February 14, 2022 12:01:22 am
For the past two years, the Indian entertainment industry has gone through several ups and downs as the pandemic disrupted production work and release of movies. Siddharth Roy Kapur, who is the president of Producers Guild of India, believes that while the health crisis has hit the film exhibition sector, it has pushed the video streaming platforms to play a bigger role in the entertainment business. As the industry is trying to put the setbacks behind it, the filmmaker, who founded Roy Kapur Films, has recently delivered two back-to-back successful web shows — Aranyak, a crime drama set in the hills, dropped on Netflix on December 12, and Rocket Boys, the story of two great Indian scientists Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai, released on SonyLiv on February 4. Roy Kapur talks to Alaka Sahani about the challenges ahead, the freedom that storytellers should have and eyeing the global market.
Excerpts from an interview:
After Aranyak and Rocket Boys, Roy Kapur Films has a set of diverse shows and feature films coming up. How do you make your selection?
While looking at ideas, our initial approach is to respond to them as an audience. If the story, characters or the world a show/movie is set in excites us, we take it to the next stage. Then, we start thinking about the feasibility of the project, the platform for which that should be made, the kind of cast it requires and other logistical issues. When Abhay Pannu, director of Rocket Boys, came to us with the idea of doing a show on Homi Bhaba and Vikram Sarabhai, we saw the dramatic possibilities of telling the story of young India coming into its own through the lives of these two protagonists.
Is it that easy for a writer or creator with an interesting idea to approach you?
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We try to make ourselves as accessible as possible. I will admit that given the number of creative people out there with great ideas and concepts, it becomes difficult for any producer to be able to tap into all of them. I am sure there are still some ideas which fall through the cracks.
How has the pandemic hit the entertainment industry?
The last two years have been tough for the exhibition sector. The theatres have remained shut for long stretches of time. When they opened, 50 per cent seating was allowed. For the production fraternity, thankfully, the video streaming services have been aggressive in terms of acquiring the volume of content they require. The streamers also picked the feature films that were ready to be released. This ensured cash flow in the business and helped in creating new content. This period gave everyone the time to reflect on the fact that the audiences were changing and being propelled into the digital age (in entertainment) much faster than we had imagined. Today, one of the key decisions that a producer has to make is whether a certain material is meant for theatrical viewing or streaming service.
Do tentpole movies recover their cost when released on a video streaming platform?
In many cases, they do. Several streaming services are in the process of building themselves and are in great need of content. If there is a content that’s compelling and the streamers believe it will fetch them more subscribers, they make sure the producer recovers the cost. However, it is often much more difficult for big-budget movies with a big cast to recover their investment.
Is this scenario not a huge setback for independent filmmakers?
It is a tough time for independent cinema. There is only a limited number of movies that streamers can accommodate. Unfortunately, it’s indie cinema that might be struggling to be showcased. Hopefully, this is a short-term problem.
Has the Producers Guild appealed for 100 per cent seating in theatres?
We should move in that direction. It is subjected to what the Health Ministry believes is best for public health. Given the fact that so many sectors — manufacturing, public transport, labour and construction — have opened up now, cinemas should open to their full capacity. I am hoping that each state will assess its situation and take steps towards that.
What are the challenges ahead for the industry?
The exhibition sector definitely needs some support. We have a century old cinema-going culture. We should also work towards increasing the penetration of the theatres. It is important that the filmmakers have the freedom to make what they wish to make and a suitable environment should be created for that. Steps should be taken to keep censorship out of the picture and stick to certification. People should have the freedom of creative expression to the maximum extent possible. It is important to look at the world as our oyster so that not only we find a pan-Indian audience but our shows/movies are also viewed across the globe. Going forward, we need to look at ourselves as a global player.
It’s a long-standing demand that the Central Board of Film Certification should operate as a certification body and not censor the movies. Do you see this being fulfilled?
I hope it does. We have such a great storytelling tradition and so much talent. For India to make a mark on the world stage is not far away. We should allow our talent to flourish. I believe that social media has caused polarisation of views and everyone is sensitive to everything. I hope this tempers down. Everything has a sell-by date.
The way certain events have unfolded in the last few years, it seemed like the Hindi film industry was being targeted. What are your views on that?
That has been the case because the onus seems to be on the film industry to modify its content to reflect some idealised image of society, instead of doing the much harder work of making those changes in society itself. We have to bear the brunt of being a ‘moral guardian’ and a ‘conscience keeper’ of the country, which is not a role that entertainment should have to play. We should let our storytellers tell the stories that they want to tell freely. Progressive changes in society will invariably find their way into entertainment anyway. As they say, “art illuminates life”.
As a producer, what do you enjoy the most about your job?
As a producer, I love being a creative catalyst. A producer’s job is to make sure that the creative people have the best environment to build something that they had envisioned. For me, the process of getting the script right is exciting. The process of casting, putting the team together, post-production are also thrilling. I enjoy all the planning and marketing in the run-up to the release of a film/show. However, during the shoot, I provide all the support I can as a producer and let the director and the team realise their vision.
This is a golden period for content creation notwithstanding the fact that the last two years have been tough for everyone. I do think that today an actor, director, writer, cinematographer and all those associated with the industry are witnessing a demand for interesting content on multiple platforms. It’s so great that they can now tell a wide range of stories.
Do we have a better eco-system for writers now?
I do think writers are getting their due much more than they did earlier, both in terms of remuneration and credit. I am sure more can be done as we go forward. Structured writing and training are a few things that our industry lacks. Every individual production house does what it can in its own capacity. Basic training of writers does not exist in our industry.
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