After having made a mark in Television production, Sailesh Dave of Runaway Productions has now ventured into film production with Sulemani Keeda under the banner of Mantra/Runaway Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. Sailesh talks about his film company and his association with Amit Masurkar’s soon-to-release film.

Sailesh Dave

Sailesh Dave

Tell us about Mantra/Runaway Entertainment. How is it different from your company, Runaway Productions?

Sulemani Keeda is produced by Mantra/Runaway Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, which is made up by two companies. The first is Runaway Productions Pvt. Ltd, which is my original television production house that has been making TV shows for more than 15 years. The other company is Mantra Exports Pvt. Ltd that has provided the financial backing for us to become a film company. About a year ago we had investors coming to us and asking if we wanted to do something else. And I wanted to be in the feature film business as a natural expansion of the television business. So we joined hands with Mantra and they will be financing all the films that we are making.

Though you’ll have been active in Television, why have you’ll taken it slow with films having done just a spoof comedy ‘Ghoom’ and some TV films in the past?

I think we were looking at the right opportunity and enough financing. When we got somebody who was willing to back us without any questions and allowed us to make our own business plan, we went for it. Amit Masurkar has been a friend of mine for a long time and used to be a writer on the ‘The Great Indian Comedy Show’ that I did. When he came to me with this film, which at that time wasn’t complete and needed financing, we had started the film company and had funds too. So we agreed to give him the funds to finish the film and also decided to take over the marketing. Besides being producing partners, our company is also funding the entire publicity, print and advertising campaign of the film.

What factors do you consider in a project before backing it?

I think there is one thing that people don’t seem to give enough attention to as far as films are concerned, which is that a film business at the end of the day, besides your passion and creative leaning, is a business. We have three projects in the pipeline, which will most likely go on floors next year. One is a teenage sex comedy, one is a horror film and one is a Marathi film on a social cause. The factors we consider are – how much is a film going to cost to make, what kind of money are we going to recover and is this the kind of film that we want to be known for.

I’m always looking for quirky subjects, interesting directors and their scripts, projects that I see potential in. A film that is reasonably decent, reasonably entertaining and made at a very low cost or very reasonable cost is very likely to recover its money.

What was it about Sulemani Keeda that drew you on board as associate producer? How have you incorporated your experience and expertise to it?

Sulemani Keeda is a very unusual film, in that it is entertaining. The moment you say festival film, people assume that it is about an issue. It’s not. Sulemani Keeda is as commercial a film can get minus any big stars. People will laugh at the funny lines and this has been my experience, seeing it with audiences all over the world. I know there is universality where entertainment is concerned. I’d like to believe that an entertaining film that is made well is likely to catch on.

This film is completely Amit’s vision, his script, his direction. Even if we had come on this project a little earlier, I don’t think I would have given him any suggestions at all because that respect has to be maintained. I come from a television background, where most of the shows I’ve made have been created by me. I’m involved in the creative process of a television show almost completely. In films it’s different so I normally limit myself to being a producer. I see my role as someone who facilitates the entire model in such a way that the ecosystem allows a good film to be made.

A still from Sulemani Keeda

A still from Sulemani Keeda

What is the marketing and publicity plan charted for the film?

The theatrical release in India is a very tricky thing. Before we decided to release this film on our own, we met a lot of distributors. But there seems to be a particular mental block in the industry in general, which says that unless you spend five crores on a film, your film will not get any traction and nobody will come to see it. From a simple economic point of view, it doesn’t make sense spend five crore in publicizing a film that was made for one crore. It only adds on to the cost of the film.

So we decided to strike a path of our own, releasing the film in only four centres – Mumbai, Delhi, Pune , Bangalore and initially in only 25 screens. So because your geography is very limited, your advertising spends can also be limited. I’d rather go to a smaller number of centres but deeper. So even if the film works and we want to increase the total number of screens to 100, I may still not increase the total number of centres drastically, from say 4 to 20, but instead go from 4 to 6 centres in order to be efficient about the advertising expense.

How would you describe director Amit Masurkar and how was it working with him?

Amit and I have the best of relationships ever since he worked as a writer on ‘The Great Indian Comedy Show’, a comedy show that I used to make. We didn’t work with each other for a very long time but I always kept in touch with him. I always knew what he was doing and also knew when he was making this film, which took him almost two years to make. And I was constantly in touch with him asking him questions about the film. At that time we did not have an interest in the film nor did we have a film company. But things just happened.

The film has been well received across festival forums. What are your expectations from the theatrical release?

The promo has already crossed one lakh organic views on YouTube. Hopefully by the time the film is released we would have crossed far more. This is a film that doesn’t have the support of television publicity, media net or interviews that have been paid for because we don’t have the money. The entire focus on doing this would be through social media. Fortunately for us it is also the kind of film, which is very social media friendly and that’s why we have an online partner like the According to me people who subscribe to videos of Viral Fever or AIB (All India Bakchod) are the classic audience who would love this film. Three things need to work for us; firstly enough number of people need to know about the film. Secondly the reviews have to be good which I’m sure they will be, and third we also have very good music, which will get traction too.

You are responsible for path breaking shows like ‘Movers & Shakers’ and several others. How would you describe the current scenario of TV in India?

To my dismay it hasn’t changed. Probably that’s also one of the reasons why I’m not pitching anything. The kind of stuff that seems to be working is not the stuff I want to do. And I don’t know when the television business here would be ready for the kind of shows I want to do. But next year I will be creating 3 -4 concepts, that will be unusual ideas and I’m hoping to pitch them and somebody will give us a chance.

Shows like ‘Yudh’ and ’24’ have been well received. Do you think we need more such shows since they are being well received by audiences?

’24’ cost a lot of money and it is not an original Indian show. Channels may have suddenly felt that you can spend 40-50 lakhs on an episode and make a really fantastic show even if it doesn’t give you ratings or doesn’t make any money, but the channel gets some amount of cache for creating and running a show like that. I think there are some attempts being made like ‘Everest’ and so on. I’m just waiting to see how these shows are received. The other problem is that it is easy to say that we want to create unusual television but to sustain and make sure that you create a show that people will watch week in and week out, I don’t think we have that kind of talent. Writing a one-hour drama is a completely different concept all together. Even the best of screenplay writers may not necessarily pull off a one-hour drama.

Tell us about your future plans.

We plan to expand into the distribution of films purely to be able to distribute independent cinema. A lot of the films of the caliber of Sulemani Keeda and in that budget range find it difficult to get takers for theatrical distribution. If we are able to crack this, whether we make money or not, we will at least release the film and people can watch it. I think the whole viewing and distribution game is changing completely and we need to get into that bandwagon.