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Ajit Andhare: Our studio focuses on finding stories that resonate with the new and emergent India

Over the last few years, this studio has been offering the audience a varied and interesting mix of films, which are driven by rich content and fresh ideas. Talking about the studio’s roadmap, Ajit Andhare, COO, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, says, “The kind of stories that we are seeing today has come a long way from the monochromatic stories that were being made. As a studio, we focus on stories that resonate with the new and emergent India. We saw this possible shift five-six years ago, and hence, our choices have been unusual subjects. So, even if we did a love story, it was something like 'Tanu Weds Manu'. We made thrillers like 'Kahaani' and 'Drishyam'. With a talent like Akshay Kumar, we made 'Special 26', 'OMG — Oh My God!' and 'Toilet: Ek Prem Katha'.

The hugely successful 'Padmaavat' was the talking point of the nation for weeks. The studio firmly stood by the film and its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and saw it through its tumultuous phase. “The fact that it was a big film was a by-product. The important thing was that we were telling a compelling story. To me, the lowest point was the assault on Bhansali, and I am surprised and sad that it didn’t cause as much heartburn for people as the events that had happened in the following months. That incident should have created an uproar, because you cannot have a situation where you assault a storyteller, and responsible one at that (also a Padma Shri awardee), who is making a film backed by a studio that is also known for making films with a strong sense of responsibility. And it is always tricky for a filmmaker or a studio, as the more you engage with someone who is throwing darts at you, the more you will end up giving them importance. Therefore, the best thing is to maintain a stoic approach. In hindsight, we know that it didn’t help, as it allowed people to spin the narrative that they wanted. It’s surprising that people still believe that what they saw on screen was an edited version. I keep clarifying ad nauseum that there was no other version. The film that released is the only film that existed, which I had green-lit two years ago. Also, what I am most proud of is the fact that we played with a straight bat and we did it without diluting the content or the integrity of the institution,” explains Andhare. There was lot of heartache, but the battle was worth it and the victory was exemplary. “We opened the film in over 80 countries, which is 20 more than the biggest Hindi film ever,and interestingly, the film succeeded in not just traditional markets, but in the new markets as well. We developed a lot of international territories and got a phenomenal response,” he says. Andhare shares excitedly, “We dubbed the film in South languages, and released it in 3D and IMAX 3D — all these aspects contributed to the success.” Apart from the external factors that put brakes on the release of 'Padmaavat', there was a lot of talk about how the film industry remained a silent spectator throughout the studio’s struggle. Contrary to what was being said, Andhare elucidates, “I am often asked if we felt alone in the battle to release 'Padmaavat', and I want to say that we shouldn’t confuse sloganeering or statement-making with support. I never felt alone, in fact, there was tremendous amount of goodwill and support from people who reached out to us personally. At times, not adding to the noise and the decibel levels help the cause much better.” Looking ahead, the studio has a good mix of films slated for the year, like a thriller directed by Sriram Raghavan, another thriller with director Jeetu Joseph (of 'Drishyam' fame) and the Ajay Devgn-starrer 'Taanaji', based on a legendary figure from Maratha history. They also have the Hollywood film 'Mission Impossible – Fallout', which they are distributing, as part of their line-up. The studio recently saw success with the Marathi film 'Aapla Manus', and now, they are exploring more films in the regional space. Andhare adds, “Regional films present fantastic opportunities for us and we have an amazing audience in languages like Marathi and Malayalam, who respond to a very different kind of storytelling.”


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