‘Most regional films are content driven’

Debarati Palit Singh
Friday, 6 July 2018

Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions, talks about getting into regional cinema, how the shift is primarily happening because of rich content and how the right budget is important for a project.

Dharma Productions is one of the few production houses in Bollywood which is balancing between Hindi and regional cinema. They started off with distributing S S Rajamouli’s Baahubali 1 and 2, followed by Sankalp Reddy’s Ghazi Attack and more recently, Madhuri Dixit’s Marathi film debut Bucket List. 

Karan Johar and Apoorva Mehta, CEO, Dharma Productions, are now gearing up to release Dhadak, Hindi adaptation of hit Marathi film Sairat. The film, directed by Shashank Khaitan, stars Ishaan Khatter and Janhvi Kapoor.   

Mehta, who is considered the backbone of the production house, says that the success of both Baahubali 1 and 2 has increased their appetite for regional cinema.  
Excerpts from an interview: 

As a production house, when you are adapting a regional film into Hindi, how do you balance between mass appeal and the truth in the tale?
Sairat is hugely iconic and it’s a challenge to adapt the film. That’s why we are very clear that it’s not a remake but an adaptation. Hindi cinema is slightly different and certain differences will be there for the betterment of the film, in terms of appealing to a Hindi-speaking audience. We are very true to its story and form. There are minor differences in terms of treatment, setting and palette but that’s also because creatively, Shashank has his own vision. The reason it is called adaptation is because you don’t want to see the same thing frame to frame. 

After Hindi cinema, you are taking small steps towards making your presence felt in the regional film circuit. Is it because you have realised the true potential of regional cinema?
This is somewhat true. The success of Baahubali 1 and 2 increased our appetite for regional cinema. Audiences today are evolving and opting for more content-centric films. This can also be seen in the Hindi film industry where small budget and independent films are receiving tremendous appreciation from the audience. Regional films, on most of its part, are content driven so they automatically offer you a lot of content which is compelling and interesting on a smaller budget. So ours was not a planned decision but something that happened organically. 

Did the shift in focus happen because of content or did it have a lot to do with business considering the films are commercially viable? 
Baahubali was not planned at all but happened to us. As a company, we are very content driven but commerce is also important. The idea of partnering and presenting regional films is to show the appealing content other people are making to a larger audience, which we could do because of our brand. Or in some cases adapt a film like Sairat, give it our own treatment but keep the content intact. 

So far, you have partnered and presented these regional films. Will we see you getting into full-fledged production?   
If a good script comes our way in Marathi or any other language, we would love to produce. 

What are some of the pros of co-producing a project? 
As a company, we have been doing the most number of co-productions in Hindi cinema because it’s something we believe in. Reality is you want to put out good content and if somebody else comes to you with a project which has the ability to appeal to people and you have certain expertise to achieve it, why not join hands and work together? Independently, resources are limited. We are grateful that people have approached us and we are lucky to choose the correct projects. 

Dharma Productions is one of the few successful production houses in India. How much of its success do you attribute to the right budgeting of projects?
Every content has its place but you have to be realistic about the budget of your film. There have been instances where we have liked the script but the budget has been very high because of the combination of actors and production costs, so we had to let go. Eventually, this is a business, we are here to make films and entertain people, but we have to also make sure we get returns on our investments. If the budget is not going to support the collection, we have to think hard and decide if we really want to make the film or not. There is a very good saying, ‘A film never fails but the budget does’.   

The industry is changing fast along with audience’s tastes. How much has the motto and ideology of the production house changed looking at the changing times? 
Earlier, we had three-hour movies with song and dance. Now, a film may have fewer songs or no song at all. There are different trends because people are exposed to different kinds of cinema (both Indian and international). So, I think you have to be continuously aware of what the audience and youngsters like. We have to adapt to change. The most important factor is to tell a good story.

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