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“Bollywood has a lot of masala and I would prefer to focus on content”

After producing content-driven Marathi movies, the driving force behind Cinemantra Production and Samraaj Talkies, Shalini Thackeray forays into Bollywood with Love Sonia as its executive producer. Here she is in conversation with Karan Shah.

Love Sonia looks really good. We just saw the trailer and it was fantastic. What’s the response that you have got so far, and what are you expecting from the film?

The response has been really amazing, and in fact a little scary. Because expectations are really high. When a trailer gets this kind of response, people head to the movie with really high expectations. And if the expectations are that high, sometimes it does not match… though I am very confident that this film will do justice to the expectations.

How did you come on board for the film?

We’ve been doing Marathi films for the last five years, and television and theatre. The idea was to focus on content. Our Marathi movie was a path-breaking film and after that a lot of other things came our way. We came into this because of the overall idea that Marathi needs a different platform, that we need to scale up a little so we set a precedent, and I think we have managed to do that. Love Sonia is an extension of that, an extension of my political career, because it is issue-based and is looking at a lot of vital, women-oriented issues.

Also, the backdrop is Maharashtra. The story talks about how our daughters face certain problems and how parents have to make certain decisions. Then it brings the tale to Mumbai, then Hong Kong, then LA, making it into a global issue – which it is. The minute you talk about such things, it was very normal for me to want to associate with this kind of film. And if it’s Bollywood, obviously the scale is a little bigger. But I think this issue deserves it, and through this simple story of a girl searching for her sister, we talk about heroism.

I think everybody today is looking for a hero and in this case it’s a 17-year-old girl. Ultimately, I think it is the content; I got into production for the content and this is just an extension.

What are your expectations of Love Sonia? And from the audience?

The film has been very well received outside the country. In Australia, we got Best Hindi Film; in London, Mrunal (Thakur) got Best Debut. The Indian audience is ready. They do not like issues to be thrown in their face. But if an issue is explored through the medium of a story, I think it is well-received, and this is that kind of film. Dark and hard-hitting, but I think the manner in which it is being told will be well-received.

I think, at some level, the film industry has a responsibility to use this strong medium to reach audiences on issues like this. And we’ve been doing this for a few years and people have been taking to it well. So I expect the audience to appreciate this film the way they are appreciating the trailer. If you’re asking whether I expect very big-box office numbers, then that’s something I cannot talk about right now because this film comes from a very different space… but yes, the audience can surprise all of us.

How hands-on were you during the filmmaking process?

I look into every aspect of the filmmaking, from the creative to the casting to the final product and then the marketing. In this case, because the film was helmed by Tabreez, I think we all were very happy to allow him to do it the way he wanted to because all of us had faith in him. And I think he has done justice to it. Now, when the film is ready and needs to be taken to the audience, we have all stepped up and put our hands in.

Are you going to keep on producing content-driven films or you are also going to venture into masala entertainers? What is your plan?

When we ventured into Marathi films, our idea was good content. Marathi always has content. But we did one masala entertainer in Marathi. I think in Bollywood it’s going to be a little different. Bollywood has a lot of masala and I think I would prefer to focus on content and good performances. I think this medium needs to be used to send out certain messages but in a way that makes the audience receptive to it.

What’s next?

I’m already working on a couple of Marathi films with very good faces. I’m also working on, again, an issue-based Hindi film. I’m right now in the zone of women- oriented subjects, women protagonists. Most of the films I am working on have women protagonists. 

As someone focusing on women-oriented subjects, what is your take on the plight of Indian women, particularly actresses?

I will talk about women as a whole. I feel that despite a lot of things changing, women are not getting the kind of the treatment and the place that they deserve. There are a lot of issues that are still not being addressed. We talk about gender equality, about women getting their rightful place, but I feel it is still not happening.

Do you feel that social messages sent out through films get through to the audience?

If told in the right manner. As I said, if you throw it in their face and force them to confront an issue, it’s probably not going to reach a wide audience. Because we live these issues every day.  And then when I see it in a space where I want to be entertained and want to leave all that behind, I’m not going to take it well. But if I can give tell you a gripping story and also talk about the issue, I think the audience will be ready to receive it. Many good filmmakers and directors have been doing this.

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