Among all the present and past studios of Bollywood, Viacom18 Studios stands out. Since its inception in 2011, it has backed some of the most memorable and significant films like Tanu Weds Manu (2011), Pyaar Ka Punchnama (2011), Gangs Of Wasseypur (2012), OMG Oh My God (2012), Special 26 (2013), Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013), Madras Café (2013), Queen (2014), Mary Kom (2014), Margarita With A Straw (2015), Gabbar Is Back (2015), Drishyam (2015), Manjhi – The Mountain Man (2015), Toilet – Ek Prem Katha (2017), Padmaavat (2018), Manto (2018), Andhadhun (2018), etc. If that’s not enough, it has also left a mark in regional cinema and in the web series space.
And the future looks brighter for this studio as it is a part of Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha and Hrithik Roshan-Deepika Padukone starrer Fighter. Recently, Viacom18 was also in the news for striking a multi-film deal with Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions.
Bollywood Hungama decided to interview Viacom18 COO and Ajit Andhare and ask him about his journey and a lot more. In the first part of our exclusive story, Viacom18's man-in-charge looks back at the first decade of Viacom18 Studios and shares interesting details about Laal Singh Chaddha.
The title card of Viacom18 Studios gives me goose bumps every time. It gives a glimpse of some of the films made by Viacom18 since its inception in 2011 and it makes you realize that several path-breaking films have come out from this studio. Could you tell us about Viacom18’s 10-year journey?
I am glad that you mentioned the title card of Viacom18. It also has the tagline that says ‘Redefining Indian cinema’. We have taken a rather tall task of saying that. I mean, you should keep your standards high, isn’t it (smiles)? So we are trying to live up to that.
For a country as diverse as India, our cinema was a little more simplistic and kind of one-size-fits-all. That has changed now and it started largely with the advent of the multiplexes. Post-liberalisation, our society became more equitable and we saw women making massive strides. We were able to capture this social trend in some of our women-centric cinema like Tanu Weds Manu, Kahaani, Queen, Margarita With A Straw etc. That’s the reason why these stories have touched a chord. Even Toilet – Ek Prem Katha did that. As a nation, we were trying to face the sad truth that our sanitation is not that great. And a film need not be inspirational or moralistic every time. Look at Andhadhun.
There have been other challenges. We had a trial-by-fire with Padmaavat but we pulled through it and ultimately, we had a good outcome.
When we started, there were studios like Disney, Fox, Eros and UTV. All of them have folded up. We have managed to survive and keep our flag flying! I am happy about the way things have shaped up. Moreover, we have been able to work with established people like Aamir Khan, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Vishal Bhardwaj, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra etc, build a creative rapport with them and at the same time, give voice to younger filmmakers like Vikas Bahl, Umesh Shukla, etc.; that’s also been fuel for our success. And yes, we have won 6 National Awards in 8 years; it’s almost sounding like I am blowing my own trumpet!
So in our ten-year journey, we have been able to make the kind of cinema that drives us, our cinema got recognized both in terms of commercial success and critical acclaim and thirdly, we managed to make some sort of impact that Indian cinema stands for. Hence, that has fairly been a rewarding journey and it continues.
Besides making films, Viacom18 Studios has also dabbled into web series space with Tipping Point and have come up with shows like Jamtara, Taj Mahal 1989, She and Ray. How has been that journey?
We have come across a lot of stories that we were not able to make films on. This is because films require a certain kind of mounting and casting constraints. We need to tell our stories in 2 ½ hours. Hence, one is required to follow a screenplay structure. That’s the reason behind starting Tipping Point. Moreover, the series format frees you up from the theatrical pressures and the pressures of casting. It allows you to involve a lot of young talent. And thankfully, it was well-timed with the growth of the OTT movement in India. We were able to quickly build a portfolio within Tipping Point. Most of these series are going on to their subsequent seasons.
Laal Singh Chaddha will be Viacom18’s immediate release, on February 11, 2022. There’s tremendous buzz around the film due to the concept and Aamir Khan’s presence as the lead actor and co-producer. How excited are you about this film and how was the experience in securing the remake rights of Forrest Gump (1994)?
Laal Singh Chaddha is a win for us at several levels. We have always distributed the Hollywood slate of Paramount. With this film, we have also taken a marquee IP of Paramount’s crown jewel out of their catalogue. That itself is a major win. I went and met Jim Gianopulos (CEO, Paramount Pictures) and thankfully, he had exposure and awareness about India. He understood what this film could be with Aamir Khan leading the titular role which Tom Hanks played in the original version. It was Jim who convinced director Robert Zemeckis to give us the rights. I was also aware for a long time that Aamir wants to remake Forrest Gump. So that also helped. Also, Atul Kulkarni did a fantastic job with the adapted screenplay. It’s a tough film. It’s an allegorical tale and the script needed to be localized. And Atul excelled in doing so.
How has been the experience working with Aamir Khan?
It has been a memorable experience. It’s reassuring that some of our ways of working are strikingly similar to his process. For instance, he’s also a huge believer in scripts. I have heard often from certain people that they prefer going to the set, that the set talks to them, and that they’ll decide how they’ll take the shot while on the set and so on! I am much happier with Aamir’s model of having everything well-planned. He does table-reading. It gives you confidence and brings a lot of integrity to the filmmaking process. Also, his approach in making music is great and we had some wonderful sittings with Pritam and Amitabh Bhattacharya. It was great to see his judgment in music. He’s actually involved in every department, including costume! So I feel that I have gone to the University Of Aamir Khan and have graduated from there! Hence, I have enjoyed every minute of working on Laal Singh Chaddha.
We had a lot of challenges. There are several locations in the film. We were planning to shoot in Ladakh but we couldn’t initially due to the China situation. The Covid-19 pandemic also stalled the shoot. But we finally managed to wrap the shoot and now we are raring to go and release the film!
Aamir Khan is known to break box office records. One of his last films, Dangal (2016), collected Rs. 387.38 crore. No Hindi film has been able to go past this number. Now that cinemas have opened in Maharashtra and the situation would be much more normal by the time Laal Singh Chaddha releases, do you expect that it’ll break the record of Dangal?
At the moment, we are focused on making the best possible film. Whether the recovery from the theatrical space will exceed the economics of the film is a question that will be answered in a few months as audiences return to theatres, starting with Sooryavanshi. Many things are up in the air. My understanding is that the demand for content is very strong. The audiences are absolutely keen on having a theatrical experience. We have had a lot of consumption on the small screen to the extent that people are now clearly seeing a gap between a big screen experience vs a small screen experience. So sentiment-wise, I don’t have any doubt. Now, logistically, we don’t know what the situation would be then. We all have been talking about the third wave. Thankfully, things are much better and vaccination has crossed the billion mark. These are positive factors and February is still a few months away. Closer to the release, we’ll be in a better space to discuss box office.
To Be Continued
More Pages: Laal Singh Chaddha Box Office Collection
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