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“Growth is good news but it brings greater challenges”

His recent release, Classmates, clocked good numbers at the box office. As the film sails smoothly in its third week, director Aditya Sarpotdarwaxes eloquent about the dynamics of the Marathi film business, the changing Marathi film industry and his plans to take his illustrious film family’s legacy forward

Your film Classmates has done really well. Did you expect it to do so well?

Honestly, towards the end of December last year, when the film was in its final stages, I did have an inkling that it might be appreciated. In fact, it was during the promotional stage that I realised that the film had the potential to succeed. And that’s mainly because of the kind of attention it began to draw when we first launched the trailer and rolled out our on-ground activities and the promotions on-air and off-air.

From day one, we were certain about the target audience, which was under 30 and so we began a dedicated campaign online. It was only a matter of time before our Facebook page ‘Likes’ and Twitter followers began to grown by the minute. So I expected the film to do well in the first week, when the marketing began, but films are a tricky business and you never know till the last minute what will work and what won’t.

The film is now in its second week and exhibitors are claiming it will do well this week too. Do you agree?

I hope it does. The first weekend collections were close to Rs 5.25 crore and the fact that January 26 was a long weekend boosted the film’s collections. I was expecting it to make the most of the long weekend and I am guessing that by the second week, we will touch around Rs 7.5-8 crore.

Distributors say the film might even hit the Rs 10-crore mark the end of this week.

It might, but I am being realistic. If things like distributors’ shares and deductions like taxes were not in play, the film would have made 20 per cent more. That’s why my predictions are around the Rs 8-crore mark by the end of third week.

It’s rather unusual for a director to be so in tune with the collections of films…

(Laughs) I have been interested in the trade aspect of films since I was a kid. I belong to a film family. My great-grandfather was the first to dive into the film business, and then my grandfather and my father Ajay Sarpotdar followed suit. We would produce several films under my family banner Rajat Enterprises. In fact, I am the first director in my family. So while growing up, collections, territories and opening numbers were part of my vocabulary. So I learnt early to assess which centres a particular kind of film works well in.

You used all that knowledge for your film too?

Of course! Zee’s Essel Vision is one of the biggest distributors of Marathi films and even though our film was not distributed by them, we know which pockets in Maharashtra a film like Classmates would work well in or not.

The film is in its second week and we are still visiting cities to publicise the film because we know that when a film enters its second week successfully, the family audience begins to pour in. As I said earlier, the youth came in to watch the film in the first week because we engaged in a lot of social media and it is a film about the youth. But now that the family audience is trickling in, we have tailored our marketing plan to reach out more to families. There are loads of limitations while promoting Marathi films but we are working our way around them.

What are these limitations?

First and foremost, there are limited avenues to promote your film. There is just one dedicated Marathi music channel – 9X Jhakaas. On radio too, you have a limited time slot for Marathi music and if you tie up with one station, you have to compete with other radio stations. Now we all know that a film’s buzz picks up if the music of the film scores. So if avenues are limited, you lose out there. Secondly, fortunately or unfortunately, there are so many Marathi films releasing every week. So the competition is cut-throat.

Look at the developments in the last few weeks. Classmates released on January 16 and the week after that, there was Lokmanya, then Balkadu, then Ek Tara is releasing this week, and next week there’s Baji. Besides, we have to compete with Hindi and Hollywood releases too. And unlike Hindi films which rake in money from several territories, we have just one or two territories that fetch us money. There is no concept of pre-selling your film as there aren’t enough distributors. Hence, a solo producer has to put in the money for publicity as well as making sure that the film is allotted good show times. All these factors end up us a challenge.

What do you think is the solution?

Marathi filmmakers should understand that these days making a good film is only half the job done. It is important to make a good film but it is even more important to promote it adequately. For that to happen, a strong pre-production plan should be in place. We did that with our film. We controlled our budgets from the word ‘go’ and decided on our marketing strategy even before we went on the floors. So we rolled out the promotional campaign almost six months before our film’s release. We were clear about the fund flow and strategies before we even set out to shoot. Filmmakers should become aware of this so that they can make more money through their films. Also, these days, the dependency on satellite has reduced drastically. Most films look at recovering their money from theatrical revenues and this is another aspect filmmakers should think about while marketing their films.

Classmates is a remake of a South film. Why did you decide to adapt the story?

We bought the rights to the Malayalam film of the same name, so it is an official remake. But I keep my eyes open for all kinds of interesting stories, especially stories emerging from Malayalam cinema because in terms of sensibilities, they are closest to Marathi culture. I had watched the film a few years ago and I thought if we could make a film on the basic plot; it would click well with the Marathi audience. But only the plot is similar; we have tweaked the story quite a lot.

All four films you have directed so far are of different genres. Was that deliberate?

No, it just happened. But I did decide that I wouldn’t limit my creative abilities to just one genre. I didn’t want to be called a certain type of filmmaker. My third film Narbachi Wadi was based on a Bengali play. It was made by Pintoo Guha, Mr Basu Chatterjee’s son in law, and I thought it would make for a good Marathi film. The idea is to not get stuck to a genre and stifle my creativity.

You mentioned earlier that you are the first director in your family. Why did direction attract you?

I am actually the first director in my generation. It was an obvious choice as my great-grandfather had made 45 silent films under our home banner. Over the years, I learnt more and more about production but soon I realised that it helps to know any line of work, inside out, before getting into it. I assisted some filmmakers and worked on several ad films and then I shifted to Hyderabad to work at Ramoji Film Studio. But I came back to Mumbai soon because I wanted to direct and that’s how I set out.

Your father was President of the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Chitrapat Mahamandal, and he did a lot for the betterment of Marathi films – making sure they get ample screen space, addressing taxation issues and so on. How do you plan to carry his legacy forward?

I am just an advisory to that body because it is a full-time job. Vijay Patkar is the current President and he is doing a great job, to make sure that Marathi films reach out to international film festivals, meeting with government authorities to make sure Marathi films progress in every way. I feel that I need to be an active filmmaker and I want to make more films under my home banner to carry my family’s name forward. I want to produce films too and give opportunities to younger directors who have new stories to tell.

What about making Hindi films?

I have a couple of ideas but I plan to enter the Hindi film space only when I have a good producer to back me. Hindi films have a much wider reach so the scale is grander. You have just one shot in Hindi films. It’s make or break.

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