Team Pizza – co-producer Bejoy Nambiar, director Akshay Akkineni, and actors Akshay Oberoi and Parvathy Omanakuttan – in conversation with team Box Office India
Bejoy Nambiar (BN): One day, we were sitting around and we ordered a pizza, and we thought, why not make a film on a pizza? On a more serious note, this film is a remake of the Tamil film Pizza. I watched the Tamil film and I really liked it. When I learnt that I could buy the rights to the film, I bounced the idea off Akshay (Akkineni), who at the time was working on my last film, David. He said he wanted some time to think about it and after a few hours, he said he wanted to make it.
BOI: Akshay, what was your reaction when Bejoy proposed the idea to you?
Akshay Akkineni (AA): The first thing that came to mind was that it was a remake, and I didn’t want to make a remake at the time. After I thought about it, I told Bejoy that I would want to change a lot of things in the original, adapt it into something new, make an altogether new film. Only then would I be completely up to it. And he was sweet enough to let me change what I wanted to. So this film is 60 to 70 per cent different from the original Tamil film.
BOI: Were the changes made keeping a certain target audience in mind, especially the kind that loves horror films?
AA: It’s not just the audience; it’s also how the story and plot… we wanted to make it the way we wanted to make it. Then we considered the appeal factor… whether the film should cater to a national audience or a specific audience. That’s where the cast and many other factors came into play. When we wrote the script, it was essentially the idea, the stories, the plot and how edge-of-the-seat it could be.
BN: From the very beginning, we knew a film of this kind needed support from a studio that really understood how to project the film to the right audience. So UTV was the first studio we approached and they connected with the content of the title. The thing is we already had a template for the film, the Tamil one, and we pitched it to them, saying this is what we wanted to do. We also told them we wanted to change a lot from the original, to adapt it, and they were quite open to it.
BOI: At what point did UTV come in?
BN: I think during the initial five months, when we were completing the paperwork to buy the rights and when we began writing the Hindi adaptation. So, they came in mid-way.
AA: It was a collaborative process. They were very helpful when we bounced off ideas to them and by helping give the film the right shape.
BOI: Was it UTV, which decided that the film should be made in 3D?
BN: It was Akshay’s idea to make the film in 3D, which I initially dismissed because it was not a production-friendly idea. Then the guys at UTV came up with the same idea. We decided to revise the budget and see how we could release this film in 3D. So we went back to the drawing board, and they asked me for a figure. We worked backwards and found out which vendors were available to do the 3D work. It took a while to figure out but we finally decided to go for 3D. It was something Akshay wanted from the very beginning but it was new for me as it was the first 3D film I was producing. It was not only Akshay’s first 3D film; it was also his first film.
BOI: Akshay, why did you want to make the film in 3D?
AA: I have always been fascinated with technology and was interested in making a 3D film even before Pizza came along, or even before David came along. The idea was to not just go and watch a movie and come back. The idea was to take it to the next level, both in terms of sound and video. I wanted it to be an ‘experience’ so that people would want to watch it again or talk about it for the next few years. We wanted to blend content and technology and make it a great project.
AA: 3D is very difficult. It’s an enjoyable process but I think I bit off more than I could chew when I decided to make the film in 3D. I felt that when we started the shoot. It is a completely new language of filmmaking. It was a huge challenge because the only experience I had was making a short film, never mind a 2D feature film.
AA: There is only one segment that we have shot inside a house. The rest has been shot outdoors. So they way we have conceived the plot keeps the story moving. There is fluidity to the scenes and it’s not really difficult in terms of breaking convention. I understand what you’re saying about getting repetitive. In fact, we have been accused of ripping off a scene from The Exorcist, which is not true at all. We have used entirely fresh ideas and have broken with convention.
BOI: Lately, horror films have been using a combination of songs, sex and spookiness so that they sell. But your film looks different. Is it merely the trailer or was the film actually made that way?
AA: Are you saying our film is different because there is no sex or songs? (Laughs)
BOI: That’s usually what Indian horror films bank on these days.
BN: (Takes out a copy of our magazine and points to the Pizza music review). This is the verdict you guys have given the film – It’s different! It’s great that you guys are validating that it is different.
AA: We have tried to make a good film and none of us, including UTV, comes from the school of thought that says sex makes things saleable. We don’t enjoy that kind of cinema, so we didn’t want to go that way. This film doesn’t need it as the content is much stronger than that. We didn’t need sex but we do have a few songs. That is integral to the plot and we have a few montages and everything is woven into the story. There is no stand-alone song.
BOI: How were Akshay and Parvathy cast?
AA: I had worked with Akshay before on one of Bejoy’s ventures, MTV Rush. The moment I thought of Pizza, the first and last person that came to mind was him.
Akshay Oberoi (AO): Lucky me!
AA: As for Parvathy, we found and audition file and we didn’t even know someone had tested for the role. I’m just kidding! We actually tested her. We did a lot of tests with them together and then finalised them.
AO: I loved the Tamil film and it’s the kind of role that an actor who is new-age and trying to build his career needs to be doing. And to get this support and being launched a certain way is the icing on the cake. You don’t often get to do a film like this.
Parvathy Omanakuttan (PO): I think Akshay and I come from the same school of thought where we like a certain kind of cinema. While the film was being made, not once did we feel that we need to include a particular scene to sell the film because we were just so in love with the story. The high point of the film for me was that it was in 3D. It’s been a great learning experience for me.
BOI: Akshay, you made your debut with a Rajshri banner (Isi Life Mein...!).
AO: Yes, I did.
BOI: Why such a big gap after your first film?
