NewsX was recently joined by Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice-President- Films and Events at Saregama India Ltd., for an exclusive conversation as a part of its special series, NewsX A-List where he spoke about his production house and the film industry.
Talking about the film division of Saregama and leading it, Mr. Anand said, “So, the film producing division of Saregama, which is India’s oldest music label, it has the most incredible and rich catalogue of music. Going back to the early days pretty much every song which belongs to my childhood or your childhood, the feeling of nostalgia and the great kind of cinema that we have created overall in these years resides in Saregama. Yoodlee is an attempt for Saregama to have a participation in the making of movies and not just in the music of movies. So, we started out cautiously, slowly to establish the fact that film-making can be a profitable venture.”
Mr Kumar added, “Film-making is not necessarily something that is ruled only by mavericks, who are willing to take big risks and in a win-all or lose-all situation, to bring some sort of corporate method to the madness of cinema, its quite a tall order but that is what we’ve taken on ourselves. It’s been about three and a half years that Yoodlee has been fully operational. I think the first film released in October 2017, under the banner. Since then we have produced around 20 films, out of which I think 14 are already out and have hit consumers, the rest are being completed and will come and hit consumers. We have 10 films on Netflix, 3 out of which are Netflix Originals. We have 3 films on Hotstar and 1 film on Zee5. So, we’ve been participants in the beginning of the OTT wave and at a time when the OTT wave has been dominated and the conversations, at least till Covid hit were dominated by a series on OTT platforms. We have been producing feature films, largely for OTT platforms. We’ve done this in multiple languages, in Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, English and Hindi. We’ve also along the process won two National Awards for a movie called ‘Hamid’, one of my favourite, very beautiful movies. Our films have been to over 80 international festivals at the time when we actually had on-ground festivals and not online festivals, sounds like another era now, but these things did happen. So, its been a very interesting journey of us really scaling up story-led cinema and that is what Yoodlee is based on”.
Speaking about 2020, the pandemic and how the year turned out for him, Siddharth said, “I can’t complain, I see all the memes floating arpund and everyone saying Corona has been terrible for them and I have many friends whose businesses and workplaces have been impacted very badly. Somehow, I think fortuitously or by design our company has escaped the worst of it. We are largely a provider to OTT platforms, the Yoodlee part of the business. That has been that part of the industry has been thriving. I don’t think there’s been necessarily a slowdown. We have produced 3 feature films already in Corona during the lockdown.”
Mr Kumar went on to say, “We have released 3 feature films, so 2 of these films were films that were going to go theatrical which we were quick on the bandwagon and managed to avoid the theatrical route, when we realized there was no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak and 2 films went on to Netflix, one was called ‘Akoni’, which is a beautiful little film, a comedy about racism, the other one was another comedy called ‘Chaman Bahaar’, which was about one-sided love in a small town of India in the 90’s. Again we come to the acting part, I mean its not like we cast the actors, so we dont function like most producers in Bollywood, we don’t make projects with actors and genres. We try and find the most appropriate actors for the films we’re doing. We’re finding as we sustain ourselves in the business miraculously, that better talent is willing to work with us. You know, they’re willing to go through the same process that anyone is to work on Yoodlee films, which is to audition, which is to perhaps not have the most lucrative pay package. We like to put a lot of our money that we’re paying talent into the back end, which is, they participate in profits with us instead of coming on the front-end and potentially making the economics of the film unviable. So yeah, its been amazing that the last year we’ve worked with talents like Sayani Gupta, Sanjay Mishra, Ram Kapoor, Jitu. So, very very interesting people who have found it worthwhile to collaborate with us. I think that’s a good sign of things to come”.
Apart from Hindi cinema, talking about going into regional cinema, Siddharth Anand said, “One of the three films we’ve completed during the pandemic is a film I’m extremely fond of, its called ‘Zombievilli’, it’s a comedy about a zombie outbreak in Dondeville, which is a suburb of Mumbai. It’s a very very funny take on zombie films. I personally love playing the PlayStation game ‘Last of Us’, which is also set in a zombie apocalypse. I think today, everybody even on the streets of India understands this idea of virus and infected. So, we have this really really fun movie and its got what I consider the best possible cast and crew assembled in Marathi cinema. We have Amey Wagh, who’s a highly successful and well- respected actor. I saw ‘Faster Feme’ which he did, loved that movie. We have Lalit Prabhaskar, another shining star, a young man who is rising very rapidly in Marathi cinema. We have Pashuram Vaidehi, who’s the actress and we have Aditya Sarpotdar, who’s a very accomplished, experienced director of big hit films in the Marathi language. So, it’s a very good team, they’ve come together in vry very trying situations to make an action comedy. Action comedies are generally harder to make than dramas in the pandemic, because you have fight masters, stuntmen, and a large number of extras on a set. Everyone needs to get tested, things have to move a lot slower than they usually would. None of us know this, we’ve learned on the job, essentially, how to handle Covid and get our work done. So, ‘Zombievilli’ has been a very interesting experience and the film, they say the harder something is to obtain, the better it is. So, the film has turned out very well, I’m very excited that the audience will get to see it soon”.
Speaking about the impact of the pandemic on the industry, Mr Anand talked about a few emerging trends according to him, “The film industry is always going to thrive because it is run by entrepreneurial people who are go-getters. So, I think film-makers are the people I would trust to get me out of a tight situation because jugaad is inherent to film-making. I don’t think film-making will get affected. I think what we’re seeing is a re-examination of a lot of the old notions that we held. Whether it is theatrical release versus OTT release, whether it is the kind of starts that make a project viable, what sort of actors should be there and obviously the kind of stories we tell, which of course due to the OTT coming and new audience being exposed to the cinema is already evolving very fast. So, I think these few changes are all, with everything in Corona you have time to re-examine your notions and your pre-conceived ideas. So, I think these notions and ideas are now being examined. A bunch of jugaadu go-getters who are examining these notions, I feel that we’re going to end up with a much stronger and more robust and more creatively fulfilling film industry”.