After the success of ZEE5’s web-film 377 Ab-Normal, which showcased the struggles of the LGBTQIA community before the Supreme Court’s historic scrapping of Section 377 last year, producer Ajit Arora is now working on its sequel. He speaks to Guardian 20 about his experience of making the film’s first part, the potential of digital platforms and his upcoming projects.

 

Q. As a producer, what kind of stories are you on the lookout for?

A. To me, the first and foremost thing is that the story should have good content. I think a story without substance has no meaning. And once you have the content, the second important thing that comes is the way you treat it and whether you portray it in the desired way. Because I truly believe that nothing can be better than a story that has a well-treated good content at its core.

Q. Your film 377 Ab-Normal has received a lot of appreciation. But what were the challenges you faced while making it?

A. Well, I would not say that making it was a challenge or struggle, because everything should be considered as an experience. We had to do an extensive R&D, so as to get the things done perfectly. Our team visited various places, so that we could take the film as near to the reality as possible. But the most important thing was, as soon as we opened the treasure trove of people and their experiences, we realised how much we had to learn, to discover and to grasp.

Q. Did you have any apprehensions about the reception of the film?

A. Not really. To be honest, my idea of making films has always been to present good content. 377 Ab-Normal has a very relevant theme and it is time for us to take it seriously, even in the entertainment industry… Also, I believe that when you make something with all your heart, it eventually finds a place in your audiences’ hearts too. So I am very happy that people gave it so much love.

Q. You are now planning its sequel. How different would it be from the first part?

A. For now, I would only say that the sequel will, of course, have a different shade but with the same kind of content. To this end, meetings of our creative team are taking place every single day on how to execute the plan perfectly, so that people find it genuine and relatable. I’m sure the audience will love it.

Q. What are your thoughts on the digital medium being considered as an alternative space to the big screen?

A. To my understanding, the digital medium can never be an alternative to the big screen. This is because the experience that you go through while watching a film at the theatre is completely different as compared to any other medium. Rather, I think the television industry will be replaced and has already been replaced to a certain extent by this third screen. For example, SonyLIV and Star also have their OTT platforms and they telecast the same thing on their OTT and TV channels. So, I think that it is not the big screen but the television industry that is going to get affected by the digital medium.

Q. You’re a producer and finance must be a major concern to you. How promising is the digital medium as far as making a profit is concerned?

A. Well, I can very proudly say that, I have come to the industry because of my passion. Yes, of course, finance matters, but only profit or earnings are not what I look for. I believe that a producer shouldn’t be a person who only invests his capital; rather, he should be involved in the entire process of filmmaking, right from the selection of the story, screenplay, director, actors, post-production and every other aspect. I personally feel that profit and income are always by-products when you do quality work in the industry.

Q. There continues to be a lack of appropriate representation of the LGBTQIA community in mainstream cinema. Would you like to experiment with a full-fledged movie for the big screen in the near future?

A. 377 Ab-Normal is itself a full-fledged movie of 90 minutes, where we have showed the struggle and experiences of the LGBTQIA community before the Supreme Court’s historic verdict. So, for me it is in fact a full-length feature film that could have been shown in theatres too… And, if you talk about representation, I believe that this is one of the burning social issues that people are discussing quite actively. So I am sure that filmmakers will take this into consideration and will come up with a suitable representation of the community in their films.

Q. From being a successful entrepreneur, how did the shift to the entertainment industry happen?

A. To be frank, I always wanted to tell stories that have high-quality content, and to treat them in such a way that they become delightful for people to watch. Being an entrepreneur and having the knowledge to helm your business right from A to Z actually helped me to be a producer. So, at some point, I thought that I was prepared to start this new journey and that’s how I got into filmmaking.

Q. What else is in the pipeline for you?

A. Well, as I said, creating content is my passion. So I wouldn’t like to restrict myself to any one genre. I believe that everything can be meaningful depending on the way you approach it and consequently, everything can appeal to the people. Hence, I am trying to get into different verticals of Indian cinema and very soon I will announce a couple of new projects.