Has Bollywood finally realised that good things sometimes do come in small packages and also that it’s not the Khans but the content, which is King? The success of small or low-budget films such as Kahaani, Udaan, Pyar Ka Punchnama, Peepli Live, Tere Bin Laden, Phas Gaye Re Obama among others in recent times, has not just worked wonders for the film industry, it has made everyone sit up and take notice of the fact that low budgets do not have to translate into low returns as well.
And while earlier, we did have small films being made, it is the presence of established production houses and their support to these movies, that has made all the difference in the way they have been marketed and in return, received by the audience. Right from Paan Singh Tomar, ABCD and No One Killed Jessica that were produced by UTV Motion Pictures, to Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge and Mere Dad Ki Maruti produced by Y-Films (a subsidiary of Yash Raj Films) to Balaji Motion Pictures and Alt Entertainment’s Ragini MMS, Dharma Production’s Gippi and more recently, Fukrey produced by Excel Entertainment -- there is an endless list of small budget, content-driven films that have set the cash registers ringing.
In recent times, director Anand Gandhi’s film Ship of Theseus caught the attention of filmmaker Kiran Rao, and she decided to present it with UTV Motion Pictures as the distribution partner. “It goes without saying that the kind of infrastructure UTV could provide for the distribution of the film, is something nobody could have managed,” says Gandhi, an independent filmmaker and screenwriter based in Mumbai. Kiran Rao’s association with his project, he admits, has undoubtedly lent a magnitude to the movie, which has already been critically acclaimed at a number of international film festivals and is all set for release on July 19. “With many stars turning producers themselves, the choice has become limited,” opines trade analyst Taran Adarsh, “The production houses have to keep going, so they are balancing the big-budget films, with small films that too give good return on investment. It’s a great trend, and I only see it growing.”
Investing in the future
“Content has always been important, but it is true that today, movies that deal with different themes and subjects are getting huge appreciation from an audience that is hungering for great content. It’s an incredible time for filmmakers, artistes and studios and it is here to stay,” says Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director -- Studios, Disney UTV. Ashish Patil, Business and Creative Head, VP, Y-Films says, “I can think of three main reasons why we’re seeing this trend. Firstly, there is a consumer demand for fresh content that appeals to the youth. Secondly, it is an industry requirement. There is too much dependence on a few big stars and directors, and it’s important to invest in the future. And third, it’s a business opportunity, where you create a system where you’re launching and creating future stars.”
With the filmmakers pitching in all their might and support to these films, it’s a win-win situation for both studios and the audience. Today, the audience is much more discerning when it comes to the film’s story and content. Along with other factors, exposure to world cinema has widened their horizons, and they are ready to experiment with interesting stories and talented artistes, who might not be conventionally good looking. Rudrarup Datta, head of marketing and operations, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, sees this scenario arising out of two factors. “First, the audience is rapidly evolving and seeking different content and second, our intention has always been to provide good content. If a good product is marketed and promoted with enough weight behind it, then it will prove itself at the box office,” he says.
A separate identity
While established production houses have put their weight behind low-budget and often non-commercial films, many of them have started or opened sub-divisions to look after these films. So while Balaji Telefilms Ltd has a division called Alt Entertainment (that has produced films like Love Sex Aur Dhokha and Shorr in the City) that makes films that cater to younger audiences, Tipping Point Films is a banner that was launched by Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, to tap the youth. Shaitan was the first movie made under the banner. But the question that arises is, why have these subdivisions if the parent banner already exists? The logic, say studios, is to create an identity separate from the main banner. Explains Datta, “Creating a separate banner helps us focus more on the filmand its marketing. For example, I cannot market a movie likeShaitan in the same way, in which I can market a Son of Sardaar, simply because it’s not the same kind of movie. For that, I have to understand the consumer I’m targeting and market it accordingly.”
Y-Films, a subsidiary of Yash Raj Films, has made films like Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, Love Ka The End and more recently, Mere Dad Ki Maruti. It was the brand values that YRF traditionally stands for that would have come in the way, had they decided to bring out these kind of films under the main banner. “Unlike any film studio in the country, YRF is a brand,” says Patil, “When you think of YRF, you think of romance, great music, great production values, beautiful locations, a beautiful heroine among other things. Now, we may not be able to deliver the same kind of scale or content with these smaller films. With Y-Films, we can take the positive values of YRF, while not carrying the baggage and at the same time, create fresh expectations with fresh and quirkier content that’s relevant for the younger audience.”
For Roy Kapur, deciding which film will be produced under which banner, depends upon the story. “We are involved in these movies right from their inception. So whether it be Dev D, A Wednesday, Paan Singh Tomar, Barfi!, ABCD or Kai Po Che, what must appeal to us to start with, is the story itself, how unique it is and how the director plans to tell it. Once we are convinced on all counts, we proceed to the more operational aspects of casting, budget, scheduling or to produce it under UTV or Spotboy and so on. But it all starts with the story and the director’s vision for it,” he says.
A positive outcome of the success of these content-driven low budget films, is the plethora of talent that has emerged from it. New actors, directors, music composers and technicians have found their way into the industry. With Y-Films, Patil says, they have contributed at least 25 to 30 new artistes and technicians to the film industry. “It’s an investment in the future, as the industry is always hungry for fresh talent,” he says. And for the newcomers, it is a dream to get the backing of a big production house.
Saqib Saleem, who made his debut with Y-Films’ romantic comedy Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge and was recently seen in Mere Dad Ki Maruti and Bombay Talkies, has already been signed by Amole Gupte for his next. “First of all, it’s difficult for a newcomer to get a film. And then, to get a production house like YRF to back you, is like the icing on the cake. For the audience, it’s a great time as every Friday there is a fresh lot of actors who arrive in the industry,” says the actor. Nupur Asthana, the talented director of Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge, is already handling her next big project -- an untitled film starring Sonam Kapoor and Ayushmann Khurrana by YRF. “It’s a huge confidence booster if a big production house asks you to direct a movie for them.
When a bigger banner extends support to a small film, things like distribution, marketing and releasing the film becomes much easier,” she says. What attracts big production houses to smaller films, believes Nupur, are the lower stakes. “The money they have to recover is much less, and therefore, it is easier for them to back them,” she says. The hunger for content that’s different and intelligent, is what Gandhi believes is the driving force behind the new wave of cinema. “People are making cinema they believe in. And there is a huge audience out there that is bored of the old formulaes and tired scripts,” he adds.
Sample this. Kahaani, a film with a female lead and made at a modest budget of Rs 8 crore raked in more than Rs 82 crore at the box office, while a Kai Po Che with three newcomers and costing approximately Rs 12 crore made around Rs 52 crore. Sometimes, an intelligent script, apt casting and a modest budget is all it takes to get the cash registers ringing. No wonder then, producers are more than willing to back these projects all the way.