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Finding A New Genre

Team Finding Fanny, Vijay Singh, CEO, Fox Star Studios; producer Dinesh Vijan; director Homi Adajania and lead pair Deepika Padukone and Arjun Kapoor, in conversation with team Box Office India

Dinesh Vijan (DV): I am going to ask you guys questions about Finding Fanny. So Homi, why did you make this movie? And please don’t give us politically correct answers!

Homi Adajania (HA): Give them the whole gyaan?

Arjun Kapoor (AK): I will tell you why Homi, wanted to make the film… he was always dying to work with me. (Smiles)

HA: Yeah, I had to find a script that would suit Arjun Kapoor. But it was so difficult that it took me so many years! (Laughs)

DV: Arjun, why did you decide to work in the film?

AK: Do you want the real reason?

DV: No, no, not the real reason.

HA: What the hell guys, this is not Comedy Nights With Kapil show to fool around on. (Laughs)

AK: OK, Homi, why don’t you start with why you wanted to make the film?

HA: I wanted to make Finding Fanny because it was a story that was very close to my heart and I really wanted to tell. I believe the time was not right when I wanted to make the film. Of course, at that time, the producer had called me and made me do various other things.

DV: One thing! Cocktail.

HA: Yes, I was asked to direct Cocktail and the reason I didn’t make this film at that time as Naseer (Naseerudin Shah) had date issues. The film was further postponed because I was doing something else. Then we started work on Cocktail and the story took another few years to be made.

DV: Every film has its destiny, so this film was made at the right time.

HA: But I also believe that if I had not made Cocktail, I wouldn’t have got the budget to make this film. You have to be lucky to be able to make a film at the right time. Our audience is also ready for a film like this, they are way more ready for a Finding Fanny now than earlier. We tend to underestimate our audience and are way cooler than we think. They are able to immerse themselves in content that we would say, ‘Nahi, yeh hatke film hai, ya yeh offbeat hai, or it’s a crossover film.’ But that’s nonsense! A film is a film is a film. A commercial film is a film that makes commerce. It doesn’t make sense trying to put them in these boxes and attach labels. Fortunately, we now don’t have to do that and Finding Fanny is a prime example of the fact that we don’t have to put a film in any of these boxes.

AK: I think box-office-wise too, not every film has to clock numbers.

HA: Oh, no, certainly, there is a range. For our film also, it would be considered successful if it can recover its costs, so that we can say let’s do one more Finding Fanny. And it will then open up this genre for more filmmakers. The audience is ready for variety and so let’s explore some variety. I am sure there is so much incredible talent and no one can express themselves because both Dinesh and Vijay have had that kind of a vision to say give it a shot!

DV: The reason Fox has come on board is, after we release here, they have to strategise about releasing the film abroad.

Box Office India (BOI): Vijay, what made you acquire the film in the first place?

Vijay Singh (VS): As a studio, our endeavour is to look for a portfolio approach. So we want to make a Bang Bang, a Bombay Velvet, a Jolly LLB and a Finding Fanny. And it’s really all about, how to create a portfolio of each kind of film, by doing the big budgets ones and also be able to push the envelope with the smaller ones. This makes commercial sense and the kind of approach we believe in. For example, we have made films in Tamil, and we decided to make them with new directors. That’s our strategy in regional markets. With Finding Fanny, we got the idea and we got the script and I think, what really got us involved was the script. So we said, here’s something slightly left of centre and we know the audience is changing.

So, coming to the point Dinesh made, about how to push a film like this in markets that are beyond the country. So the film released in India yesterday and it will release across 48 countries after that, as far as diaspora markets are concerned. We did the same thing with My Name Is Khan. There will be a phase to releasing the film here and overseas. So we have a separate edit for the film in those markets.

The best thing we did was get Nick (Nicholas Barringer) on board, the guy who has edited films like Love Actually. So we got the right editor who gets the tone of the film and the audience that lives in that part of the world. So we got him to cut the film for that audience. It was a learning experience, where you realise what’s funny for us is not funny for them. So like with MNIK, we have created a separate edit for the film overseas. We are confident of releasing the film in markets like Japan, Taiwan, Korea and the Middle East.

