Vikram Mehra, MD of Saregama India, means business. Literally. The new production house – Yoodlee Films, launched under the marquee of Sa Re Ga Ma will marry great content with smart budgets of 3.5 crore – 4 crore starting with 12 films in a year. Excerpts from an interview –
You are trying something new with the business model for Yoodlee films. Tell us how and why you are taking this leap?
We did a study in 2015 about music and video consumption in the country, where the key feedback was that the younger crowd was thirsting for different content. They wanted gritty, real cinema, the kind they got to see from the West. That got us thinking. Where are the films with great content and a realistic budget? This is not an impossible task, to marry good content with a reasonable budget. We want to prove that the business of making movies is as profitable as any other business.
How does this model work?
Our model is not based on just one movie doing well. Our model survives even if one movie does badly because we will still recover 75% of the investment. If the movie does well, then we go into profit. But every film is designed to recover its cost.
Volume is helping us right now. All our costs are getting managed across 12 films across languages.
We were warned we would run out of money because we’ve lined up so many films all at once for production. We have completed 7 out of 8 movies under budget. Every movie has been shot and completed within 21 days. The guys who are working with us understand that great movies have to be sustainable. For that, costs have to be kept under control. Our movies are ready for release within six months of green lighting. Moreover we promise our key talent flat 30 percent profit sharing. We sit with the writer/director of the film and decide who our key talent is. It is not necessarily the actors.
This is a big challenge, given how star driven the movie industry is.
This model has no place for the star system. Nobody stays in five star hotels. We shoot in real locations, no sets. Nobody travels business class. No entourages. You wont find big stars in our projects. We want to work with actors thirsting to do great work. For Yoodlee, the story is the star. Our themes are of most importance. We have appointed Ernst &Young to handle the on-the-sets payments so that not a paisa goes missing. Daily reports come to me. I don’t get to visit the set of a film just because I am the MD of the company.
The first film you’re putting out there is Ajji – a gritty film designed to make everyone uncomfortable.
When I first heard the script of Ajji, I was like ‘How can I start with this? This is such a big risk.’ A grandmother seeking revenge for her grand daughter’s rape. But Devashish Makhija’s (the director) conviction was infectious. I knew we had to make this film. This film will make every man hate himself. I did, while watching it. Ajji reiterates our belief in strong themes. We are not playing it safe with our stories. Some of our storylines have never been done before in India.
Sa Re Ga Ma has a wealth of music in its troves. How do you plan to use this for your films?
Every film will use a few of the old songs. This way the songs get new videos and we get to harness our existing archive. Ajji for instance has ‘Naani teri morni ko…’ Ascharya Chakit, which is another of our films uses the RD Burman hit ‘Duniya mein…’
If you had to describe Yoodlee films in a sentence, what would it be?
You can make a good watchable films with a budget of 3.5 to 4 crores without any compromises. This is our one point agenda. Period.
Editor’s Note: This article is presented in partnership with Yoodlee Films, the film studio arm of Sa Re Ga Ma India Limited. To know more about our advertorial and branded content, click here.