Chief operating officer of the production house DAR Media, Sethumadhavan Napan speaks to Bulbul Sharma about the new support system emerging for quality films in Bollywood.
Sethumadhavan Napan is the COO of DAR Media/DAR Motion Pictures, a renowned production house that has backed movies like The Lunchbox, D-Day and, most recently, Madhuri Dixit Nene’s Bucket List¬. He speaks to Guardian 20 about the business side of the film industry, the emerging trend of crowdfunding movies, and how Bollywood producers have now started backing quality content.
Q.DAR Motion Pictures has produced offbeat movies that won critical acclaim on the global stage, like The Lunchbox, Ugly, and D-Day among others. What inspired your decision to support content-driven cinema?
A. This has been a constant endeavour of ours right from the start and we are proud of the films that we’ve been associated with so far. Whenever we feel that a particular concept has some novelty to it and also shows signs of commercial viability, we definitely show interest in the same. Going forward, our plan is to balance content-driven and slightly unconventional themes along with some straightforward entertainers which have strong commercial prospects.
Q. Your most recent production was Madhuri Dixit Nene’s Marathi Debut, Bucket List. How did this collaboration happen, and what was it like working on it?
A. It feels terrific for us to be associated with Madhuri Dixit Nene’s first ever Marathi film, an achievement that we are proud of. The director, Tejas Deoskar, had a simple concept in his mind and his ideal choice for the lead role was Madhuri. We felt that the concept had potential and should be developed into a full-length screenplay. And soon we set about the process of reaching out to Madhuri herself and after seeing her initial response we knew that this was indeed a film worth backing.
Q. As a production house, do you think it is important to support regional cinema? If yes, how can production houses help?
A. Yes, we certainly feel that regional cinema needs all the support possible. Not only are some truly fantastic concept-driven films emerging in regional film industries, there is also the possibility of so many of these wonderful regional films getting a Hindi adaptation later on. We have always been supporting Marathi cinema—our first ever production was in Marathi in fact, Mahesh Manjrekar’s Lalbaug Parel, which also had a Hindi version, City of Gold. Bucket List is our fourth Marathi film. We are now about to enter the southern markets, starting soon with films in Tamil and Telugu. Other Mumbai production houses are also doing their bit, Dharma Productions, Eros International, Reliance Entertainment and a few others are trying to support regional cinema in their own ways.
Q. The commercial viability of any film project is an important factor in deciding its future. But do you think independent filmmakers tend to suffer because of this emphasis on business and profitability?
A. Yes, commercial viability of a project is very important. Eventually, filmmaking is not just a creative process but also essentially a business proposition, at least for the producers. While one can make all kinds of revenue projections and still go wrong, it is only prudent to think of ways by which one’s investment is at least secured in the best possible way. At times due to this reason, there have been cases of some independent filmmakers suffering due to a lack of backing. But by and large if it’s a film that is indeed unique, it will somehow find its way to get made and reach out to the prospective target audience
Q. Some independent filmmakers are also turning to crowdfunding these days to generate money for their projects. How do you view this trend, and can crowdfunding really help in making movies?
A. While crowdfunding as a phenomenon has existed in the past as well, it is only of late that it has caught on as an activity in an organised fashion. People like Pawan Kumar [director of films Lucia and U-Turn] have gone on to successfully make interesting films in this fashion. The very fact that one now has multiple crowdfunding platforms in India—apart from the international ones, which are all showing huge interest in backing creative projects, especially films—is a boon for independent filmmakers. However, the ticket size of the fund to be raised for now still remains moderate mostly but could get bigger in days to come.
Q. Several established Hindi film actors are also turning producers. What’s your take on it?
A. This is an interesting situation actually and could probably turn out to be a good thing. First of all, with an actor on board as a producer, there is tighter control on the budget. Also, he or she becomes an important stakeholder and doesn’t limit himself or herself to just regular work and takes on a bigger responsibility. It is a healthy development if handled with the right aptitude and looked at in the appropriate manner.
Q. DAR’s distribution portfolio also includes films like The Dark Knight Rises and Fast & Furious 6. What are your thoughts on Hollywood films, like the Avengers: Infinity War, making it big in India? Also, what do you think it says about the preferences of the Indian audiences these days?
A. We strongly believe in the business potential of big-ticket Hollywood films in India, and films like The Jungle Book and most recently Avengers: Infinity War have gone on to only prove our point. Hollywood films are here to stay and with the added prospect of getting dubbed in major Indian languages, like Hindi, Tamil and Telugu, the market for these films is only becoming bigger. With so many avenues of entertainment available to the audience these days right at their fingertips, it is a challenge to bring them to the theatres. That’s where something like the Avengers series works so well. The audience definitely wants to watch such larger-than-life extravaganzas on the big screen.
Q. Is it important for a producer to understand filmmaking? If yes, why?
A. Yes, understanding the filmmaking process is a big help for a hands-on producer. It makes life so much easier when budgets are being worked out or even at certain times of crisis. While not every producer has to be technically competent to know the complete in and out of filmmaking, at least having the basics in place always helps.
Q. Lunchbox was produced by a tie-up of Indian and overseas production houses—ROH Films, ASAP Films and Cine Mosaic, in collaboration with DAR, Dharma and others. Do you think an international model of this sort breaks the monopoly of bigger production houses in Bollywood?
A. Well to an extent, yes. But then films like The Lunchbox so far remain an exception. It is a classic case study of a successful international co-production with its base in India and with so many partners, including overseas players. It is not easy to do so with just about every film, but worth attempting for every such truly deserving film.
Q. Do you think government bodies like the Films Division of India are doing enough to support promising filmmakers?
A. While there is a lot more scope for government bodies related to this field to promote and help cinema and filmmakers, the intent is definitely being seen of late. There is work going on to streamline processes and identify areas whereby these government bodies can contribute in a bigger fashion. We feel that in the near future the situation will only improve and a lot of good can be expected for the industry, thanks to these government bodies and the people associated with them.