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Movies were her obsession; he barely watched them. Caution could be his middle name; she is a risk-taker. So when Prernaa Arora and Arjun N Kapoor set up KriArj Entertainment in 2015, all they shared was their passion for excellence. They took baby steps in film production last year with Rustom, which won its lead star Akshay Kumar a National Award. Their next production, also helmed by Kumar, is Toilet – Ek Prem Katha. KriArj's enviable slate of films boasts of collaborations with Vishal Bhardwaj, Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra, Anushka Sharma, Anil Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and John Abraham. The list also has many other formidable partners, including Zee Studios, Zee Music, Viacom, T-Series, Clean Slate Films, Neeraj Pandey and Shital Bhatia's Friday Filmworks, Sony, Kyta Productions.
We meet the duo in their plush office in suburban Mumbai. Unlike most film offices, there is no artwork from their movies displayed on the walls. But what caught our attention were the piles of Archie comics strewn all over. "I have a huge collection of Archies. I have bought each and every edition I have ever had access to. I totally love them," explains Prernaa. "No one else in the world has captured the essence of the comics as well as Karan Johar in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai," she exclaims.
Prernaa's love for the movies started in Shimla in the 1990s. "My mom introduced me to films like Parichay, Anupama and Brahmachari. I was fascinated with how someone created a whole new world with characters, emotions and songs. I would pay close attention to the credits. I must have been 12 or 13 years old when I understood that every film has a producer who puts the whole film together. I knew I wasn't creative but I wanted to make movies. So I decided to be a producer," says the arts graduate.
Enter Arjun, who is raised in Mumbai. "While I had, with God's grace, achieved success in my previous ventures, I was always on the lookout for something that ignited my passion. I was always searching for my calling in spite of not really knowing what that is and one fine day destiny gifted me just that – films. Prernaa was always keen to produce films and as fate would have it we ended up establishing KriArj together" he says.
Their first meeting, Prernaa recalls, was serendipitous. "Something clicked and I knew that we'd work well together. I feel Arjun's taken to Bollywood like he's been reincarnated into the industry. He's taken to the business like fish to water."
The first order of business was to come up with a name for the company. Arjun immediately claims credit for coming up with KriArj. "It's a mash-up of Krishna and Arjun. The inspiration comes from the teachings in the Gita and not only because I am called Arjun. That's just a coincidence," he explains. "We are both Arjun," she chimes in. "Absolutely! We believe that Krishna is our guide and his teachings will help us succeed," adds Arjun.
Their first production Rustom was a bit of "a miracle". It all started with a meeting with the legendary Kamal Haasan in Chennai. "He wanted to direct a bilingual and wanted Akshay sir for the Hindi version. We met him with Kamal sir in 2015. Unfortunately that film didn't work out but Akshay sir must have seen something in us. He was in the process of starting off Rustom and we got on board immediately," says Prernaa.
Today, KriArj is making multiple big-ticket films. Every other day Arjun has a pinch-me moment. "I can't believe that I am involved in making movies. And, yet I was clearly meant to be here." The partners prefer to collaborate on all fronts rather than running separate aspects of the company.
"Whether it's casting, marketing or anything else, we make most decisions together. If he's busy with contracts, then I take over the conversations about casting. It's been just a few years but we've realised that we complement each other's skills. That's our strength," says Prernaa.
When it comes to people management, Arjun prefers to let Prernaa take the lead. "Relationship management is very important in Bollywood. Luckily for us, even though we are working with giants from the industry, we are all a very happy bunch," she adds.
We are working with everyone on our wish list. And all the films are so different. Pari is a mysterious love story, Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra's Fanney Khan is the story of a family's bond, Abhishek Kapoor's Kedarnath is a beautiful love story and Parmanu is about nuclear tests conducted in Pokhran – Prernaa
Having said that, the freshly-minted producers don't look at Bollywood through rose-tinted glasses. "When you get into the film business, you realize that things work slightly differently. As a film watching audience, most people would not fathom the extent of hard work that it takes to put a film together. The journey from the moment the seed of a story is sown to its release involves a humongous collective effort. It takes a lot of time, sweat, blood, tears, emotions, money and more. Thereafter the power of the audience is to accept or reject all of that in a matter of a couple of hours. But I say this on behalf of everyone who works in this field, we totally love it and live for exactly that moment of exhilaration on a Friday" analyses Arjun.
He also has a theory on why Bollywood is such a cutthroat industry. "Imagine a wall with a very small window. There are lakhs of people from the outside trying to go through that window to reach this magical place called Bollywood. Very few manage to get in. Because it's such a difficult place to get in, it's also unforgiving and unkind."
That said, the two of them are happy to have a seat at this table. "We are working with everyone on our wish list. And all the films are so different. Pari is a mysterious love story, Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra's Fanney Khan is the story of a family's bond, Abhishek Kapoor's Kedarnath is a beautiful love story and Parmanu is about nuclear tests conducted in Pokhran," says Prernaa. Their guiding philosophy for KriArj is simple. "We only want to entertain," explains Prernaa.