Now let’s consider a smaller film like Stanley Ka Dabba. We were able to release that film as a mainstream film in Korea and Japan. I am trying to say that every film has its destiny and obviously we are trying to access the right distributor and the right market. Obviously, the film has to work but we have to push it in the right direction. There is some great talent in this film. Homi is a difficult guy to work with but it was fun.

AK: This is the first compliment Homi has actually got.

BOI: Arjun, since you are an industry kid, do you think this is the right time for a film like Finding Fanny?

AK: How are you going to figure that out if you don’t take a chance with a film like Finding Fanny? There is no right or wrong time. When you hear the material, you go with impulse, without thinking about what the audience will feel. First, it has to appeal to you. And the audience is much more ready for a film like this than it was five to seven years ago. And that’s an encouraging sign. We are all here because the audience is willing to watch the film and the audience is not stuck in that Bollywoodised, commercial system, where they only want a masala film. There is enough room for everyone. I mean, Aashiqui 2 and Iron Man released on the same date. So there is a large enough audience out there. If the film gives an added 10 per cent to regular cine-goers to give the film a chance, all the better.

I am just happy to be a part of the film. There are some choices you have to make yourself. You don’t always look at your career; you have to just do what excites you first. I did the film on an impulse to do something different and because it was exciting for me as an actor.

BOI: Dinesh, why didn’t you make Finding Fanny when it was first planned?

AK: (Cuts in) It was much more difficult to work with Homi at that time.

DV: No, Homi wanted to make it a year and a half before Cocktail and the honest reason is that Naseer saab couldn’t do the film then, and nobody can play that role but him. At the same time, like he said, if he had not made Cocktail, I wouldn’t have let him make this film. And Homi would have killed me if I hadn’t made the film. He had his options open after Cocktail and he could have made a larger film. So, as he said, he had to get this film out of his system. And I wanted to back him as a director and make sure he was able to make that film.

BOI: Homi, did you have Deepika in mind then?

HA: No, I didn’t know Deepika then. I met her only before Cocktail. There was a bunch of people I wanted to cast and ran through the list only with Naseer, who was already on board. When the film came back on the radar, it was a completely different ball game because I had met Deepika by then and it was a no-brainer. If it was somebody else, I would have dumped them for the film. (Laughs)

BOI: Deepika, why did you agree to do the film?

Deepika Padukone (DP): I love him, yaar.

He narrated Finding Fanny while we were doing Cocktail, I clearly remember the South Africa schedule and by end of the schedule, which was two weeks later, I went up to him and the scene and the character really stayed with me. I was sold on the very first scene. Now, that scene is not there in the film.

The scene was to establish what to expect from the rest of film and I was sold from the very first scene, when he narrated the script to me. I went up to him two weeks later and told him we should make this film. He went to Dinoo and he agreed to produce it. We were also lucky that Naseer’s dates opened up at the time when we were looking to make the film. It was an extremely seamless process.

DV: (Laughs) We had to fight for her dates only.

DP: Okay! And for whatever reason, it just happened.

AK: That wasn’t her fault.

DV: Okay, now you’re saving her.

AK: No, she had no idea that we were advancing the schedule.

DP: Thank you, Arjun! So it was the story and script that I found extremely quirky and very different from the films I was working on.

BOI: Dinesh, did you agree to produce the film because Deepika and Arjun were on board?

DV: I had no other option. He came to me after Cocktail with …

DP: (Cuts in) I remember him calling me and asking, ‘Babe, are you sure you want to do this film?’

DV: Let me tell you what happened. We were to make this film four years ago. He is a very honest filmmaker and when Cocktail got over, he chose to make this film. I still leave him for two months, to make sure what he wants to do, because there was a seven-year gap between his last two films. So I didn’t expect him to make this film so quickly. Deepika had so much conviction in the script that she told me, ‘If you ever make this film, I want to say I really want to do this film.’ We never make a film on the assumption that we are doing projects together.

