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“This is just the beginning for the Gujarati film industry”

Gujarati film Chhello Divas released alongside Hollywood’s Bond franchise film Spectre and yet it emerged as a winning bet at the box office. This highest-grossing Gujarati film in the first week, successfully ran for two weeks thereafter. Here’s the debutant director Krishnadev Yagnik in conversation with Rohini Nag.

How was Chhello Divas conceived? Tell us about the film’s backdrop.

I had a rough concept in mind, and after many discussions over a few meetings with my partner at Belvedere Films, I concluded that I should take my concept forward and weave it into a story. The film is based on one’s college days, which is not only the best time in one’s life but also a formative phase in anyone’s life.

Was it tough to get producers and distributors for the film?

Yes, it was very tough because no one trusts a new director, which is fair because the investment involved is huge. Also, regional films are always a second priority for cinemas, as far as screenings are concerned. So, initially, multiplexes negotiated with us on a percentage-sharing basis and offered barely one or two shows a day. During the first few days, the show timings assigned to us were very awkward but we were promised that the show count would be increased if the film did well. It was also tough as the film released a week after Prem Ratan Dhan Payo and along with Spectre. The first weekend was very crucial for us as the response during those three days would make or break us. Finally, our marketing campaign and the trailer worked in our favour and we received a positive response from the audience. Our first few shows ran house full at almost all cinemas.

The film released recently along with Spectre and garnered better business than the Bond film.  How does it feel to enjoy such success?

I am feeling very happy that our film ran successfully alongside Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, Spectre and Tamasha. It’s an awesome feeling to have a regional film competing with Bollywood and Hollywood yet working well at the box office.

What is the current state of Gujarati cinema?

This is just the beginning for the Gujarati film industry. For decades, even Gujaratis who live in Gujarat’s cities did not watch our films as filmmakers failed to adopt new technologies. However, things have been changing for the last two or three years, especially after the success of Bey Yaar and Gujju Bhai The Great.

Regional Powerhouse

Murli Chhatwani, Managing Director, Muviwale Entertainment

What prompted Muviwale Entertainment to back Chhello Divas?

Chhello Divas was recommended to us by our friend and associate of over 15 years, Vandan Shah, who has been in the exhibition and distribution business for 30 years in Gujarat. He had watched the film and really liked the content and asked us to come on board with him as partners to release this film across the Mumbai circuit. We went with his gut and belief in the film. We have partnered with Mr Vandan Shah’s company Rupam Entertainment to release this film as well as many more in the coming months.

We, as a company, have always backed good content since our inception. We have done many films in the regional space like Punjabi films Angrez, Munde Kamaal De and Faraar, for all territories except the North. We have also done a Marathi film called Vajhlach Pahijhe, while we have also distributed Tamil film Puli in the Mumbai circuit and released it in three languages, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

Apart from all these films, we have done three films in the Gujarati space, including Chhello Divas. The Gujarati film industry is growing strong and very quickly, and the producers and directors are passionate and enthusiastic when it comes to making and releasing films.

 

Muviwale Entertainment has managed to deliver Hindi, English, Tamil, Punjabi, Marathi and Gujarati films, back-to-back. How did you manage to crack different regional markets?

Frankly, all these films and many more in the pipeline have come to us because of our long-standing relationship with our associates in the industry and some very kind well-wishers. It is due to their enormous trust in us to deliver results with transparency and accuracy that we have been able to release over 15 films in different languages across genres in just seven months.

Among our most ambitious projects to date is Pyaar Ka Punchnama 2, which we released in the Mumbai circuit on behalf of Panorama Studios, Sri Adhikari Brothers, Anand Pandit Motion Pictures and Luv Films.

 

How do you choose a regional project?

We choose all our films, whether Hindi or regional, on pure merit, on the content of the films. We prefer to watch the film before we say yes to it and we also rely on our associates’ advice.

 

As far as regional films go, what kind of marketing strategies do you plan as a distributor?

We believe in promoting the film as much as we can on the digital platform through social media and websites. We also believe in creating awareness in cinemas through in-cinema activation and partnerships by running trailers and displaying publicity, to target the core audience and regular cinema watchers. The marketing budgets of regional films are usually very small, so we try not to interfere very much with the producers’ budgets and do our best with the minimal budgets allotted to us.

 

How do you chalk out a distribution plan for regional films for the diaspora?

We start with sticking to the basics and releasing the film in a region where the film belongs as that is where we can generate word-of-mouth for films like these, which have small budgets as far as the cost of production or marketing is concerned. Then we take the films to the diaspora, for which we either refer to past data available with us, or we take the opinion of the programmers or exhibitors in that particular region where we would like to experiment. We may also refer to the Indian Readership Survey (IRS) and Census data to mark the exact areas where the audience catering to that particular regional film belongs.

 

Which other regional markets do you want to tap?

We would love to tap the Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada markets. We are also open to releasing foreign language films in India, especially experimenting with European language films, mainly French cinema, to begin with. Europe has been very generously accepting Indian films and we would like to give back the same amount of love by screening their films in India.

 

Any plans to turn producer?

The ultimate goal of any person in the film industry is to become a producer. We will not deny that it’s on our cards but are in a very early stage of development. The groundwork for the same is being laid and we are working on developing a few films which are in early stages of pre-production. If all goes well, we will announce our production soon.

 

What’s next?

We are in the midst of finalising a few more regional films, especially in Gujarati and Marathi. Apart from that we, have a Hindi film, 31st October, already signed with us, which we plan to release early next year. We are hoping to have a few more films in our kitty, which are currently in the very early stages of negotiation.

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