Back in 2015, while conducting rigorous market research on the music listening habits of people, the giant music label Saregama also stumbled upon data that explained how people consumed movies. It turns out that the older generation is perfectly happy with what Bollywood has been churning out. They yearn massively mounted, escapist cinema and that’s exactly what they’re getting – so no complaints there.
But younger viewers, also known as the ‘Netflix generation’, aren’t too impressed. They like their cinema with a dash of reality. Saregama offered solutions for everyone. For the 40 plus generation that can’t navigate complicated music apps, they created the digital radio Carvaan, which has 5000 of the label’s finest classic tunes. And for the youth, they launched Yoodlee Films – their new brand of ‘fearless filmmaking’.
At first glance, the very concept of Yoodlee Films feels a little at odds with how we’ve come to view the 101-year-old music company that gave us wholesome classics like Mother India, Mughal-e-Azam, Guide and Kaagaz Ke Phool. Yoodlee Films is contemporary, grunge and more severe in its storytelling.
These films are not for everybody, and they have no qualms in spelling that out. They’re servicing only those between 18- 30 years of age, with a taste for world cinema and literature. “No one has ever attempted to make a studio brand – there are only film brands or director brands. But can we make a studio brand like Miramax tried to do in the US where people started believing that this studio comes only with a particular kind of cinema? That’s what we’re trying to build with Yoodlee,” says Vikram Mehra, MD of Saregama.
Every month, Yoodlee will release one movie that will get a theatre release and then later be sold to a digital platform. The first one, Brij Mohan Amar Rahe, which releases on September 1, is about a man who oddly ends up being convicted for his own murder. The films will be distributed by PVR Pictures and released nationwide, strategically around areas with more student communities or software professionals. They already have five films in the bank, and another three in production. The roster includes promising names like Devashish Makhija (Taandav) and production designer Vandana Kataria (Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! and Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!).
“The difference between what we are trying to do and the rest is that we want to get people into the habit of one Yoodlee film a month. So if you become a brand loyalist, you're going to start anticipating the next one and hopefully that will make the difference,” explains Siddharth K Anand, VP- Films & Television, Saregama. This isn’t the only unique feature of Yoodlee. Here, they promise to put actors before stars, passion before experience, and powerful storytelling above escapism. “We don't define the experience of the filmmaker. If you bring me a script you have worked on for seven years and are still involved with, then you'll rate very high on passion. You don't get points for making five films,” says Siddharth.
He hopes to provide the filmmakers the two things that they don’t see enough of – transparency and respect. “So say you've worked on a script for a long time and you take it to some big studio, chances are that you don't hear from them. You don't even know if they read it. We have committed to get back to everyone in 4 weeks. If we don't, you can pick up the phone and ask, ‘Hey what's going on?’,” he says, adding that the number of script submissions have escalated ever since they announced their launch.
You’re probably wondering that this sounds too good to be true, even a tad idealistic. Siddharth and Vikram say they get that quite often. The glue that binds this entire project together are its tight budgets that are absolutely non-negotiable. “You can do anything as long as commercial pressures don't force you to make certain decisions. There are hundreds of initiatives to keep it under control. For instance, Ernst & Young has been appointed to dispense the money on sets. Because they are neutral parties, the data on how much was spent comes back to us every day. Another strong call we've taken is that no movie of ours will cross 120 minutes,” explains Vikram. The budget of each film is reportedly between Rs 3 – 3.5 crore.
In the long run, they hope to make a 100 films in the next 5 years and hopefully contribute to Indian cinema in the way the NFDC did in its early years. “The talent that was discovered, like Shyam Benegal and Ketan Mehta, was never replicated again,” says Siddharth. “There were enough number of films being made for it to be called the new wave. But if Yoodlee works it will be called a tidal wave because it’s so much bigger.”