Interview By: ANKITA R. KANABAR

It’s no news that they make a great team! We’ve seen that in the past with a number of path-breaking films like ‘A Wednesday’, ‘Paan Singh Tomar’, ‘KhoslaKaGhosla’, amidst many more! From spearheading a studio model, bringing in years of experience and many hits – Ronnie Screwvalais a veteran in the business who now starts afresh RSVP. Siddharth Roy Kapur on the other hand, also brings in his immense expertise and experience of the business into his own production company ‘Roy Kapur Films’. The two, have also teamed up for multiple projects, starting with ‘Pihu’. We catch up with the duo to speak about their association as they also give us an insight into the past-present scenario of the business! Excerpts:

Your first collaboration together outside of UTV – ‘Pihu’ is set to release, tell us about what made you present it?
Siddharth Roy Kapur (SRK):
We’ve been speaking to Vinod Kapri about doing something else together and he said he’s made the film which he’d like us to watch. So, we loved it and decided that we would like to present it.
Ronnie Screwvala (RS): Because we had the luxury of watching a completed product, we could see it as an audience, so we thought, if I can feel that way then everyone can feel that way. It is an edge-of-the-seat film yet it’s completely emotional. It’s a quick film. It has the right kind of duration where your attention is not sagging at any point in time.

At the script level, had ‘Pihu’ come to you, would you think of it as a risk to be made?
SRK: At the script level, if you had to look at risks, you balance out budget with the material. At that level, it’s not a risk at all because it’s been created in such a way that it’s a contained story. It’s about just this 2-year old protagonist and it was a 16-day shoot. The benefit of these kind of films is that you can really push the envelope and see how the audience goes with it, not having to take that kind of a commercial risk and still work on something that could be very commercially appealing.

It’s a first of a kind, because it’s a thriller with just one actor – a child! Do you think, it’s important for this kind of film to be well-accepted in order to open further avenues?

RS: Yes, the word of mouth has to be very good and there’s no reason why it should not be. Our job is to make sure maximum number of people come to the cinema halls to watch it. It is a cinematic experience. When you are sitting in there with a very focused attention, it is an edge-of-the-seat experience.

With this film, the two of you begin a fresh association. So from here on, how do you see things coming, in terms of collaborating more with your sensibilities tuned in?
RS:
Having worked together for about ten years, our sensibilities are similar in any case. We share scripts with each other, which we instantly like or may not like and then we go ahead accordingly. That’s not scripted either.
SRK: I think it just boils down to reacting to the same script in the same way which we’ve done more often than not, in the same way in the past. There’s no reason that won’t continue in the future. But having said that, we’re also making films individually. So, it’s a great association that way, where in we both work on material we are equally excited about.

With the kind of time you’ve spent in the industry, making movies, now is there a change in the thought process or the way you’ll approach things?
RS:
I think there’s a change in the choices. It boils down to that. Firstly, I think both of us are at a little luxury in terms of the choices we can make. It’s not a large organisation, it’s not a studio model so you don’t have to go out there to just do whatever you get. To me, it’s pretty much that. It happened to me just yesterday where, one of my team members narrated a really lovely script to me, in a really good budget and the cast is really nice. I introspected for half an hour, and I was like, I can’t see this as something I necessarily want to do at this stage. If it was a studio model, there would be no reason for me to not do it. So to me, that’s when I realised that choices is a good crossroad to be at. Choices doesn’t mean you become choosy though.
SRK: For me personally, because I’m doing this in the production house model atleast to start with, I’m not looking at marketing and distribution, I’m looking purely at production. I have to be able to live with that material for a year to year and a half, be passionately in love with it, because I’m going to be intimately involved with it. Whereas earlier, when we were in a studio model, we had co-productions, we had multiple other priorities we were working on, therefore the level of involvement in every individual project today is that much more in the current model. Now, there has to be that much more that you really can’t imagine not doing that film, for you to decide to do it.

