Is Ekta Kapoor the new Aamir Khan? The Balaji Telefilms joint managing director is India’s soap opera queen who changed the face of Indian television to make it resemble that of Smriti Malhotra Irani. She altered television-watching behaviour—perhaps forever—and is now trying to make a similar impact on the movie business.
Kapoor is usually better at following the tide than creating a wave herself, but she has been an unusually astute producer so far, backing both offbeat film-makers (Love Sex aur Dhokha, Shor in the City) and old-fashioned crime dramas (Once Upon a Time in Mumbaai). Like Khan, she has thrown her celebrityhood behind her films. Her forthcoming release, Ragini MMS, has won a large part of its battle purely on the basis of its unforgettable title. Make no mistake: The film has a director attached (Pavan Kirpalani), but it is very much un film deEkta Kapoor.
Anachronistic: (Left) A still from Ragini MMS and Ekta Kapoor.
Ragini MMS is a classic sex-and-horror cocktail in which Rajkumar Yadav from Love Sex aur Dhokha is caught with his pants down for the second time in 15 months. The movie, about a couple on a dirty weekend who are chased by a supernatural force, is burning up the grapevine purely on the basis of its sensational premise and the flamboyant personality of its producer. Whether Ragini MMS flops or flies, Kapoor has proved that some Hindi films are as dependent on their producers as they are on the star cast. If Ragini MMS makes its money—which, given its floor-level budget, it is likely to—Kapoor’s gamble will have worked. In the event that it doesn’t, she will still be remembered for her risk-taking behaviour and her tireless dedication to boosting the chances of her film.
Kapoor is one of many recently emboldened producers who’re stepping out from the darkness of the studios to push their projects. Until recently, only actors were considered the real stars of Bollywood. They still are, but several others also want to be decorated for being make-believe artists. The average release has an army of publicity relations executives attached to it—the stars have their reps, the second rung of actors want to be interviewed too, and the director doesn’t want to be left behind. There is no reason then for the producer, who makes the film possible in the first place, to be denied the right to issue a self-promoting press release.
Although star producers are not a new phenomenon by any means, most studio bosses usually like to remain in the background, emerging into the spotlight only when a movie makes pot-loads of money or when the government needs to be lobbied for concessions. Directors such as Yash Chopra and Rakesh Roshan also produce (or are they producers who also direct?). Actors have increasingly begun to control the shooting and promotion of their films. “Hindie” directors lend their hard-earned critical credibility to new projects. Why should the producer who has never done anything but produce be left behind? In any case, very few films work on their own steam any more. The forces behind any movie, whether it’s a blockbuster or a modestly budgeted venture, throw everything they can at audiences, hoping to strike a chord somewhere, anywhere.
Producers do more than get a film off the ground, of course. A creative producer can make all the difference between a quality movie and a dud. Ram Gopal Varma’s early protégés speak glowingly of the valuable contributions he made to the scripting, filming and editing process (this was before Varma decided to behave like an uroboros and eat into his own back catalogue, thereby seriously denting his cinematic legacy). A passionate and intelligent producer can protect his director, gather finances for a project, get recalcitrant stars to behave and publicize the film in the right way. Perhaps producers want to remind audiences that film-making is a team effort that binds together a staggering variety of creative forces. The person who pays the piper calls the tune—and now wants to go down in folklore for having done so.
Ragini MMS releases on 12 May.
Nandini Ramnath is the film critic of Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at email@example.com