We are sometimes called the pioneers of the ‘concept’ film and that is something we are very proud of. When we decided to build a studio, we asked ourselves how we would differentiate UTV from the other big established names making great cinema. Very early on, we realised that being director driven was probably the best way to go because films are ultimately a director’s medium and if you are able to work with directors who you believe have a vision, everything else will follow.
So when Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra came to us with the script of Rang De Basanti (RDB), it was not a ‘safe’ film. It was the fourth Bhagat Singh film in a row and the whole star cast dies in the end. Yes, it did have Aamir Khan but he was not the centrifugal force of the film but one amongst the five boys whose story was being told. So it was a big risk to take especially given our relatively much smaller size as a studio then, but in this business, to take a line from Barfi!, not taking a risk is the biggest risk you can take. We took that risk with RDB and the rest is history. Khosla Ka Ghosla was one of those smaller films that in those days were either termed art cinema or just lay in the cans and never got released. We saw the potential in it and decided to release it like a “big film”. That paid off too. The success of those two films in 2006 really gave us the impetus to continue down the same path and go with our instincts. Since then we have invariably been able to present the audience diverse films in different genres year after year.
In 2008 we made Jodhaa Akbar despite everyone telling us that historical films don’t work. But we knew we had an amazing script, a passionate director, and of course Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, two of the most talented and gorgeous people you could want to watch together in a historical. We also had A Wednesday in the same year. What really got us sold on the film was Neeraj’s supreme confidence and script, especially the last half hour. And sure enough you had standing ovations at the end of Naseer saab’s monologue in the climax.
I remember when Anurag Kashyap narrated the script of Dev D in our conference room, it was a polarised reaction. Half of the room was aghast and the other half was ecstatic. We realised that the audience reaction was going to be as polarised and we had animated and intense debates internally about whether to make the film or not. I’m glad we finally decided to go ahead and take the plunge.
We saw Udaan after a really long tiring day and it was around 11 pm when we finally got to Kashyap’s office where Vikram (Vikramaditya Motwane) had assembled a rough cut of the film. We watched it and came out unable to speak because we were just too choked. The film touched so many chords on so many levels with so many people. We just knew we had to support the film, after which of course the Cannes jury felt the same way!
No One Killed Jessica came from a newspaper article from which Raj Kumar Gupta wrote a brilliant script. But it was a film that could have gone anywhere. It could have been a really dark gritty film which not many people would want to watch because it was on a subject that nobody wants to come face to face with. But the way Raj cast it and the way he told the story, together with the music that Amit Trivedi composed made it so thought provoking, entertaining and thrilling, that the film went on to achieve what it did.
Barfi! was a four hour narration from Anurag Basu in which Barfi, Jhilmil and Shruti became characters so real to us, we just had to let them take life on celluloid.
Coming to Kai Po Che, it was a script we absolutely loved and early on had a discussion about casting, in which we decided that we should not try to cast known stars in it as the balance between the boys was so very important to maintain. I have to say that Gattu (Abhishek Kapoor) has taken what was already a great script to a different level altogether on screen. It’s a film we are so proud of and judging by the first week’s collections and the response from the audience and critics, it will go on to become one of those movies that give a voice to a generation. What is very fulfilling is that at the same time as a Barfi!, Paan Singh Tomar and Kai Po Che, we can also do a Rowdy Rathore and a Himmatwala with élan – mass commercial entertainers that we enjoy as much as our ‘high concept’ movies.
I think that is the real strength of our studio and our team – being able to do so many wonderfully different things at the same time and with the same passion and enthusiasm.