Creatively, how do you find this change?
RS: If I say that, this phase is more satisfying, I’ll be saying something wrong. At that time in the career and life of the company, you needed to create a studio model because that was not there. Sometimes what you do also has a lot to do with the time in which you do it. At that point, building a studio model was needed, but today, that isn’t really what the case is. And, to be able to do it twice, in two different avatars, you need to be blessed.
SRK: What Ronnie was able to do at UTV and helped us to direct ourselves to do was, we worked in a studio model but we were still taking very edgy decisions in many ways and push the envelope. It was not like, we were only going for the big, super-star films. We were also doing the ‘Dev D’, ‘Khosla Ka Ghosla’, ‘Kaminey’ and more. Even the bigger films that we were doing were kind of pushing the envelope. So, coming from that training ground, for all of us who’ve come out of UTV, has really helped us to now feel like the sky doesn’t have to be the limit. You can do both. You can be creatively pushing the boundaries as well as be commercially successful.
RS: But that’s also happened at a time when the audience has also evolved. At least for me, being out of it for five years and being back – part of the attraction to come back was to see that the audience is evolving and now they will continue to evolve. There are multiple reasons for that. Is it because the digital platforms have opened up? Yes and no. Because we are still looking at theatrical. The exposure to content because of the digital platform is so much more that they have evolved. Otherwise, people only had daily soaps and cinema. But now there’s this plethora of content, so minds have also evolved. The audience is also moving. I think, every three years, there will be a change and everything will evolve. That’s the exciting part.

So while the audience is evolving, what is it that poses a challenge today while making movies?
RS: Challenges are many! The first challenge is to find really good scriptwriters. Then, putting it together. I think the second one is, it takes a year or year and a half to make a film, more or less. Like I said, things change every 2-3 years but the bad part is, things are changing faster now. So, you’ve got to future-proof what you are making, in the sense that it needs to be equally relevant a year later, in that budget.
SRK: I would agree completely. I think finding the right script has been a challenge always when it comes to making a film, and something you want to commit yourself to. That would be the biggest challenge.

How about marketing and promotions?
RS: Even that has changed a lot!
SRK: Today, there’s even more clutter than it used to be. There’ll be even more clutter in the future. People are being hit with a barrage of messages which are every second of their waking life. And therefore to cut through that clutter, you got to be pushing the envelope at times and really go beyond the boundaries of what there is. Because people are really used to marketing messages today. They’ve figured out that this is how manufacturers speak, this is how producers speak. So, you’ve got to be able to reach them in ways that they don’t see coming.
RS: And the conversations have also changed. I think the significance of your content and the ability to take that content into a two and a half minute trailer is getting more critical than anything else today. You need to have something good to convert that into a trailer. That’s a good part.
SRK: You’re pretty much made or broken with that first piece of communication that you send. I’d say, even the importance of music has nothing to do with the film. People will be like, ‘it’s a great song, I’ll hear it anyway. I don’t need to go to the theatre to specially watch this song. So, now you cannot just rely on one hit number, one item number. Those things are pretty passe.

Is that why not much attention is paid to good music lately?
RS:
I do feel that creatively, directors take a lot of trouble on the music. It’s just that now it’s just built in inside the film as per the story. It’s not a center-piece now. It should just be there to complete the movie.
SRK: Right, so it’s not a marketing tool anymore. It’s more about, is it organic to the film. You still want a great score, but you just cannot rely on that to sell your film.

What else has really changed in the last two decades?
RS: I keep saying this but it starts with the audience, we take the lead from there. They’ve evolved. When we say cinema has changed, we make it sound like, 20 directors have come together and changed how films are made, which is not the case. The audiences have evolved and that has lead to the new breed of directors coming in. That’s why you see, some of the movies that have worked are from first time and second time directors. Because audience has evolved, there’s a sense of liberation in the way you want to tell stories. Those are the main things which have happened.
SRK: Today, a lot of directors who didn’t come from big cities are feeling more comfortable in telling their stories in a really authentic way. We had a phase in the middle where directors were so influenced by the west that they were trying to be that way, and mixing that up with the Indian-ness. So, films were seeming slightly confused. But today it’s not the case. For instance, ‘Badhaai Ho’. Clearly the director has lived that life and is completely unapologetic about telling it exactly the way it is lived rather than having to conform to a western structure or form. That’s great to see people really feeling confident about where they come from. And those are films which are working!

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