By Aditya Savnal. Posted on April 29, 2015
After producing television shows such as Movers & Shakers and The Great Indian Comedy Show, producer Sailesh Dave's Runaway Productions recently ventured into film production with Amit Masurkar's much talked about film Sulemani Keeda. We recently interviewed Sailesh and during the course of the interview he talked about his journey from TV to film production, his experience of producing Sulemani Keeda and why he believes Indian indie and alternate films deserve a theatrical release.
Published below are some excerpts from the interview.
I started working as an account planner in advertising and later I worked in the field of market research. After doing an M.A in Advertising and being a candidate in the Ph.D Program in mass media, I worked with Frost and Sullivan, an International Consulting company and set up offices for them in Beijing, Singapore and India. Few years later, I joined the company In House Productions (started by the founders of Sony TV) as the CEO and created shows like Movers and Shakers and The Great Indian Comedy Show. Soon a sense of fatigue started setting in. However, I realised that I loved working in the entertainment industry and wanted to belong here. So, I started my own production company Runway Productions and made TV shows, ads and corporate videos.
After starting our film production company, we realised that there is a good opportunity to produce and promote Indian indie movies, since not many people are doing this. Sulemani Keeda was originally produced by Tulsea Pictures. I stepped in after Amit Masurkar (director of Sulemani Keeda) approached me with the film. I saw the film and loved it. The film was then co-produced by Mantra/Runaway who put in funds to finish the film and later on also put in the Print & Advertising (P&A) funds to release it. We then sent it to many festivals where it won a lot of acclaim.
We were keen to release the film in theatres, but not many people were coming forward to release it. After facing a lot of difficulties, we realised that the best way was to release the film by ourselves. We got it released in 40 different theatres in 6 different cities, which we believe was a sizeable release. I must also mention Shiladitya Bora who through the PVR Directors Rare initiative supported the film since its first screening and ensured that the film had a wide release with great show timings. Shiladitya personally ensured that the theatres screened the film even in its second and third week.
We also realised that not many satellite channels were not keen to buy the rights. That’s when we realised an online release was the most feasible option for the film. So we released the film online through The Viral Fever’s (TVF) new initiative TVFIN Box Office. It enabled people to watch the film for as low as 99 Rupees.
The online success of the film made us realise that such a release strategy is the way ahead for alternative Indian cinema. The release of the film also proved that it is possible to release a film that does not follow the norms of Bollywood. It was a great learning experience and gave us great insights which we can use for the release of our next similarly themed film.
Sulemani Keeda speaks the language of the youth and so we created a unique social media and promotion campaign aimed at the college going young crowd. We did many promotional events in colleges that helped us to create a good buzz for the film.
We screened the film at Ruia College in Mumbai and the students loved it. We also did a few events with some colleges in which Amit talked about how to make and get a modestly budgeted film released. At that point of time, we didn't know if we will ever recover our money. And as we did not have budget for TV promotions, we promoted the film solely by conducting events in colleges across Mumbai.
The most essential component is the budget as that helps you to design and execute the promotional plan for your film.
The next most critical component is the content and the target audience of your film. It helps you to plan and execute the promotional strategies accordingly. It is not necessary that the online audience watches all kinds of films. It is very difficult to sell satellite rights for Indie films, especially if it is not backed by big names. So it is very necessary to explore various avenues to monetise the same. We must understand that most Indie & alternate filmmakers are largely driven by passion. And if their films are not released in theatres, it would demotivate many Indian indie filmmakers.
While planning the release of Sulemani Keeda, we realised that you can never do away with a theatrical release and I would not recommend it. My strategy would be to create enough buzz for the film and release it in around 5 to 50 theatres. A theatrical release still has a great significance and gives you immense credibility. The wise idea is to decide the number of theatres depending on the content of your film.
A niche theatrical release followed by an online distribution is the best model for releasing small movies. After spending money on production, one must be able to at least recover the production cost. It is important to keep the cost of production low; otherwise the economics doesn't work in your favour.
TVF approached many of their online retail partners including Freecharge while we were planning an online release. They zeroed in on Freecharge as its brand identity resonated with the content of the film.
The idea of giving free recharge coupons to audiences through Freecharge was to assure audiences that their purchase of the film was risk free and would give them an incentive to buy and support other such films in future.
So far the film has had nearly 10,000 downloads and they are looking to collaborate with more brands to achieve a higher number. In the online space, films have a longer life and are a cheaper proposition vis-à-vis a theatrical run. In case of a theatrical run, it is a struggle to retain the film in even a single show in multiplyexes and the reach is restricted to a few cities. But an online release enables even the small town audiences to watch such films.
If I am able to replicate the same revenue model for two other Indie films, I can confidently say that we have been able to successfully crack a feasible revenue model for alternate and independent Indian cinema.
There are some scripts which our team members have worked upon and we are currently looking to fund them. There are other films which we are we are looking to distribute according to the P&A budget provided by the filmmakers.
It’s extremely important to make films that people would love to watch. No one will watch your film if it does not engage the audience or helps them understand your point of view. There is always a good feeling one gets after seeing a well-made film which is not driven by stars. We want to promote and release such films.
It is tragic that many well-made and well intentioned films do not get a theatrical release in India. So it is necessary that while making a film, filmmakers should keep in mind about how they intend to reach their audiences.