Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane won accolades with his debut coming-of-age drama “Udaan” in 2010, and followed it up with period romance “Lootera” in 2013, which also got positive reviews. A cold email with the script for a thriller led to the making of his third film, “Trapped” – about a man who is locked for days in his apartment without food, water or electricity. The film releases on March 17.
Motwane spoke to Reuters about his latest film, his projects for Netflix and Amazon.com and why Bollywood needs to take more risks in making films worthy of the big screen to compete with Hollywood and streaming services.
Q: How did “Trapped” happen?
A: It was a cold email sent by a writer to me. I read it and thought the idea was really good. I started to develop it and the moment the chance came to actually shoot it, I jumped at it.
Q: After “Lootera”, you were working on “Bhavesh Joshi”…
A: I was, and then it went into cold storage. Thankfully, now it is cooking and almost 60 percent done. At one point I was doing “Bhavesh Joshi” version 1.0, 2.0, and now it is version 3.0 or whatever.
Q: In the middle of all this, you started with “Trapped”. Was it difficult to find the bandwidth for a new project?
A: Not at all. Because this was a film I didn’t write. It’s better to have that objectivity. I love writing but it’s a real pain. It’s a miserable process - very satisfying but very miserable. So with “Trapped”, bandwidth wasn’t an issue because this was something cooking on the sidelines while I cooked the main dish. At some point, the side dish became the main dish (laughs).
Q: Were you ready to juggle two films together?
A: I don’t know whether I was ready. I just wanted to make a film. So it was like, “Let’s just go and do something and let’s just discover ourselves as we go along.” I’ve come to a point where I am less nervous when I am supposed to start a film. I am still super nervous on the day but I’ve lost a lot of my fear about what kind of perception people have about my film.
Q: Why has the fear disappeared?
A: I think it was partly “Lootera” and the reception to it. I was very nervous while I was shooting it. There was a lot of (doubt) whether I did a right thing or a wrong thing. And when the film came out, I saw that a lot of people loved the film and a lot of people didn’t love the film. That was when I said, “How does it matter? You are making a film for the audience. Some will love it and some will not. Who cares?” Well, actually not “who cares”, but more of “You shouldn’t worry much about it.” If you feel this is the way it is, then go out and make it.
Q: What was the turning point for you as a producer - where you felt you got a hang of things?
A: I think “NH10” was for us a massive turning point. We had been making films before that. “Queen” was a huge success, “Hasee toh Phasee” did well. But “NH10” was one of those films that was so difficult to get off the ground that when it actually goes off and works, you really feel you’ve achieved something. Your perseverance has paid off. It was the same with “Udta Punjab” and “Masaan”. These were the movies I believed in.
Q: You are doing projects for Amazon and Netflix, and working on something with Marvel. Do these mediums afford you more freedom?
A: I am very excited about the TV medium and the Amazon-Netflix medium. It has been so liberating to work on these formats. We are used to two hours, but here it is ten times that. The rules have changed completely. Somebody is a hero in Season 1 and can be a villain in Season 2. It is exciting, liberating for us to work in this form. Whether it is here to stay, in India especially, to see whether we can afford it as we go along? I don’t know.
Q: Why do you say that?
A: Because we skipped broadband as a generation in this country. We moved straight to mobile data. So while we use our cell phones for everything else, whether we will use our cell phones to watch 45-minute episodes and binge-watch them, I don’t know. But then again, things change so fast. When the shows go on air, it’ll be a year from now and audiences will have changed. People might all have got Amazon Fire Sticks at home, Chromecast and Apple TV on their TV and you have services like Jio with a great data plan. You can stay at home and watch these shows. All those things aside, as a content creator, it’s a great opportunity.
Q: Do questions about data, broadband etc worry you when you are making these shows?
A: On a creative level, no. But as a member of the producing community, yes. You wonder because you want your product to be consumed by a large number of people. I don’t think you can tailor your content to suit the medium. I don’t think you should. I think there is a certain amount of purity that you have to have. There are enough people making stuff for mobile content. We want to project this as premium television. It’s not a web series. We are making it for an audience which wants to watch really premium content. I think the audience is there, I think it’s the medium. Once there is enough demand and once we see enough demand, I think the medium will kind of find its way.
Q: Do you think the film industry will suffer because of these new mediums?
A: We will suffer. We have to compete with Hollywood because we are not making enough films deserving of the larger screen.
Q: How do we do that?
A: You make movies deserving for the large screen. Make movies that you want to go and watch in a theatre.
Q: Isn’t that a no-brainer?
A: It is. (Pauses) To the industry’s credit, we are actually changing a lot. At least our content at the top are doing well. If you look at a “Dangal” or a “Bajrangi Bhaijan”, “Fan”, “Jolly LLB”, “Neerja” - these are the films I don’t think would have been made 10 years ago, leave alone be as successful as they all are at the box office.
But the fact that a “Jungle Book” does almost 200 crore rupees ($30 million) at the box office is a big warning sign for us. It is a film you cannot watch anywhere but in a movie theater. I don’t think the studios are taking enough risks in creating content for the big screen.
I am not saying it has to be “Jungle Book.” “Bahubali” did almost 100 crore rupees in Hindi (version), and again it is a film that you can only watch on a big screen. We need more movies like that. Where is our “Independence Day”? Where is our “Die Hard”? We haven’t made any of those? Where is our “Taken”? Before everything else, where is the film that says we have faith in the content than any of the stars? I think we need studios which will be able to back that. Right now, there is very little risk-taking as far as films are concerned.
Q: You don’t think it’s a problem of talent?
A: We have the talent. Talent does what the talent is told to do, right? Producers say there are no writers but the writers are there. You have to make them write the stuff. Producers and studios are the ones who have to drive it. I think the younger stars today are very interested in doing these kinds of projects. They need to be pushed the right way. They (studios) need to realize that more risky content in the long run is actually going to help the industry. “Dr Strange” making 25 crore rupees is a huge warning sign. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have thought this will happen. And it will be really sad if we say, “Hey, let’s ban them.” We are Indians, so you never know. We might do it. The Chinese have done this. I hope we learn the right way and combat them the right way.
Editing by David Lalmalsawma