After the studio system got entrenched in Mumbai’s film industry in the early 2000s, the logistics and stakes of film-making changed—scripts became diverse, the opening weekend box office collections became the benchmark and small films started making as much business sense as star-driven blockbusters. Siddharth Roy Kapur has been at the centre of this transformation—with several years with UTV Motion Pictures and then UTV-Disney. Kapur recently started out on his own with his banner, Roy Kapur Films (RKF).
Kapur’s first production to go on the floors is Shonali Bose’s The Sky Is Pink with Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar based on a true story of Indian teen Aisha Choudhary, who became a motivational speaker after battling a rare immune disease.
In an interview, Kapur talks about his new projects, what to expect from RKF’s tie-up with Jio, new talent, and the fate of middle-of-the-road cinema. Edited excerpts:
Your first production to go on floors is ‘ The Sky Is Pink’. What about it appealed to you and what can we expect from it?
It’s been many years since I have known Shonali. She invited me to watch Margarita With A Straw, and I remember coming out of the film sobbing. It moved me deeply. We stayed in touch ever since and discussed what we could do together. When she got to know that I have started my own production house, she sent me the script of The Sky Is Pink. I read it as soon as I got it and loved it. It’s a wonderfully moving story, told with wit, humour, depth and feeling. I called her instantly and told her we should do the film together. When we discussed casting, Priyanka (Chopra) was the first name that came to our minds. I’ve worked with Priyanka many times before, on Fashion, Barfi and other films, and it’s always been a superb experience. She loved the script too and readily agreed to play Aditi, Aisha’s mother. Priyanka, Farhan (Akhtar) and Zaira Wasim are just perfect for their parts. Juhi Chaturvedi has done the dialogues, Pritam is scoring the music and Gulzar saab is writing the lyrics. With such wonderful talent collaborating on our first independent production, we really couldn’t have asked for more.
As an independent producer now, do you want to develop a signature?
Much more than in a studio, in a production house you are guided completely by your own creative impulses. In studios, you have many considerations—you want to do all kinds of genres, all kinds of cinema and want to de-risk your opportunities. You need to get economies of scale going for a certain number of movies every year, because there is a large overhead to cover. As an individual production house, I have the liberty to put all my passion and energy only into material that I connect with myself. While that could still be across different genres, what I am driven by now is my individual sensibility and estimation of what will connect with an audience, rather than any other considerations.
How would you define that sensibility?
Human drama is what I respond to the most. Of course, that can play out in an action or comedy setting, but there’s got to be something that connects at an emotional level. If I try to pin down the movies that I feel most proud of, they are films like Rang De Basanti, Barfi, Metro, Shahid, Kai Po Che, Haider, and Dangal—they all centre around really strong human drama.
Are actors and stars paramount?
Yes, they are paramount but after the script and the director. Cinema is a director’s medium and we have seen the same actors perform completely differently with two different directors. So the director has to come first.
How involved are you in the creative process?
I am here because I love making movies. But when I look at a project, my first consideration is that I don’t want anyone losing money. My next consideration is the creative process. I am quite deeply involved. The director is the captain of the ship but I like to be a strong creative support to the director and be able to give the director every resource that can help him or her to create the best movie possible. As long as there is a meeting of minds right at the start when the project is being conceptualised and we know what kind of movie we have in mind, I would leave the creative process to the director to lead. However, there would be a bouncing board at every stage.
Are you consciously trying to introduce new actors or other talent?
I definitely want to be able to be a springboard for good writers and good talent. As a producer, you need good material and great actors. But at the same time, I am happy to work with established names as well. I think it has to happen organically—if there is a script from a new director that lends itself to having a cast of new actors, I would go ahead with that. That’s something we have done a lot of in the past at UTV as well, from Khosla Ka Ghosla (Dibakar Banerjee), to A Wednesday (Neeraj Pandey), and from Aamir (Raj Kumar Gupta) to Udaan (Vikramaditya Motwane).
Most producers who spoke at the Screenwriters Conference in Mumbai recently said the majority of writing that comes in is of bad quality. Do you agree?
Yes, that is the case. But I think you’d find that in Hollywood too. You have to really sift through what you get to be able to find that needle in the haystack that is worth all your time, energy and passion. I think there’s truth in the fact that when writers say they are not paid enough, they aren’t. But writers cribbing about producers and producers cribbing about writers is a never-ending cycle. I do think that there are so many opportunities for writers today, with the OTT (over-the-top) platforms opening up and of course, cinema.
Film is a collaborative medium. The writer is an integral part of the process, but is one part of the process. The director has to make that piece of writing his own to be able to translate it on screen.
You have recently tied up with Jio for content. There is so much going on in the online platforms space. How does a producer stand out?
In terms of sheer numbers, one can’t get a wider audience than what Jio has—there are people consuming data for the first time and hungry for content. So our goal is to satiate that hunger with enjoyable content for a pan-Indian audience. We are doing several shows with them, which include period dramas, stories around the paranormal, love stories, anthologies and more.
Standing out as a content creator in the digital space is just as simple or as difficult as making a great movie. If you want something to be binge-worthy, every step matters. The focus has got be stellar storytelling and storytelling that spans multiple hours. Everyone in this space is trying to figure out how to create engaging content that is not soaps or movies. There may be some formula about structure and genre that works well on the web, but finally it is the story. If you focus on that, you can’t go wrong.
Are you thinking only of India-specific stories?
It does help to have an Indian audience in mind but the holy grail for us is that our content will reach a global audience. However, the stories that have the most resonance outside of India are actually the ones that are most rooted in our cultural ethos because they are the ones that are able to convey most effectively how universal some emotions and some concepts are. Dangal is the perfect example of that. So it’s best for us to focus on Indian stories and Indian sensibilities for cinema as well as OTT.
Does non-fiction interest you?
Yes, we are working on a couple of non-fiction shows. We are trying to develop non-fiction content that has a reason to exist on a digital platform rather than on TV. By this I mean something truly interactive, which leverages Jio’s technology and ability to offer the viewer a unique and engaged experience.
Is big cinema dead, like Martin Scorsese and many others have said and lamented?
Cinema is not going anywhere. It is thriving. But it’s also about the type of content that will work as motion pictures. You need to create sensory experiences that are larger than life or something that is so high in concept that it breaks the clutter in a slicing way. The middle-of-the-road, slice-of-life kind of dramas with nuances are moving to home viewing and device experiences.
There are small films, like, say, Konkona Sensharma’s ‘A Death In The Gunj’ or Dipesh Jain’s ‘Gali Guleiyan’, which are best enjoyed in theatres because they try to capture a grain or some atmospherics which are suited to the big screen. Will these kind of films have to depend a lot on marketing now?
There are many films that don’t fall into the broad categories I have talked about which work well as movie experiences and their success depends both on the concept as well as how it’s promoted. But the good part about the emergence of online platforms is that some films, which would otherwise have had a limited theatrical run, still get watched by a larger audience. Yes, the romanticism we associate with cinema is less, but you have to embrace technology. There’s no other way to be relevant.
Are you making a film with your wife Vidya Balan?
No, as a family we have decided to keep our work separate. It is the same with my brothers (actors Aditya Roy Kapur and Kunaal Roy Kapur).