Even though he has only two films in his kitty, Kannada director Pawan Kumar is being wooed by corporate studios. He delivered a successful film with his maiden venture Lifeu Ishetene, while his next, Lucia, was produced using a unique funding model and was lapped up by Fox Star for a Tamil and a Hindi remake. In an interview to Sagorika Dasgupta, the director talks about innovative film funding ideas and his third film, which has a, well, innovative title – C10H14N2
You began your film career as an actor. What made you turn to direction?
I was a theatre person, so acting came naturally to me. I was very serious about acting and did a couple of TV shows and films too. But I soon realised that acting on screen was not the same as acting on stage. I did it for a while but it did not give me the same satisfaction that theatre did. But when I was acting, I was simultaneously writing. Direction was the natural course for me.
Taking up direction all at once must have been difficult. Did you have any prior experience?
Actually, I had assisted the famous Kannada director Yograj Bhatt. He is a very prominent man here and the top-most Kannada film director, lyricist, producer and screenwriter. I worked with him on two of his films, Pancharangi and Mansare, which were both box-office hits. Since I had associated with him on these films, I learnt the ropes of direction.
Was it tough to find producers for your first film?
Not really! Since I had worked with Yograj Bhatt, people in the industry knew me quite well. Above all, I made my directorial debut with a romantic comedy Lifeu Ishetene, which was a safe bet for the box office as well as the Kannada audience. So finding producers was not challenging. As soon as I shared my idea and my story with producers, they readily came on board. When released, it fetched above average collections at the box office so my producers were also happy.
Why did you choose to raise money for your next film Lucia through crowd funding?
The Kannada film industry doesn’t experiment with genres and Lucia belonged to a very different genre. Things are changing now but, back then, when I decided to make the film, there was very little scope to find people who would back a concept film. This, despite the fact that I had worked with a few prominent people in the past and my first film had done well. Lucia didn’t have any song-and-dance or big stars. It featured Sathish Ninasam, with whom I had worked in my first film and Sruthi Hariharan, who had done just one film then. Since finding investors was difficult, I grew a little disheartened. A lot of Indie filmmakers abroad or even in other film industries in India sometimes choose to release their films on DVD and Blu-ray but I didn’t know anything about the home video market and I almost gave up. I write a blog regularly and I had casually mentioned that there was this film that I was very passionate about and that I wanted to make it badly. But I didn’t have the money to make the film.
A few of my friends read the blog and told me to appeal to the public in general to donate money to make the film. So I put up a request on my blog and created a Facebook page too. I uploaded a part of the film’s script and they could invest in it if they liked it. I also said they would get a share of the returns proportionate to their investment. In 27 days, we raised `50 lakh. Back then, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as ‘crowd sourcing’ or ‘crowd funding’. Once the money began rolling in, my friends told me that people in India and the West had been using this business model for a long time to raise money for various kinds of start-up businesses including filmmaking. The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD and all those who invested in the film got a free copy of the DVD.
The film was invited to the London Indian Film Festival. What kind of a response did it receive there?
There were two screenings in London and both opened to packed houses. It won the Best Film Audience Choice award at the festival. The film had not released in India at the time and actor Irrfan Khan happened to be at the festival with one of his own films. He managed to watch my film and liked it so much that he congratulated me and promised to endorse the film in some way. So we shot a YouTube video with him praising the film. That really helped us push the film to the Indian audience. Later, director Anurag Kashyap also watched my film, liked it and gave us his testimonial. Soon it began creating a huge buzz thanks to these prominent people as well as all the people who had funded the film. So word of mouth grew strong. Later, PVR selected the film for their Director’s Rare and released the film across seven or eight regions in the country. Once the film released in cinemas, its popularity quotient grew further.
Fox Star Studios has bought the remake rights to the film in Tamil and Hindi…
The Tamil version of the film is called Enakkul Oruvan and stars one of Tamil cinema’s biggest stars Siddharth along with Deepa Sannidhi. Fox has collaborated with producer CV Kumar for Tamil films and he will co-produce this film too.
Were you involved in some capacity for the Tamil and Hindi versions?
The director Prasad Ramar is a newcomer, so I helped him with my script, as in I handed him the first draft of the film which I had written. I had worked on the Kannada version so I didn’t want to interfere with the way he would visualise the film. In addition, I had made the Kannada film on a very small budget, not with Fox, and with CV Kumar stepping into the shoes of the producer, the film will be made on a larger scale. I had shot the film on a shoestring budget so I had to compromise on various production aspects like locations, sound quality etc. So I told the director about the points in my script where he could go a little larger in terms of scale, to add more value to the film.
I have been signed by Fox to direct the Hindi version of the film. The cast and other details are yet to be worked out and we will begin pre-production once I am done with my Kannada film, which I am working on now.
Your next Kannada film has already begun creating a buzz thanks to its title, C10H14N2.
C10H14N2 is the molecular formula of nicotine. I wanted to use this title because the film is about the tobacco industry. It is a very dark and thrilling take on one of the biggest industries in the country. As I mentioned earlier, it is difficult to find funding for the kind of films I usually make, so reinventing marketing strategies through word-of-mouth is very crucial for a filmmaker like me. Like any other film industry in India these days, Kannada films also require big budgets to promote their films. But I don’t have that kind of money. There is a lot of planning involved when I make films, and so I control the budget at the early stages.
After a corporate studio shows interest in your work, offers must be pouring in. Why are you still opting for the crowd-sourcing model to produce this film?
A filmmaker and his audience is a very integral part of the process of filmmaking. I make films for the audience so I like to involve them in my films. When a film doesn’t do well, it hurts the producer most and no one else takes responsibility for the loss. When the audience and the director produce the film together, it becomes a much-loved project and it benefits the film most. We hear the audience complaining time and again that they are not able to watch good films. That’s why we should try and create a system where films are made according to the audience’s tastes and they have a say in the film, whether the story, music or any other aspect of filmmaking. A film loses a lot of money when it is channelised through a middle order of marketers and distributors. Here, the audience is responsible for even the marketing and distribution.
But these are fairly new models of filmmaking. Can you give us a perspective on the Kannada film industry and why is it not as popular as the other three South Indian film industries – Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam?
The Kannada industry used to produce really good films during the 1970 and 1980s, and all the way up till the early 1990s.This was the Golden Age of our film industry. But then we hit a really rough patch. Perhaps it was the quality of films or the fact that the youth their lost connect with their roots but over the last 15 years, things began going downhill. We produce nearly 120 films a year but we have our challenges like there is only a low concentration of cinemas in our region.
Also, this is one place where films in different languages prosper. Hollywood films do extremely well in our region, so our indigenous industry takes a beating. There is not enough funding for filmmakers because of which we cannot give the audience the visual treat that movies are meant to be. The paucity of funds is apparent in our production values and we can’t match those of the other industries like Hollywood, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. Thus our box office earnings are also less.
But things are now looking up slightly. I say this because, if the audience has accepted a film like mine, it means that if you give the youth films with a fresh idea, they will accept it. We are now in a good space to start something new.