What made you decide to premiere Gulabo Sitabo on a streaming platform?
I knew this period is going to be uncertain. When the lockdown started, the reports of the pandemic came in and the World Health Organisation announced that this virus is not going away easily, we didn’t know what to do. Then one day, I discussed this with our producers. I didn’t want to sit with the film since it was ready. We spoke with Amazon Prime Video, which has our movies October (2018) and Pink (2016). The kind of proposal they gave for the film’s release was quite lucrative for a filmmaker. I have never had this kind of release earlier. I would have experimented with the digital medium at some point. So, why not take the plunge now?
What about the proposal sounded lucrative?
The movie is releasing in 200 countries simultaneously. It will be dubbed in 12 languages, including Persian, Portuguese, French and Spanish. They are also putting up a cinema-like experience with Dolby Atmos (surround sound). I find all these lucrative. Also, the movie is going to stay longer on this platform. This kind of reach is important. In theatres, a movie is taken off in two-three weeks.
Since the film has two bankable actors, Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana, did you wonder if you were missing out on box-office collections?
This is a chance we had to take even though we will miss the theatrical experience. We are a simple production house with a few friends who somehow gather money and make movies. After we release a movie, the money we make from it is invested in the next movie. Our film was ready in November. The uncertainties over its release apart, there will be a (release) bottleneck once theatres reopen. I wanted to work on my next film, too. We took the decision to release it on a digital platform so that we could pay all our technicians. Nothing can match the magic of cinema halls. However, I believe, both theatres and digital mediums are going to co-exist.
Gulabo Sitabo’s trailer has got over 40 million hits so far.
This is huge. I haven’t had more than 80,000 hits for my earlier films. I am told my movies are not for the masses. I have never had this kind of views before.
Were you disheartened by the reactions of multiplex chains Inox and PVR over Gulabo Sitabo’s digital release?
Had I been in their place, I, too, would have objected to it. I don’t think it’s personal. Everyone has to understand that it’s part of adaptability. My producers took this call because they adapted to the current situation. I wish that we can talk and resolve the matter. There should be no resentment.
What kind of impact will the pandemic have on film production?
No one knows what follows this. Definitely, there will be a financial crunch. Actors will have to reduce their fees. There will be cost reduction so that making movies is viable. There will be a cost-correction, from the beginning of the concept until the product goes to theatres. We don’t know when the audience is going to flock to theatres like before. It has already affected business and its impact will continue even after the lockdown is lifted.
What took Gulabo Sitabo to Lucknow?
Initially, we had thought to place the film either in Delhi or Lucknow. When Juhi (Chaturvedi, writer) and I started developing the film, we thought, ‘Why not set the story in Lucknow?’ Juhi is from there. I wanted to create a never-seen-before experience of the city. It was very important that each and every aspect of the film should be authentic. The film is character-based, so, it is more like an experience. It is not just about Banke and Mirza — the lead characters in the film — but about many other characters. I would call this a satire, something I have tried for the first time.
Have the Gulabo Sitabo puppets (Uttar Pradesh’s traditional glove puppet theatre) been an inspiration?
The name Gulabo Sitabo is used as a metaphor for Lucknow. We thought why don’t we celebrate this dying art of puppetry with this title? This was not our original title. Juhi and I thought of this while watching some Gulabo Sitabo puppet shows on YouTube.
Has Juhi Chaturvedi been a part of this film from the very beginning?
The collaboration between Juhi and me has been in terms of ideas and scripts. She is very good with insights. She understands very well what the film’s vision is going to be and puts that in the script. I always shoot with the script. By the time we shoot the film, we would have already experienced it while conceptualising it and during the process of scripting. We go through details such as what the characters are going to be like and how they are going to speak.
There was talk on Twitter recently about releasing your film Shoebite, which was earlier caught in legal trouble, on a digital platform. Can we watch it soon?
I have the same question for my producers. I was quite happy that Ayushmann and Anurag Kashyap spoke about Shoebite on the social platform. Mr Bachchan (who plays the lead in the film) gets emotional every time he talks about it. The rights are with its producer Disney. If they want, they can show the film.
You next movie Uddham Singh was supposed to release in January 2021. Will you be able to keep to the release date?
Right now, my attention is on Gulabo Sitabo. We were working on the post-production of Uddham Singh, which is halted due to the lockdown. That’s going to take some time.
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