With the year coming to an end, it’s important to reflect on how difficult it’s been for the entertainment industries around the world. As such, Saregama’s film component Yoodlee Films seems to be going from strength to strength. It’s about to mark its fifth year as a venture and is about to step into the digital world with its first web-series.
BizAsiaLive.com talked to Saregama’s Vice President Siddharth Anand Kumar to talk about the year gone by and what’s to come.
Yoodlee Films is about to enter it’s fifth year and it’s really making waves. How did you conceptualise the kinds of films it would produce/support and do you think it’s achieving the aim four years in?
Ever since our initiation, we were very clear that all of our films will touch upon relevant issues at the heart of the storyline. We want to make films that leave a lasting impact with the audience and spark meaningful conversations and ultimately lead towards a change in the times. I feel immense pride in saying that our films till date have carried an underlying social message be it racism through Axone, caste discrimination through 200:Hallo Ho, rape and punishment through Ajji , political and social strife in Kashmir through Hamid – we have covered it all. We want to continue to make impactful cinema and tell the uncomfortable truth, fearless is not just an adjective for us at Yoodlee Films which we use loosely, it’s our essential approach to filmmaking. While we are now foraying into a multitude of languages and content formats, having social issues at the bedrock of everything that comes out of the house of Yoodlee Films will continue to remain non-negotiable. We have reveled in creating engaging narratives that don’t toe the conventional line and this will continue to be a norm going forward.
Yoodlee Films is about to enter the digital space, bringing it right up to date with what audiences are consuming at the moment. Can you give a hint of the first project with Suniel Shetty and what it’ll be offering going forward?
Our first ever web series is a noir action thriller titled, ‘Invisible Woman’ and we couldn’t have asked for a better partner than Suniel Shetty to headline it. The entire concept of web series and binge watching skyrocketed post the pandemic induced lockdown and hence, we thought the time was now ripe to enter into the world of web series – something which we have been itching to get into since the past few years. We were waiting for the right project to come our way. With Invisible Woman, I think we have struck a casting coup with the indefatigable Suniel Shetty and Esha Gupta starring in lead roles with Rajesh Selva directing the series.
There have been some interesting films from Yoodlee in the last year, which has been a tough one for the world but also in terms of entertainment world and filmmaking. What have been Yoodlee’s priorities during this time and what was the hope of what could be delivered?
Ever since the pandemic hit, our social media feeds have been filled with all sorts of doom and gloom. History suggests that even in the darkest of times, people have often relied on entertainment for refuge and escape from reality. With this insight in mind and a host of strict Covid protocols in place, we made 4 films amidst the pandemic – Comedy Couple, Collar Bomb, 200: Halla Ho and Zombivli. While the first three films have had a direct to OTT release and have been the subject of rave reviews from the audiences and critics alike, Zombivli was always meant to be a theatrical release and hence, we waited for better times and the opening up of cinemas to release the film. Happy to share that Zombivli which is Marathi cinema’s first zombie horror comedy is all set to hit the cinemas on 4th February, 2022.
Our priorities during the pandemic have been to bring wholesome entertainment at the nearest screen available while ensuring our team’s health and safety.
When shooting for films has been continuing for Yoodlee projects, what have been the things that have made sure there was smooth-running and also appropriate protection for all those in the film crews?
All the films which we have shot amidst the pandemic have followed strict COVID safety protocols. There was no relaxation at all when it came to enforcing the protocols even if it led to cost escalations. We shot for Collar Bomb with a skeletal crew with the entire cast and crew being in a bio bubble during the shoot of the film. Apart from this, we conducted regular screenings and testing and also had a dedicated Covid officer on set at all times who was tasked with ensuring the implementation of the protocols. Such measures helped us in creating a safe environment throughout the duration of the shoot.
How do you see the industry and entertainment world going forward in the times ahead? What are Yoodlee’s plans in this area, as the world navigates with Covid?
We are betting big on regional cinema as we strongly believe that the next wave of content consumption will come from the regional pockets of the country. Currently, we are making two Punjabi films with leading names as director and actors, a Malayalam film – ‘Padavettu’ with Nivin Pauly and Zombivli, a Marathi film has already been lined up for release in theatres on 4th February 2022. We are working on some more interesting regional projects, details of which will be revealed at the appropriate time. India is a diverse country with a cosmos of languages and cultures and we want to make cinema in as many languages as possible and capitalise on this burgeoning newer set of audience.
What unique offering is Yoodlee able to propose as cinemas are now also open and the focus has shifted back towards big screens a little?
As mentioned earlier, our upcoming film, Zombivli will be a theatrical release and it seems like we have waited an eternity for the film to release in cinemas. In terms of unique offerings, Zombivli is Marathi cinema’s first zombie horror comedy and we have received a tremendous response on the film’s teaser and song, ‘Angaat Aalaya’. Given the fact that such an experiment has never happened before in Marathi cinema, audience expectations of the film are sky high and I am sure Zombivli will end up becoming a clutter breaking movie. The film has been made in such a way that it is best enjoyed on the Big Screen given the larger than life VFX and SFX.
In the post pandemic era, getting the audience back to cinemas is going to be tough given the ever looming threat of new variants of COVID. Films opting for a theatrical release ought to promise larger than life entertainment – something which is not possible within the confines of one’s home, in order to be a success at the Box Office. As cinemas reopen, you will see big ticket event films with a healthy infusion of an underlying social cause from the house of Yoodlee.
In your almost two-decade career within the industry, what do you personally see as the challenges of the upcoming few years in terms of consumption and challenges?
Uncertainty will be the biggest impediment hampering the industry’s progress. Hardly anyone had predicted at the start of the pandemic that the COVID will stay with us for two years after the first case was reported. Even now, the Omicron variant of the virus is wreaking havoc in the West. God forbid, if another wave of Covid were to hit India, a lot of movies will yet again opt for a direct to digital release with big ticket event films taking a backseat if the cinemas are closed yet again. Unfortunately, the industry and COVID are in complete correlation and as long as we don’t reach the endemic stage, COVID will continue to pose a formidable challenge.
The consumption patterns have now heavily skewed towards digital thanks to the data boom and the pandemic and this will not change significantly even after the virus is long gone and hence, it becomes imperative to bring entertainment to the audience at a mode and screen of their choice.
If you could’ve changed something during the pandemic that the industry had no choice but to embrace, what would it be (in hindsight)?
Call me old school, but I absolutely love watching movies in cinemas which is the most conventional form of consuming movies. The feeling of watching a much awaited film on the first weekend in theaters is unparalleled. While I absolutely understand why the cinemas were shut at the peak of the pandemic, I really wish things hadn’t come down to such a level that multiplexes and theaters had to shut shops for a sustained period of time.
BizAsia thanks Siddharth Anand Kumar for taking the time to talk to us.