We went to Alibaug to work on the final draft of the script, and were working on the fourth draft when I called her. Then we gave her a full narration. She is also very lucky for me and whatever she has chosen to do for us has really worked. But that’s not the reason. Because the day you try to make films as project…

HA: (Cuts in) What the hell is luck, yaar? It’s talent and hard work.

DV: We have also done a film without you, which worked wonders for us.

DP: (Laughs)

DV: If this film was done with another cast, it would not have been as acceptable. Every character fits the bill.

AK: Remember, when she came on board, none of her films had become blockbusters or entered Rs 100-crore club. She and you (Dinesh) said yes on the merit of the material and wanting to work with the director. It wasn’t like ab meri Ram-Leela, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani chal gayi toh ab kuch alag karenge. This is a very important context, that she didn’t come on board to utilise her stardom. And they didn’t exploit that.

DV: We signed Arjun after Ishaqzaade.

AK: Yeah! So I only had Ishaqzaade. It was February or March of last year when we were sorting out everything. But they decided to do it because the film was worth making. I jumped because I saw the excitement in all of them. Now, a year and a half later, we are all sitting together. We shot the film in October last year so we are releasing it almost a year later. While making it too, it wasn’t that ki ab inki do-teen picture chal gayi hai toh ab release karo. It’s not a project, it’s a film made with heart.

DV: (Cuts in) The best part about Finding Fanny is that it’s unadulterated, in every sense of the word.

AK: And it’s a true ensemble cast. It is rare to have all five protagonists in the same frame in the posters. Look at the trailer, everything is equally divided, the characters are equally showcased. Even during the edit, there was no compromising on any character for screen space. That’s the enthusiasm that went into a film like this. It has not been done to impress a certain kind of audience. It has been made for the material that needs to be told.

DP: So many scenes that were shot have been deleted in the edit because at the end of the day you’re working for the betterment of the film.

AK: So many of my scenes were cut.

DP: Everyone has had scenes deleted. That black dress was really cute and it has been cut.

AK: I had rehearsed for one scene for 10 days. The amount of reading we did for that scene…Have you seen the church scene?... In fact, Homi performed that scene with me so many times. We did it 20 times in a row and then they chucked it.

BOI: You did the film at a different time when you (Arjun) had two back-to-back hits with Gunday and 2 States. You (Deepika) were on a massive roll, starting with Cocktail and up until Ram-Leela. Your other films hit the
Rs 100-crore mark and this one is a niche film. Does that bother you?

AK: We call it ‘commercially successful’ because it has done better or earned more than the money invested. It’s as simple as that. Unfortunately, in the context of the other films doing well, it’s not about X amount of money. But in its own way, it will recover its money. And that is a hit film. One should not judge a film by its numbers alone.

VS: I would like to add in that it’s all about budgets. If you get your budget right, the film will work in the market. And this film is a great example of getting the right budget, getting the right talent in one film. It’s a very good example of how Bollywood is moving in the right direction. If they did not take that approach, the film wouldn’t have happened.

AK: What was Cocktail’s numbers?

DP: Cocktail was not a Rs 100 crore film but we gained much more than the numbers.

DV: Also, the trend is changing. Like, if you look at the West, Robert Downey Jr does a commercially successful film like Iron Man and also does completely alternate films. So there is a market for that which is commercially viable. And Finding Fanny is commercially viable because of the way it is structured. It adds value to your filmography. Actors are not restricting themselves any more.

AK: I can do a Gunday and a 2 States. And if, because of them, I can do Finding Fanny, then I enjoyed doing both of them as well as this film. So why should I restrict myself on the basis of a certain number. How are we calculating the graph? We are not doing some 100-1,000 films that we have to ‘maintain’ something. For me, Kahaani is not a 100-crore type of film but the reputation the director earned overnight… Vidya Balan proved that you don’t need to open with big numbers but it’s about sustaining, it’s about good numbers. Queen is a recent example. That is what will stay with us, na… After ten years, when we are here again, we will talk about films like Kahaani and Queen. I hope Finding Fanny remains that kind of reference.

