As Trinity Pictures, a division of Eros International, completes a year of its Writer’s Room, Ajit Thakur – CEO, Trinity Pictures; Shridhar Raghavan – Mentor (Trinity Writers Room); writers Ajit Nagarkar, Maitri Shah, Niharika Puri, Radhika Anand and Shokhi Banerjee; and producers Abhishek Vyas and Mrunalini Havaldar tell Team Box Office India about their very unusual studio model and the learnings and highlights in the last 13 months
BOI: It’s been a year since you visited our office, when Trinity Pictures was launched. Tell us what has happened in the last 13 months.
Ajit Thakur (AT): This is exactly where it started when we talked about it at Box Office India. I don’t think there is a more relevant place to thank you for what you do for studios than today. First and foremost, thank you for carrying that first story, when we had announced our intent to hire writers. I think you agreed the brief was to put the writers first on the cover. So thank you for that.
More importantly, Vajir (Singh) was also part of the recruitment process, for getting the writers in at Trinity Pictures. So, now, when you evaluate their work, it will also be an evaluation of how good the writers you hired were. So thank you very much, in terms of support.
I will start and then ask Shridhar (Raghavan) to talk about the process, and then some of the writers and producers should talk about their contributions. I think it is fantastic that we had this team in place by July. We will have two more writers after FICCI but they will come on board by next month, and by the end of the year we should have 10 writers. But with this team of five writers and two producers, there are nine of us and I think we have made huge progress.
Last month, we announced our first slate of five films and there are many firsts… we stuck to our franchise promise and the first film that will go on the floors is actually the one with Amol Gupte and it is tentatively titled Sniff. This is the first time we are talking about it and we will start the shoot next month. It was written by Radhika (Anand), and then Amol Gupte and other writers took up the screenplay. We are ready to shoot and it is a fabulous character. We were discussing only today how we could see a sequel in the last scene.
So we stayed true to the franchise promise. The second thing we added was that we also looked at the fact that if we have to break ground with kids films on that scale, we have do them as social films or action films. Since this is a kids’ action film, how do we add to the scale of the film in terms of box-office potential for us to grow our franchises when there are no stars?
I think that has been the big learning process, because for the last year, I think all our films are dual TGs, so the Amol Gupte film will have family as much as kids being targeted. The elephant film will have same thing. The script that Shridhar is writing, Fair & Lovely, which we will talk about later, will be shot simultaneously in Hindi and Tamil, so we have two markets.
And, of course, the biggest innovation of them all, which was a very planned process that Eros and Trinity had, is how do we grow this box-office pie multifold? How do we create a Rs 1,000-crore film, which is something that has been added to our ambition, and the answer to that was China, to create an Indo-Chinese film and not a film where you have a Chinese character or a Chinese film which has an Indian character but a story that requires you to get both countries going together.
So we have two projects that we have announced. That will open up the market and we don’t know what the limit is, so I think that is the second film that we have done well. In every one of these, we will be investing more than it normally would have demanded. That investment is justified by the fact that we look at dual targets, either two audience groups or two markets or two countries.
Third, we have stayed true to what I had told you in that we have not done a single love story, we have not done a single comedy, we have not done a single South action masala film because there is enough of that. In the Eros slate itself, we have enough of that this year, in our slate of 65 to 70 films. To create these new genres, the challenge always was, from where would we get the writing talent? And we are very proud to say that of the five films announced, three are in-house and are being developed by this team here.
As we speak, we probably have 12 other concepts that are in active development, which we are pitching to directors. Two very senior directors said that it is a fascinating model. They said that when we interact with any studio, their buzz word is ‘koi subject hai kya aap ke paas?’ And while interacting with Trinity, the language is ‘humaare paas subject hai, do you want to listen to them?’ So this is where we are. Over to Shridhar in terms of how and why we got them on board.
Shridhar Raghavan (SR): What we did was, a year ago, we used social media to come up with names of people who wanted to apply for it. We had some 450 people who had applied, we didn’t have any criteria for the writers needing to be from any film school or any such thing. If you had a passion or interest in writing, you could apply. We got around 300 to 400 applicants, and we shortlisted based on an entrance exam, where they had to write reviews or a couple of scenes for films which already existed as part of the Eros slate.
Based on what we read, when we felt that somebody was interesting, we called them. We didn’t do interviews; what we did was interactions and it wasn’t just writers. We called in a cross-section of people. We had you (Vajir) then there was Komal (Nahata), Mozez (Singh), there were directors, people like Sriram (Raghavan), Rohan Sippy, Sujoy (Ghosh) and Saket (Chaudhary), me, of course, and two or three other writers.
What we did was we just interacted with the applicants. We weren’t interested in the film writing experience. What we were looking for was a person who had a genuine passion for the medium, an interest in writing, which they had not yet done but at least had a sense of, and also people who love films and books. We both felt that if you need to be a writer, it helps if you are someone who reads. Based on the interactions with those eight to 10 people, we shortlisted five to six people and they are in this room.
SR: Ajit and I are very clear that it should be a franchise model, and we have also defined zones which we are particularly keen to operate on. I am not sure if I have the liberty to talk about those zones. There were six-seven broad zones, the kind of franchises which work nationally and internationally. I guess initially what we were doing was, the first stage of anything was actually the idea, then story and then screenplay.
We used to take a genre… For example, let’s take ‘war’, see what has been done to date, overseas and domestically, and discuss everything that is happening on the field. Not just in films but in literature, comics or books, anything. Then we see if there is any new way to approach this and everyone would start brainstorming. As opposed to spending ages working on one idea, everyone would come up with five to 10 ideas. Some would be good, bad or ugly, but after a while you start feeling confident enough to just keep saying stuff. Then, out of that, we would say, okay these ideas are interesting. Say, in the war genre, you come up with 50 to 60 ideas or 40 to 50 ideas. Then we take the ones we found different or interesting to a certain level, discuss it with Ajit and take his point of view. Based on his point of view, we decide, okay, these are worth focusing on. We would take, say, three or four of them and take it further.
Let’s assume one of them comes up with an idea which we decide to go ahead with. Now the rest of them will back that one person on his or her idea. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and you have seven to eight heads helping you brainstorm. You are still leading the idea, at the end of the day, you will decide that these two have a good sense on it, so they are co-leading that idea. But everybody is constantly backing it so it is like the role of a graphic equaliser that we are playing.
Just like this, we discuss genres every week, so we could shift from war to supernatural, private detective, legal or history. So eventually everybody finds something that they enjoy doing and there is a pool of 100 to 200 or 400 ideas. Like Ajit said, we are looking for something in China. I think there must be 100 ideas there because we came up with 20 to 25 ideas each, and of these, we were saying, okay, this looks interesting, so let’s take it further.
When we find an idea interesting, we take it to the story level. We brainstorm collaboratively and discuss… it is very informal. I wish I could make it sound like there was some deadly discipline to what we do. I think we actually bought it down to a bar conversation after two drinks, but the idea was to feel comfortable with each other and relax with each other and say what you want to. If you have a bad idea, nobody will judge you; if you have a good idea, everybody will compliment you. That’s the whole idea, to make it a support structure for writers.