Adithya Varma, the film you originally wanted to make, released last November. Despite its good-to-mixed reception, there was a simultaneous demand from people asking you to release Bala’s Varma. The buzz has got stronger with reports of the film getting censored. What is the status of Varma?
All I can now say is that there’s nothing conclusive about Varma’s release. As a producer, the film still has a few issues that need to be sorted out. These issues begin with not knowing where to even begin with a film like this. The first of these is about how to take this version to the audience. That’s the basic thought. Adithya Varma has already had its TV premiere, so we’ve finished everything we needed to for that version. We just want to keep everything ready to release Varma.
When you speak of issues, are you referring to internal or external?
Just internal. Like I said, how do you bring in the audience in for such a film? Apart from the film’s history, what is the best platform for it? A platform such as Netflix might limit the release to a particular niche. I also want it to come on TV too. That’s why it needs to be censored. So before I get started with a channel or an OTT platform, I should clear all required processes such as censoring the film. Even the process of approaching these platforms has become interesting because they’ve not really had to buy a film in India without it getting a theatrical release. It’s what you’d call a “rarest of the rare” case.
Does that mean a theatrical release for Varma is out of the question?
Not necessarily. The next two months appear to be a lean period. The Coronavirus threat too is adding to this risk, so there might be a window for us to consider a theatrical release even now. There’s also the advantage of Dhruv being a star now, with his own set of fans.
However, the Coronavirus scare also means OTTs are looking to add as much fresh content as possible, because people are not going to frequent theatres. We may even run a poll to understand which platform we should give it to.
I find this situation interesting because you’re now trying to take a “shelved” film to as many people as possible.
See, if it does not release on any platform, people will not know why this film didn’t release. People can assume so many things, so I need people to understand why we decided to remake a remake.
But what if you release Bala’s Varma now and people absolutely love it? Wouldn’t everyone blame you for destroying a great movie?
That is totally possible. That’s the biggest mystery about cinema. The thing is, films never become stale. Take, for instance, Dulquer Salmaan-starrer Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadhithaal. It was ready over a year ago, but when it released last week, it clicked with everyone. So the audience does not care if a film was made two years ago or three. But, if people end up liking Bala’s version, we will not really understand why. It is our perception versus his then.
What was actually the reason for this decision though? Is it because you did not like the film he ended up making or was it that he didn’t make the remake you wanted him to make?
I wish him the best. As you know, there are no permanent friends or enemies in this business. We wanted a remake of Arjun Reddy, but Varma was not that. The original was over three hours long, and ours was just around two. Entire characters, like Arjun’s grandmother, were missing in Varma. But one may end up calling this rawer version Bala’s signature.
Again, if we release the film and the audience ends up liking it, I will have to accept that as my mistake. We will have to come out and accept that we made the wrong call, because the audience, like the customer, is always right.
I feel the main reason why this film became so complicated, given that this was to be a remake, was that it was the debut of a major star’s son.
That is true. As a producer, even if you’re unhappy with a film, you have the option of releasing it. But because it was a launch film, you had to also think about Dhruv’s future career and then take a call.
I don’t want to get into the nepotism debate here. It’s a point we’ve heard hundreds of times from the point of view of actors and directors. What I’d like to know is a producer’s POV. Is there a tangible difference when you cast a star’s son or daughter instead of an outsider?
Of course there is. For instance, I was able to get a digital and OTT sale of Adithya Varma only because Dhruv is a star’s son. Which first-timer will get that? Because Dhruv is Vikram’s son, his film was able to get an amount a mid-level star would get. This is irrespective of whether he is a good actor or not. That curiosity factor is real, and it can even protect your investment when planned correctly.
What about the economics of making the film itself? Can you plan for a bigger budget because it’s a big launch film?
I still don’t think a launch film should be a very expensive film. We need to make the film within a certain cost. When the hero is a newcomer, you need to plan for how much you might end up losing rather than how much you will make. Otherwise, it will become very difficult, given how only few films end up actually becoming profitable. But that’s how the system works. The other side is that when an actor becomes a star, he starts charging three to four times more just after one big hit.
What about the initial buzz and the need for promotions?
That’s another major advantage when you’re launching a star kid. For starters, we don’t have to request the media to cover our film. They will naturally be inclined to write about the film and keep it in the news. This is even better if the star himself/herself is willing to take part in the promotions.
The industry will also come forward to promote a film, at least on social media, when it’s a star kid, because they would have all worked with the parent. Naturally, all this means having to spend far lesser promoting and advertising the film. The only way a launch can be made safer for an outsider is if the film is being directed by star directors such as Mani Ratnam and Shankar or if the songs end up doing exceptionally well.
Do you think this is a fair system?
Of course, there are two ways to look at it. Because of what I just explained, the risk is minimised and there’s also the option of the film turning out to be a major success as well. And this is despite whether the person acts well or not. But see what happened to us. If this film had starred a regular struggler, a producer would have just released the film without worrying too much.
When you look back at this whole episode, what do you think you should have done?
Just one thing. I should have remade the Tamil version with Vijay Deverakonda himself.