DP: Every Rs 100-crore films is not necessarily a good film. First, Rs 100 crore is not much when you compare it with the population in our country. Our movie-going population is very small compared to the population. Secondly, I don’t think every Rs 100-crore film is a good film. For me, a film is successful when it has repeat value, a film I would want to watch ten years later.

VS: We refer to films like Finding Fanny by saying ‘thoda alag hai’. But that should not be the reference point. A film should be entertaining. At the end of the day, if it’s an entertaining film, its genre doesn’t matter.

DP: (Cuts in) Even from the promotional point of view, we have not treated it differently, even though it is an English film. We promoted it like any other film, like we did Ram-Leela or 2 States.

DV: If you watch the first trailer or the two songs we released, they are all pure. They are not misleading. They tell you exactly what the film is about and what to expect. I think people are curious to see what we have done because there is no benchmark for a film like this.

AK: It’s a case study on how to do all kinds of cinema rather than sticking to one genre.

DV: Hopefully, it will open doors. There are these films which do really well but there is also faith in this kind of cinema. So Homi can make films.

BOI: You may say that cinema is evolving and the audience is also becoming more mature. But we still need a popular pairing like Deepika-Arjun to open doors.

HA: As in, to get the audiences to come and watch the film.

DP: One second, they will not come to us. He had shown interest in the film purely due to the material.

AK: I am glad they did come to me. They didn’t have a huge star when they came and it’s not that they approached me to use me for the pairing. They chose us as actors.

DP: I didn’t come on board after a string of hits and now I want to do something different. In fact, it happened even before Cocktail released, I wanted to do the film.

HA: But I understand your question and I totally agree with you. People still watch films on the basis of stars. If the film had five unknown faces, it might not have got that kind of response.

DP: The opening of the film might not have been the same but if the film is good, it will sustain. Unknown actors’ films have done great business before. Vicky Donor had new star cast. By the end of the week, word-of-mouth will spread.

AK: The Lunchbox did brilliant business.

DV: That’s what he is saying you needed a Karan Johar to present a film like The Lunchbox to do that kind of business.

DP: At the same time, if we had made a bad film with Arjun and me featuring in it, do you think audiences would have liked it?

BOI: There was a film called Club 60, which ran for 18 weeks in Mumbai.

HA: With Farooq Sheikh featuring in it, right?

DP: Exactly. Us featuring in a film might just bring big numbers but the rest depends on the content.

AK: Monday will reveal the fate of a film. Music and promotions will bring the audience to cinemas on the weekend but Monday usually sees a huge fall in numbers if the film is not good.

DV: The other day, I had a screening for his lot, which is Naseer’s lot, which is a little intimidating. And they loved Finding Fanny. We also had a screening for kids. What is amazing about the film is that if you are willing to embrace yourself with the film, you will notice the layers in the story. The youth are mad about the film. They were, like, when you have the next screening, can you call us? The youth saw the film in a way that was very different from the way older people saw it. There is something very cool about the film. If you really don’t get it, you will say ‘Arrey yaar, kya time pass film hai.

AK: If this film does well, it would encourage other directors to make the kind of films they want to. There are so many filmmakers like him (Homi) who don’t want to make masala films but they don’t get the opportunity. It is a mould-breaker. The audience will like the film and they will say, ‘Okay, Homi Adjania has made this film, let’s see what he makes next.’ They will be excited enough for him to make what he wants to make. And we, as actors, will be offered most films like this. It may take a few years but change will follow.

DV: We are continuously discussing India. This film will also make us realise our potential with a film that is slightly internationally oriented and we will know whether it works in 18 months. If we talk about the Busan Film Festtival…

DP: (Cuts in) Yes, we are showing the film at the Busan Film Festival.

VS: We will be doing a whole circuit of film festivals plus an international Hollywood cut, which will leading into the second phase.

DV: Let’s just say this is the first of its kind and hopefully not the last. That’s what we are hoping to achieve. Even if this film does that, we will start looking at business differently and more people would want to back such films and more actors would want to feature in them.

