When it comes to breaking new paths in Bollywood, it is tough to go ahead without mentioning the combo of Raj and DK, who have been an inspiring and influential pair in terms of delivering quality content that connects with the pulse of the audiences. After tapping different segments such as writing, direction, production of films, web series and even being a part of an anthology, the duo have come forward to present Cinema Bandi on Netflix, a lovable comedy which also acts as an ode to filmmaking.
Just after the release of the film on the platform, we catch up with Raj on the process behind the making of the film, their journey and the other projects in the pipeline. Excerpts from the interview below,
Cinema Bandi comes off as a very rooted and different film that brings us so many real-life characters. It’s completely opposite to what you usually make up in Bollywood. What actually drove you to make the film?
In a way, our roots are in Telugu. We were supposed to start off with a Telugu film, when we started off. But it didn’t work out and our stories started getting welcomed in Hindi. However, we have been in touch with the Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam industries through friends, wherever possible. For a while now, we have been mentoring first-time filmmakers who have been struggling to take off, and even actors and people on the edit table. These two buddies – Vasanth and Praveen, the writer and the director of Cinema Bandi, approached us in Goa. I looked at their mindset, their ideas and even some pictures, and was quite impressed. But I wanted them to make a short film of about ten minutes, showing us what it could feel like. 90% of the people disappear after this, but these guys came back. We flew them to Bombay, and they turned out to be very sweet people to get associated with. They showed us a half-hour shot, and I felt it was very lovely, funny and simple. I didn’t want to get off the track and start casting names for this, we just decided that we will do it.
Being producers of the film, how much of your inputs go into the actual script of the film?
We are filmmakers, directors and creators. We are not typical producers. Praveen and others come to us because they are a strong creative team, and we get involved in every aspect of the film. We sat together in Bombay and broke out ideas on how we could add more depth, work on more ideas and so on. A new draft of the story was brought out, based on that. We asked a question on who is going to watch something that doesn’t have anybody in it, but we still decided to go ahead and take that risk. We had some ground rules of how everything should be rooted, and not made up. The first cut was really long, and then we got into the edit, and a little bit of the music too. But yes, there’s a difference between a typical producer getting involved and us getting involved. That could be labelled interference, we are more of collaborators.
This is not the first time you are producing a Telugu film, you have already done it with D for Dopidi in the past. What changes have you seen in this period of 8 years, leaving out the storylines of the film?
When you pick up Stree, there is a different process in there because it was our script and the rest are their films or our films totally. D for Dopidi was also a new age film, and got a good amount of reviews as well. But the liberation is more right now, because we did go through a lot of questions, a lot of other players in the game to get it released, and all that. This time, we limited all the players just to us – we decide how it's made, how we market, how we release and all that. It is a big risk, because we are making films and series, and suddenly one wrong move could affect us. It has happened in the past. So we just stuck to the core of the film, and took on the process on the whole. Thanks to the freedom in filmmaking that OTT brings, it is something that brings about a big change in the environment.
You have now worked in all the formats of entertainment ranging from films to series and even been a part of an anthology. Somewhere, have you found yourself a comfort zone?
Sure, yes. We kind of found our groove with OTT 3 years ago, when people still thought that it was a step down. But we didn’t even have a doubt when we were making a series. In fact, we were waiting for the guys at Amazon and Netflix to come to India. When you ask your friend for a recommendation, 9 out of 10 times, it is going to be a series. We prioritize our series over a feature film, saying that we could always come back to do the film.
Few episodes into The Family Man, one does get the feeling that it is going to be a very long story. So did you actually sketch the series as one that is going to fly into multiple seasons?
Some stories can be series. A lot of stories cannot be series. The central character or the premise needs to have an extendable quality to it. Stree cannot be a series, at the same time, The Family Man is the best example of a story that cannot be a film. The subject, the geopolitics, the theme, the central character and all of that – we have to create a world. Lot of mistakes are made and people tend to extend film stories into series, but we can confidently say that we can make five seasons of The Family Man. It is that kind of a setup.
With the second season of The Family Man, it looks like a decision to extend boundaries towards the south. You have picked a famous face in Samantha for the role, was it a conscious decision or was it the story that brought the actor on board?
It is always the story for us. It is the freedom that we have, to cast who we want for the story, and that’s most important. I have the luxury of setting my own story and my own world. It’s like playing a test match, I am going to settle down first and then start playing cover drives. We were aware that this has gone beyond Hindi, even before the dubs came into place. I met people in Tirupati who said that they saw Family Man and loved it. Also, you have to note that the first scene in it was in Malayalam. People were actually checking their remotes saying – WTF is this, am I watching a Hindi show? We loved this freedom that we had, and Amazon let us have it. So, we have nothing stopping us from extending our boundaries.
In the second season, the story moves towards regions where we wanted a Tamil actor. We were debating about a bunch of actors, and then Samantha’s one call did it for me. It is because of the extreme conviction that she had, she was the one who convinced me that she could pull it off. I was trying to ask her whether she could actually do it, but she was very sure about it. If the actor shows it, we better take it.
How different is your series with Shahid Kapoor, when compared to Family Man? How can we set our expectations for it?
Not limited to the actor per se, but this is one of our favourite scripts for sure. We wanted to make this for a while, it was supposed to be the second series after Family Man. It is a fun genre, totally our kind. We are barely into it, with about one-fourth being completed now.
We will now take some questions from the fans, who put forth these questions on Twitter.
Is there one genre that you would like to break in cinema?
Yes. In fact there are two. One is a completely indie film, where the total crew would be limited to about just 20 people, and wrap it up in four weeks – something exploratory. The other would be a different style of period cinema, where we would take the genre head on and avoid any kind of stereotypes associated with the genre.
What’s the update on the Russo Brothers project, Citadel?
It is still in the writing stages. They have their own structure, they are calling it a global event series.
Are you doing the film with Shah Rukh Khan?
Basically, it is in the status quo. We had met him with a story that he liked, but we have to wait for the call.
Do you have an idea for the cast of Go Goa Gone 2?
If we do Go Goa Gone 2, we will have the same cast. But the question is, are we doing it, or are we doing it? (laughs)
Does a project like Cinema Bandi have to wait for its reception, to make you develop more indie projects?
Not really. Even if a project like Cinema Bandi didn’t come out very well, I still have faith in storytellers and new stories. I would just be a little more cautious in approaching it.
Any new update on the Ashwalinga show for Amazon Prime?
We were in the middle of the shoot, but the lockdown has delayed things. We have to wait on it, just like the Shahid Kapoor series.
Are you really doing a project with Hrithik Roshan?
We are? I didn’t see anything like that, this is the first time we are hearing it. Maybe because we met him, and discussed a couple of ideas. We meet actors to discuss feature ideas and stuff, but there’s nothing more.
The second season of The Family Man is round the corner, so it might just be the right time for a re-watch. We at LetsOTT wish Raj and DK a solid success with the upcoming season as well, and hope that the show does go on for more and more. Looking forward to everything that is coming from their camp, hereon!