee Pictures we want to tell different kinds of stories. We don’t want to be limited. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve found such stories, which have been different. ‘Talvar’ was a drama based on a true incident, ‘Bareily Ki Barfi’ is a light-hearted family film, ‘Raazi’ is a spy thriller and again, when we go into ‘Badhaai Ho’, that’s a complete family comedy. And ‘Junglee’ is a family, action-adventure film. So, we’ve not restricted our thinking in the type of stories we wanted to tell but we are very conscious on the fact that we’d like to tell our stories fiscally responsibly so that the money we invest is returned so that we continue being in the business.

Despite the different genres, what remains constant in these films is their relatibility or emotional connect. Is that what you consciously look for, while coming on board?
It’s like a book, you will complete reading a book only if you connect to a character’s emotions. Relatability is a very high reason why people get engaged to a story. When you have films like ‘Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha’, what’s the relatability? Everyone knows one fat girl in their family who is having a problem in getting married. Human emotions can never change. We can go thousand years forward and we will still have the same emotion that we respond to. Our stories and the way we tell them, they keep changing and that influence is from where we are as a society, who our film-makers of that time are and what kind of stories we want to tell.

While all your films so far, have done well in the space that they were meant to do, what has been your learning?
The fact of the matter is, a group of 100 people or more have to come together to be able to tell a good story and every department has to play a crucial role because it’s a part of our reality. You can have a great script but by the time your script finds its way to the screen, there’s been a shift in the telling. It’s not always just about the director, but you have to give the director, the best possible team that they can work with. There’s not a single department which is unimportant in the telling of the story. We say it often enough within our team as well that this is show business. One is what you show of the story, the other is, there’s a very serious business behind it. It’s a serious commercial commitment we make to bring a story to the audience. So we have to be responsible and that responsibility has to come across from all departments. And that’s the key. You need to support the director’s vision but you also want to work with collaborative directors who understand that there is a responsibility that there is at least some sort of return on a film so that you have a continuous cycle running. We’ve learnt that over a period of time. While we’ve been fortunate that the teams, the directors we’ve worked with have a keen understanding of that. We’ve been able to tell the stories we wanted to, only because we have been able to marry art with commerce. And if there’s something we like at Junglee Pictures, it’s to get our Fridays stress-free, not feeling like we are reaching the Friday with a sword hanging on our back. We have so much exposed and recovered. That change is now happening across, all over now.

Despite everyone saying that it’s a great time to be in movies, what’s the challenge that you feel the industry is facing today?
I’d like to say, it’s a great time to be in the business of telling stories and I don’t think it should be limited to just feature films. It’s a great time to tell stories across all platforms. We have an audience who is evolving every single day, because they are exposed to content from all across the world. Look at the exposure. We are at a very nascent stage for developing content for web platforms. I think that, from a Hindi cinema perspective, one of the challenge, apart from the other challenges we face, is that today, we are competing for attention so if I have to get you into watching my film, I’m competing with Amazon and Netflix, television and regional cinema. ‘Sairat’ can do an 85 crore in Maharashtra, so what does that tell you? And look at ‘Bahubali’, where language has no barrier. Today, the Hindi speaking audience which was only consuming Hindi cinema will watch Bengali films, south Indian films, so we are competing for mindshare, for the money that you spend at the theatres.

Also, being able to have that bit of an outside perspective or being able to be open to new ideas, is that because you’ve yourself been exposed to a lot of outside content and books or the world outside?
We rely strongly on our instincts and once you say yes to telling a story then you start bringing everything together, to start converting that instinct into a story. Yes, it’s true that as an organisation, we are exposed to a lot of material. We do read a lot. Infact, we are one of the few companies that will ask to read a script and not be sitting on a narration. We’ve green-lit films or stories that we have found entertaining or relevant as a team, and we’ve put all our belief behind it. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve enjoyed three great weekends at the box-office.

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