VS: To add to that point… I think we all realise that Hollywood is doing a great job but the business model of Bollywood is fundamentally not right. Why do we think so much about the 100-crore film, because a 100-crore film reaches the lowest common denominator and therefore while evaluating its returns, the satellite rights of a film are also taken into consideration before the film is made. So the point is, if this film works internationally, it will bring an alternative into the revenue stream. In the end, it is all about expanding sources of revenue. That will happen only if a variety of content comes together.

DV: (Cuts in) You are talking about the Korean business model right, where the self-consumption of their films is hardly anything but those films generate good revenues outside the country. You know, their horror and thriller genre. This is the kind of a film you can show anyone and it will appeal to them. So we are very curious to see what this film does as there is no benchmark.

BOI: For the international audience and the diaspora, who is the primary target?

VS: There are two phases. One is to reach the diaspora and phase two is to take it beyond the diaspora. It’s like peeling the layers of an onion. You have the art-house audience, then you have audience which is slightly mainstream, and then the mainstream audience. I don’t think we should fool ourselves and take the film directly to the mainstream audience. There are sufficient business opportunities. Different markets have different profiles and we have access to them through our extended teams.

BOI: Will the film simultaneously release in the US?

DV: Simultaneously, 100-plus screens.

VS: (Cuts in) Yes, around 125.

AK: Will the chain of cinemas be the same in phase two?

VS: The first chain of cinemas will be in some diaspora markets.

AK: So in the second phase, the film will reach out to cinemas that are traditionally for the American audience?

VS: Correct.

AK: So that is the strategy there, where the diaspora market is for the conventional films.

VS: Exactly. And I believe that Fox has the strongest distribution network in the Middle East. Usually, Bollywood films are distributed via one distributor on the ground there. We have access there to that person plus the Fox distributors who handle all the Fox international films. So we have a much wider reach there.

BOI: What’s next for you, Homi?

HA: I don’t know. I actually know but I am not telling you. (Laughs)

DV: We will make an announcement in exactly four or five days.

DP: He will just enjoy the money and success from this film. (Laughs)

BOI: Finally, what expectations does each of you have from Finding Fanny?

DV: Remember what Deepika and I were discussing earlier? From a very non-producer or a non-box office point of view, we have succeeded, judging by the reaction we have got and also we are very happy with the product. So, regardless of the box-office fate of the film, that will not change. I am very content.

VS: I think, before the film releases, you have to be happy with the film whether it works or not in commercial terms. You have to be content with what you have made. I think that’s what he means. We are happy with the film and actually in last 10 days we have managed to show it to almost the entire industry. People have gone out on social media and praised the film. If we get the same response from the audience, then would be very happy.

DP: From an actor’s point of view, I have got what I was looking for.

DV: (Cuts in) She finally got her Hollywood showreel, that’s what she is saying. And she got paid for it! (Laughs)

DP: What I wanted for the film was for the people watching it to feel a sense of warmth and be happy, to identify with the characters, and most importantly, walk out with a smile. And that has happened with the five or six screenings we have had. With each character, the audience has gone on an emotional journey.

DV: And they were genuine in their reaction.

DP: Two or three days later, when they message or call… The fact that they thought about it after so long and messaged you, you know that the film stayed with them. Now we just hope the audience feels the same way.

AK: I am only four movies old. So for me, it has been a great learning experience. It is not a conventional role. And while growing up, I never imagined doing a Hindi film like this. I have never thought of this film from the box-office business perspective because whatever we earn will only be a bonus. Eventually, it is about a starting trend. I am glad to be a part of something unconventional, pushing the envelope. Like I said, Homi and I just met and I enjoyed working with him and he took a chance on me doing an English film. So I enjoyed it on a personal level.

VS: I think there is no lying about the fact that we make a film as a business proposition and I am sure the film will recover its money. Second, the audience that has watched it is elated so that is great. And I think we learnt a lot about marketing a film that had no definite market. As a studio, I think, over time, our value will come from how much more differential value we can bring to the table. Here is the perfect film to push to reach achieve that objective.

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