AO: You don’t get work if your film doesn’t work at the box office, unless you belong to a filmy family and you have that kind of support, especially if you want roles as the lead or main protagonist. It’s quite a tough ride, to be honest. I used to call up a lot of people before my Rajshri film, and knock on doors, which is part of your struggle as an actor. Things didn’t really work out. So I went back to all of that. Rajshri is a very prestigious banner, which is why I jumped at the opportunity and it was awesome to be able to do my debut film with them. But after that, I realised that I should do cinema that I actually enjoy as opposed to doing ‘so and so’s film’. Bejoy was one of the first guys to pick up my annoying phone calls. We chatted and did MTV Rush and then this film. But being an actor is a very painful process. I don’t recommend it to anyone who can do something else in life. But if this is all you can do, then you do have this kind of life, especially if you don’t have any support.
AO: This is not an out-and-out horror film. It’s more like a thriller and thrillers have worked very well in India. With that thought, I also feel that just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it won’t happen now. So if you’re saying that actors who have done horror haven’t clicked at the box office, that doesn’t mean things can’t change. Films are like the stock market… you can’t go by what has happened in the past. You have to focus on what’s currently happening.
AA: If Pizza doesn’t do well, he will plan on doing Isi Life Mein...! Part 2. (Laughs)
AO: If Pizza doesn’t do well, I will be knocking on your door for a job. Or I will look for a job with Box Office India. Please hire me, guys! (Laughs)
BOI: Bejoy, you have been concentrating more on production than direction these days.
BN: I have always been producing, starting with Shaitan, which was co-produced by my company Getaway Films, as was David. I have always had that producer streak in me. At present, only films that I have produced are coming up but I have always been a producer and a director. Under my banner, I would like to work on films I might not be able to direct but still want to be part of as a producer. Pizza is definitely one of those films because I don’t think I can direct a horror film. What I loved about this film was you expect to watch a horror film but it takes a different turn and it has a lot of elements. We have maintained that essence while adapting it. It is very exciting to attach myself as a producer of a film like this. I think that is what I would like to do with Getaway Films. But it’s not true that direction has taken a back seat for me. I will be starting a film soon.
BOI: In Hollywood, most genres like horror have a typical audience. So, in terms of balancing the creative and the commercial aspects, what kind of producer do you want to be?
BN: Allow me to correct you. Pizza is not just a horror film. It is horror, suspense and a thriller film. The trailers project it as a horror film but it is more than that. As a producer, I don’t want to restrict myself to any particular genre. My earlier film was also experimental. Kuku Mathur Ki Jhand Ho Gayi was a film I could not direct but I wanted to be a part of as I liked the idea.
BN: It is easier to analyse what went wrong with a film than what makes a film work. We made that film with a lot of heart. Actually, it was ready a year and a half ago, even before Fukrey released. I think we were kind of the first ones to attack Delhi-based kind of films. After Fukrey, many films like that released. Having said that, I think this diluted our film. But, mainly, it was not marketed well. For a small film like, marketing is very important.
During interviews, people invariably ask me how important it is to market a small-budget film. You see, big films already have the baggage of the stars and big actors whereas for small films, we actually have to shake up the audience and tell them to come and watch the film. I don’t think we were close to that with Kuku Mathur… The film was not marketed at all and that’s a call the corporate house took. You have to go the extra mile while marketing small films.
PO: (Cuts in) And that’s why he is here… to promote Pizza. (Laughs)
BN: Basically, yes! (Laughs)
BOI: What other films are under production in your banner?
BN: We are doing two more films. One is Focus, which is just starting. The film had a few hiccups with a change in director. There is another film, which is ready. It’s called Fattack, a remake, and is co-produced by DAR Motion Pictures. Fattack is based on gully cricket and is a sports-centric comedy. As a production house, we are trying to work with different people.
BOI: While shooting Pizza, did the scenes you were performing spook you?
PO: Not really, but I kind of spooked them with a lot of stories I’ve heard and read. I do believe in spirits.
AA: We used to spook each other. (Laughs)
AO: I would like to say, yes, when we were shooting in the haunted house, or it would not be genuine in terms of how I react in the film.
PO: To add to the authenticity of the story, the art team did a fabulous job. They would magically change the character of a room in a matter of hours! That made it easy for us to get into the right mood.
BOI: What kind of response have you been getting to the trailers?
PO: When people watch the trailer, they have the exact same idea that you had, that it was just another horror film. But we keep trying to tell people that it’s not only horror but a lot more.
AA: Everyone thinks it’s a conventional horror film without the sex and songs bit. (Laughs)
AO: But the reaction I keep getting from people is that this film is different, new and fresh.
PO: (Cuts in) Yes a lot of youngsters tell me they are very excited to watch the film. I think it is because not many filmmakers experiment with this genre. Besides, our audience is used to a certain kind of cinema. I think we need more directors like him to bring out the different flavours in cinema. There is so much more that Indian cinema can do.
AO: I mean, people don’t even know how to approach a film like this. We are not even sure how to market it and are figuring it out as we go about it.
PO: Yes, but the younger generation, which is exposed to international films, want to watch more films like these in Bollywood. So I am really hoping that we have a lot of youngsters watching this film.
BN: Arrey, pehele ye chal jaye yaar. (Laughs)
AA: I have no idea. But I want to add that we didn’t approach this film the conventional way and are trying to make it as an experience to watch. I hope it works!
BOI: The film was supposed to release on July 4. Why was it postponed?
BN: Suddenly, two more films were announced on the same date, which were not supposed to release on that day. There was Bobby Jasoos and Lekar Hum Deewana Dil and another film. So we didn’t want to divide the audience more than it already is.
AA: Finding Fanny was also to release on July 4.
BN: Yes, so we thought July 18 was a better window.
AA: We also needed some time to push the film, at least a week, which has kind of helped.