The Indie Financier

Producer Guneet Monga on her Punjabi genes,generating funds and opening international markets to small-budget films.

Written by Alaka Sahani | New Delhi | Published: April 7, 2013 10:25 pm

Producer Guneet Monga on her Punjabi genes,generating funds and opening international markets to small-budget films.

In no particular order,Guneet Monga is excited about her unit’s month-long shoot in Patiala for Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic’s untitled movie,her Los Angeles trip to receive an industry leadership award,her eight upcoming movie releases and her new haircut. In the homely office of Sikhya Entertainment and Anurag Kashyap Films Pvt Limited (AKFPL),in Andheri,where she works as CEO,Monga shows off her new look drawing appreciative “oohs” from her young colleagues. That seems to be a welcome distraction after a series of discussions about new projects,shooting schedules and travel plans. However,once she settles down on the purple and silver couch in her cubicle,the discussion shifts to movies,money and the madness that surrounds these.

For the last four years,Monga has been at the helm of AKFPL and Sikhya Entertainment — both jointly run by Kashyap and her — producing films and generating funds for them. More importantly,she has been taking films to international markets and festivals,trying to find buyers and building bridges. “Recently,we were at the Berlin International Film Festival promoting our next lot of movies and meeting buyers,” says Monga. Her eyes are already trained on Festival de Cannes. Next week,she will be in Los Angeles to receive an award at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA),which will also screen three of her productions,Peddlers,a crime thriller,directed by Vasan Bala,and Gangs of Wasseypur I and II,by Anurag Kashyap. While in the USA,she also has many meetings lined up with various people from the film industry.

The mission of this 29-year-old —who has produced 22 films — to fund and promote off-beat and small-budget movies is fuelled by her passion for cinema. And while making business deals,her “Punjabi genes” often come handy. “Being a Punjabi,I believe I can handle money conversations in my sleep. And I’m not afraid to deal with huge amounts,” she says,exuding confidence. “That apart,my dad was in the property business. So,the talk of sale and purchase used to be common at home,” she says.

For Monga,work on a movie starts with the script. “Once a script is finalised,the focus shifts to its budget. Apart from fixing the required amount,the question of how to raise it is discussed. Depending on the movie,we try to figure out whether it should be raised independently or with a studio,” she says. However,in most cases,studios come into the picture later. Since a majority of the films that Monga works on lack big stars,it is tough to rope in a studio at an early stage. “Often we go with our conviction and sell it after the movie is completed. Since we are not doing conventional films and there are no traditional table proposals,the making of every movie is difficult,” she says.

At present,AKFPL and Shikhya Entertainment have several films either ready for release or nearing completion. Peddlers by Bala is likely to release later this year while Haramkhor by Shlok Sharma,Lunchbox by Ritesh Batra,Monsoon Shootout by Amit Kumar and Marathi film Vakratunda Mahakaya are in post-production. These apart,AKFPL is the producer of Hansal Mehta’s Shahid and Qaushik Mukherjee’s Tasher Desh.

Her task,however,does not end with financing the project. She stands by the director once she is convinced about the project. When she read the script of Monsoon Shootout,she was so moved by this “existential thriller” with three different scenarios that she decided to sell her family house in Delhi to fund it. This explains her belief that “by the time a film is made,it becomes the journey of a producer and the director’s”. This journey often lasts more than two years. The making of a movie,including the pre-production and post-production work,takes about one and a half years. Touring international festivals takes up more time,which Monga takes very seriously. “We try to keep the films ready by March when the festival season begins. If they are selected,then it boosts international sales,” she says.

Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan (2010) proved to be AKFPL’s major breakthrough in the international festival circuit. That was a year before Monga joined the company. At that time Kashyap had several scripts ready. However,those projects had not started rolling as some of his movies ran into roadblocks during their making and release. According to Monga,Kashyap used that period to ideate. So when she took over the reins of AKFPL in 2009,several projects were waiting to be taken up. Since then,she has produced 12 movies.

Her career in film production started with Salaam India (2007) which was followed by Dasvidaniya (2008). Later she line produced Rang Rasiya and Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai (2010). During the filming of the latter,she met Kashyap who asked her to be his business partner. “I told myself that I should not let him down,” she says. Monga,an only child,lost her parents early in life. When Kashyap made her the offer,she was undecided about her next move. The writer-director became her mentor and helped her find a goal.

Her first assignment at AKFPL was That Girl in Yellow Boots (2011) and it was also one of the most difficult ones. The studio,which was supposed to produce it,pulled out at the last minute. Kashyap’s friends,however,stepped in. Later on,she got involved with Shaitan (2011) by Bejoy Nambiar,Ribhu Dasgupta’s Michael and Gangs of Wasseypur I and II (2012). “When I started out,my aim was to make AKFPL a powerhouse. Anurag has been gracious enough to say it’s my company. However,I have followed his vision and it happened very organically. His vision helped me gain clarity,” she says. She now wants to explore new markets,especially in Europe,thereby creating a platform for smaller films and strengthening AKFPL’s distribution network.

As far as her marketing strategy goes,it is a mix of “crazy amount of energy and fearlessness”. “In my personal space,I have nothing to fall back on. Nothing can go more wrong in life. Everything that I have,I invest in my work,” she says. For this producer,investments are made keeping the director in mind. While selecting a project she is often guided by the faith she has in the director.

During the shooting of Haramkhor in a small village in Madhya Pradesh,she never meddled in Sharma’s work. “The trust that she showed is something I cherish,” he adds. Bala too appreciates her instincts and tendency to invest in a director. “She gets the gist of the film quickly and pitches it accordingly,” says Bala. However,what he admires most are her high spirits. “She is quite unlike the dark movies she produces,” he adds. She will also produce Bala and Sharma’s second films.

Currently,moviemaking dominates her life. “I sleep for three-four hours. I send to-do lists to my colleagues till late in the night,” says Monga who stays close to the office. So far,she has not even taken a break. “Maybe,next year I will plan a vacation,” she says nonchalantly and adds,“I chose this life.”

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