By Vidya Pradhan
A plaintive mass email reached my inbox recently. “I am thila from Malaysia,” went the email(typos intact), “I have always been a movie freak since I was young. Somehow, since the past few years, I kept thinking of writing stories for movies especially Indian movies. In fact, I have written two movie stories and even send it to Revathy madam via e-mail. Unfortunately, there was no reply….I even send my stories to Hrithik's mailing address three years ago but there was no reply. Send it to Vinu Vinod Chopra but no reply too. I am currently working but I know for sure that this Job is not what I want to do for the rest of my life. I would really really appreciate it if you could help me on this matter.” Whether Malaysia or Mongolia, the lure of Bollywood is getting irresistible. Can Silicon Valley be far behind? While the thilas of Malaysia are doomed to wander hopelessly around the fringes of the glitzy, glamorous world of the movies, Renuka Pullat of Kria Entertainment had a far easier time taking that first step. Based in the Bay Area, she was approached by a member of her family who already had connections to the Hindi movie industry. He had a good script and was interested in finding out if there were investors in the Valley. Funding turned out to be a piece of cake. As Renuka puts it, “People here want to see what else they can do with their money besides technology.” And who can resist that six degrees of separation with superstars? What came afterward can be scripted into a genuine comedy of errors, Bollywood ishtyle, with even a bit of slapstick thrown in. At first things proceeded really smoothly. Award-winning director Mahesh Manjrekar (Vaastav)was roped into the project. The script was a serious one, tentatively titled Lajwanti, based on a story during the partition. “I was surprised by how professional everyone was,” Renuka recalls. “I thought it was a completely gang related, mafia based business which perhaps was the case 10-12 years ago. I was expecting semi-literate kind of people. But that was not the case. These guys are smart. You do run into questionable specimens in any kind of business. But if you are professional and you get your work done and your finances are in order you can get your movie out. They are professional in their own way. There is an honor system or a code of conduct that is enforced. It is all verbal but it is a fairly well established business that runs like a well-oiled machine.” Unfortunately for her project, the director decided he had enough of making serious hard hitting cinema and wanted to try his hand at comedy. Renuka and her team were fairly inexperienced and bowed to his superior understanding. “The person who has the clout makes the decisions,” sighs Renuka. The director’s team of writers quickly put together a comedic script based on “A Fish called Wanda”, an Academy Award comedy about a jewel heist. Renuka had doubts about whether the sophisticated plot would translate well for Indian audiences but the die was already cast. Then the director decided he wanted a role in the movie, titled Padmashree Laloo Prasad Yadav. When Laloo found out, he wanted a cameo in the movie too! Somehow the movie was completed by the end of 2004. For as yet unexplained reasons, the director decided to wait till the beginning of 2005 which happened to coincide with assembly elections in Northern India. Predictably, there were demonstrations and riots demanding that the movie not be used as a publicity vehicle for Lalooji. Renuka and her team went blue in the face trying to explain that the movie had nothing to do with the politician but unfortunately, because of his presence in the movie, they were hardly credible. Finally after several sleepless nights and calls to the Election Commission, the movie was given permission to be released in all states barring Bihar and Haryana. Laloo’s supporters had also splashed posters all over the hinterland,( prominently featuring Laloo’s picture!) which had to be removed by order of the election commission. As if things were not bad enough, the censor board refused to look at the movie, fearing the controversy attached to the movie. A last minute appeal to the censor board chief, Sharmila Tagore, resulted in a weekend screening of the movie, just days before its release, and an approval certificate from the board. The movie, of course, was a critical disaster. “My own mother was aghast,” recalls Renuka with a laugh, “Did I know what I was doing?” One critic wished he could give it -5 out of a possible rank from 0 to 5. It was a commercial flop as well. But Renuka Pullat, irrepressible as ever, has only been energized by the whole experience. “Everything that could go wrong with the movie, did,” she says buoyantly, “but in a way, I’m glad. Anything we do now has to be better!” She is also proud of the fact that despite all the issues that cropped up, she was successful in making the movie see the light of day when so many languish in the cans forever. The mechanics of the movie business are such that her company recovered costs and is still making money off PLPY. Apart from the theatre revenue, there is television, DVD rights, music rights, wallpapers and posters for the computer, in-flight revenues, ring tones..the list goes on. Also, now that movies have been recognized as an industry, there is a much more organized( and not in the crime sense) feel to it. The favorite term is ‘corporatization’ and funding has moved from the seedy, underworld milieu to the gleaming chrome-plated world of mainline banking. Kria Entertainment is forging ahead with plans for 3-4 movies in the next few years. One script has been finalized and hit director David Dhawan has signed on for one project. What would she do differently this time? “I would be hands on from the very beginning,” says Renuka. “The trick is to make sure that you are dealing with a bunch of professionals. Do your research and do your due diligence. Find out what their working relationships have been like. Don’t get swayed by the fact that they have had a couple of hits to their credit." "The first thing you look at when casting is the 'bankability'. It’s not how well you act. Irfan Khan can act, Manoj Bajpai can act but I will not be able to cast them as the lead in the film because I can’t sell the film.” Didn’t her experiences make her want to run screaming for the hills, never to set foot in la-la land again? “This is a tremendously profitable business,” insists Renuka. “It is growing at the rate of 18-20% a year. If you approach it from a pragmatic point of view, there is money to be made.” Companies like Reliance and the Mittal Group have entered this booming industry. According to Renuka, the financing and production process has become a lot more structured in the last couple of years. Bound scripts are the norm now and shooting schedules are much tighter. Finally, the industry is operating like a business. Multiplexes further reduce the risk for the investor as niche films targeted at urban audience can recover their costs if kept on a tight budget. “My goal is only to make money for my investors. You just target the potential revenue from your project and then base your budget on that. You make it for a million dol
lars because you know that at the very worst you are going to recover 1.2 million. You work backwards from the possible revenues. It is a financial decision rather than an emotional celebrity-driven venture. That can get you in the hole. If you think of it as your baby, you overspend because you want the best cast, the best locations, the best cars and before you know it you have runaway production costs.” Funding in the valley has still been easy to come by. After all, the experience Renuka gained in her disastrous venture is priceless. And as she says, “if you have a halfway decent product, you can recover your money easily. If the movie is a hit, you are sitting on a goldmine. You make money off it forever” Watch this space for more on Renuka and Kria Entertainment’s adventures in Bollywood.