Anurag Kashyap (AK): We are very confident of Ugly as we have adopted a very well thought-out strategy for the film. We make different kinds of cinema but the problem is that we promote each film in a similar manner. We promote every trailer in the same manner, with the same songs, the same action sequences, and a similar P&A budget. I thought it didn’t make sense to front-load a film with such a huge P&A budget, especially when it’s not made on such a big budget. So when we thought of releasing the film, I told my guys that there was no need to announce the release date. But everyone told me that I had to announce the release date so that it gets published in the trade magazines etc.
So we were discussing what attracts people to watch a film. Either it’s the cast; or the director and you have been waiting for his next film; or the trailer. You liked the poster and you want to know more about the film. I have a limited audience, around 4-4.5 crore people. The only known face of our film is Ronit Roy and his audience is the TV audience. As a primary audience, we know that the number is fixed. So if you promote it for four months, the number won’t change. Why, then, should we spend marketing monies unnecessarily? We don’t have songs in the film, so why unnecessarily record a song just to promote the film? It is a different kind of movie and the only way to create a buzz is to announce the film when people wonder, what is wrong with them? That will get us more eyeballs.
BOI: That’s why you are releasing the film after PK?
AK: Yes, also because nobody will believe you, right? We know that 60 per cent of the audience will watch PK in the first week. There are also some Hollywood releases, all feel-good films. But Ugly is a completely different film and we definitely will get an audience. We thought Christmas was the right holiday to release the film, compared to any other holiday, because we face less competition on that weekend as compared to any other week.
BOI: But PK will corner maximum number of cinemas.
AK: We don’t need more than 300 to 400 screens. We are looking at four to six shows per day. If we get that, it will be more than enough. We know we will be able to generate that much excitement, so we don’t need anything more. We sat down with the distributors DAR and we figured that of the number of people who watch PK, if even two per cent of them watch our film per show, it would be more than enough. So that is why we don’t want to burden the film with a large marketing budget.
BOI: What’s so special about Ugly that makes you so involved with the film’s marketing and distribution?
AK: We all believe in the content of the film. I watched the film with the audience in France and it reached out to a wide audience. This film connects with people on some level and that has been a unanimous reaction I have got. Now it’s our job to draw the audience to cinemas for that first time. After that, the content will drive the film. Friday to Sunday jo hona hai woh hoga, but from Monday onwards, it’s the director’s work, it’s the content.
AK: They too will like it. I am saying this on the basis of reviews it received internationally and even in India. Everyone who has watched the film has liked it. There are some quirks in the film which are my signature. Jihne dekh ke mazaa aata hai. I have always tried to introduce humour in my films because that is very important.
BOI: Rahul, how happy are you with the film, not as an actor but as a member of the audience?
Rahul Bhat (RB): I am very happy. First of all, I am the actor so I have to say that this film is close to me and it is great! But even as a member of the audience I would want to watch films like this. So, as an actor, it is great to be a part of these films. Just now, you were discussing P&A budgets of films and Anurag said that everyone has started promoting their films in the same way. Everyone is repeating the same stories and doing the same types of film. Not surprisingly, the audience keeps complaining about not getting good content-driven films. Now here we are presenting to the audience a good film, and let’s see how they receive it. I am very happy with the way it has turned out. I have acted in a film after eight to nine years and I got to work with Anurag Kahsyap.
BOI: Was Anurag Kashyap the reason you said ‘yes’ to the film?
RB: Of course! He was the reason I chose to do the film.
BOI: Did Anurag come to you with the film or did you go to him?
RB: We met…
AK: We met, I saw him and I said that I had a film for him. There was no pitching; I just told him the story and decided to make the film two years later
BOI: Rahul, you will be seen on screen after a long gap in a film made by Anurag Kashyap, and you are now working with Sudhir Mishra. Why that break?
RB: I don’t know. I guess I was very angry back then. I produced TV shows too but I never acted in my TV shows. I was kind of angry and disappointed. I was actually Ugly and Devdas both! (Laughs)
AK: You know, it’s a life long struggle. For instance, I know the kind of cinema I want to make so I wouldn’t add a song to a film if it wasn’t called for. What happens then is, aapka nuksaan hota hai. We were talking about this a few days ago, why do we pay stars so much these days? That is because they guarantee a certain amount of business returns. But, in reality, how a film performs at the box office depends largely on the volume of the release. There are 52 Fridays, so if stars block 15 Fridays, where is the business model? A film needs to sustain on its own, but our films have become about Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It has become all about the opening. So, if I get a star and I create an opening which is big, it is my job to create content that I am able to monetise from Monday. Considering the volumes at which films are releasing these days, they should earn Rs 400 crore. But that’s not happening.
Opening weekend se zyada collections nahi hota hai. Our laws don’t allow us to add screens. The number of cinemas has stagnated. Chinese cinema has seen a major growth because of the huge number of screens they have. And their films are rich in content and therefore travel to many countries. Hence, it is our responsibility as directors to make sure that the film reaches as many people as it can, due to its content.
AK: It will appeal to them too. See, I have never worked with a star, and the film has managed to reach so many people despite the lack of a star cast. Inhi same films mein aap bade stars ko daaloge toh the business will grow further and the dynamics of these films will also change eventually and their budgets will also balloon, and I think they should. Sure, there are some films that absolutely need a star. For instance, you can’t make Bombay Velvet without a star. Also, when you spend a whole lot, it should be visible on screen. In Bombay Velvet, 70 per cent of the budget has been spent on production, and that can happen only when there is content. Only then will they agree to invest so much money.
On the other hand, if I am only using star status, the stars get all the money and the producer and director should get a salary since they are not really making an effort. So it’s justified when the stars ask for profit-sharing. That’s precisely how the system began – because directors and producers were not bringing anything to the table and films were working solely on the strength of the star.
But to stay in the business, it is our job to constantly reinvent ourselves. Ek formula milta nahi hain ki sab uske pichhe lag jaate hain. If we don’t bring variety to the table, how will business grow? Why do you think people feel excited when a Rajkumar Hirani movie is about to release? Because they know it will have good content. So we do need new stuff. Anyway, I have been talking about this for so many years.
BOI: You have been talking but do you see any change?
AK: I do! There are some filmmakers who are very particular about their content, like Imtiaz Ali and Dibakar Banerjee. Zoya Akhtar is so careful with content that we do tests on 10 pages. Change is underway and there will be more filmmakers like these in next few years. And since I have been saying this for so many years, it’s time for me to deliver on my word. I am telling you a story but, still, I am real, I am believable. I am spending money but not on things that are not relatable. That’s how we have worked all along. Gangs Of Wasseypur’s budget was Rs 50-60 crore but we made the film for Rs 18 crore. I am saying you spend less and create more. You have to figure out the budget and this must reflects on screen.
BOI: Do you think audience is changing?
AK: The audience is not only changing but is demanding! Movie-goers are not fools; they will slowly start rejecting everything. They know when a filmmaker is using the anticipation factor but will not deliver. Our audience is growing bored. People are watching cinema from around the world and they wonder why we can’t make movies like that. We are thinking ‘bigger’ but why our ‘big’ is not as ‘big’ as their ‘big’? It’s not that we can’t create; we can actually create the same cinema at a lower cost. The problem is, we are copycats. So, slowly and steadily, things will change and we will make better cinema. Mainstream will change in the next two to three years and all kinds of cinema will co-exist.