Our content is like fevicol, you watch it, you get glued to it: Ashish
When you visit the the Y Films website, its ‘About us’ section reads as, “A dynamic, vibrant start-up at the intersection of films, creativity and youth culture that hopes to challenge the norm and detonate boundaries. Giving the youth a creative outlet and voice that will entertain and unite on film and beyond”. We spoke candidly with the man at the helm of affairs, Ashish Patil, about how much of the definition holds true and what aspects of it have changed and evolved over the years.
Since the five years of its inception, Y films has produced only three films. Is slow and steady the mantra for the brand?
Haan yaar, koi race toh hai nahin (Yes, absolutely! There is no race as such). We have just finished our fourth film, it’s called Bank Chor. The intent is to do pretty much like a-film-a-year. A feature film has a much longer gestation period. Just to put things in perspective, AIB has a team of approximately 30 people. TVF has around 120 people working for them. (Smiles) I have a team of four people including me. I divide my time between four hats that I wear. I do Y Films feature, Y Films digital, Talent Management and brand partnerships.
So, a humble team runs this whole division. With the given resources whatever we churn out is pretty hectic. I am pretty much satisfied with what we are currently doing. We are in no rush to run a factory kind of an output of 37 films a year. Jo bhi banate hain, pyar se, khud se banaate hain (Whatever we make, we make with great love and passion and we make it ourselves). We are not in a game of acquiring content. Our involvement as creative producers is very high.
The brand has launched new faces with all its films. Is promoting fresh talent also a key part of the brand objective? However, isn’t it also a risky proposition?
Not just faces, but also people behind the scenes. In the last four films we have hired close to 40 fresh talents across all departments. It is a pilot testing ground for us. The talent gets absorbed in our other projects as well and they even get to work with YRF. We work with A-listers when it comes to hiring. For example Nupur Asthana who directed Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge directed Bewakoofiyaan. Ditto, Neha (Parti Matiyani) who shot it or Antara Lahiri who edited it. Or for that matter a composer like Raghu Dixit. So, it’s a variety of people doing a variety of things across our projects.
Talking about it being a risky proposition, on the contrary I see this as a safe option. They are not rookies or people who are just out of their schools. Yes, they may not have done independent feature films on their own but these are people who have proved their mettle in advertising and television or have assisted the biggies. Ashima Chibber who directed Mere Dad Ki Maruti and Ladies Room for us had assisted Imtiaz Ali, Shimit Amin, Ram Gopal Varma and Anurag Basu for Rockstar, Chak De, Ab Tak Chappan and Kites respectively. So, these are sorted people when it comes to their craft.
We are in no rush to run a factory kind of an output of 37 films a year
Looking at the producing ratio of theatrical releases to web content, Y Films still looks like a cyber division. What is the thought process behind it?
I don’t know why you feel that. Because the digital footprint started only nine months back. So, our primary play has been feature films. There are other people in the market who are hoping to forward-integrate. Their thought is, “hum log yaar web series banaate hain, ek din hum bade hoke picture banaenge” (Oh, we make web series right now, one fine day when we grow we will also make a feature). We are the ones who have backward-integrated. Our thought is, “Oh, films we already make. Let’s also backward integrate and do lots of interesting digital content.” Since, the T.A.T (Turn around time) of digital is much fast our output looks like a bombardment.
And, I keep stressing that we are just nine months old for the very fact that some of the fantastic content generation companies in digital space have been around for three years. Look at the quantum of content that we have produced. And look at the trend of content that the others in the digital space have generated. They are limited to making either non-fiction sketch comedies, spoofs, satires or fiction series which are humour. We have done short films, music videos and a band of transgenders. We have worked across genres, Romance – Love Shots, Comedy – Man’s World (Satire), Bang Baaja Baaraat as a Rom Com, Ladies Room which is like a chick-flick on steroids, to something new which is in the pipeline. It is a range of genres and range of formats which no one really has attempted with such a small team in such a limited amount of time. So, it’s certainly more than a cyber division.
Y Films’ web series, be it Bang Baaja Baaraat, Love Shots or Man’s World have carved a niche for themselves. But the web space is brimming with various content options. How does one break the clutter?
Uska jawaab jis din kisi ko bhi mil gaya na!!! (Laughs) Wo bohot paise banaega (The man who gets an answer to this question will be filthy rich). Wo main toh nahin hoon!! (But I am not that man).
So, I don’t know the answer. Honestly, that’s the trickiest question. With the quantum of content that is put up online globally, it becomes really difficult to crack that code. Every minute there’s one hundred hours of content uploaded. By the time we finish this interview we would have missed some two years of content. So, to cut through that clutter it really boils down to marketing budgets. Lots of people have that, we don’t! People come up with the argument that, “Oh, you are YRF, you mustn’t have any budget crunch.” Which we are not. We are just a start-up indie studio inside YRF. We are not putting hoardings across the country like a VOOT or a Hotstar. Like EROS we are not partnering with Salman Khan.
We are organically growing from the content that we are making. Eventually, it will be the content which will fire. We feel we have succeeded in this area. And the audience have connected with our content. Which is why it has grown, from a channel which was dormant nine months back and had 13K subscribers, and has pleasantly surprised us. I am saying dormant because these are people who forgot to unsubscribe. Our last film was three years back. We had put it on the YRF channel for its reach. So, it had been three years since we put anything new on the Y Films YouTube channel.
It is a film for us. It is produced with a cinematic vision
Again, I would like to compare it with people who have been in this business for the past three years. A year back they were sitting with a total of a million subscribers. When your base is so large, even if you sneeze in that space you get a large number of hits. But from a base of 13K, we have crossed 50 million views in that window. Clearly we are doing something right. Also, it is not just about the views as a lot of people are buying views. But the watch-time is also an important algorithmic measure. The world average of watch-time is 12 percent. If your videos are watched anything close to 50 percent it is considered a fantastic viewing. Our channel’s average is 65 percent. This means that we are among the stickiest channels that exists in the country. The watch-time of our individual shows like Bang Baaja Baaraat is between 86 to 94 percent. That is something unheard of. This means that our content is like Fevicol, once you are there, you get glued to it.
We also have some of the best looking content on the web. We believe that just because it is for YouTube, does not mean that we shoot it on a phone, edit it and upload. It is designed in the same way as our films. Looking at the trailer you should crave for the film’s release. It is a film for us. It is produced with a cinematic vision. It is not just me bragging about it. Look at the kind of recognition we have got internationally. We got the Webby, which is the Oscars of the Internet. Now most recently we won the Cannes Grand Prix Glass Lion for the 6 Pack Band. They (Cannes) give out a lot of Golds. But there is only one Glass which is given out in the world. That’s why it is much more prestigious. It’s like rarefied air. It’s the award that creative directors across the world and agencies, creative groups and marketing hubs aspire to get nominated for. And we have won it!
Would you like to explore more such music based initiatives?
We want to explore all kinds of things with everything. Not just music. We want to explore all kinds of stories, formats and genres. Which is what we are currently doing.
How do you choose the content to produce? Also, what is the process of selection of content and who are involved in it?
Any idea or story which we believe is fresh is welcome. Or maybe a story which can be told in a fresh manner. Like if you see the 6 Pack Band. It is a story which we have never heard. It is so left of centre. It’s ten steps left of centre! You get jitters and it tears you apart. When you first hear about a band of Hijras (Eunuchs), your first reaction is of disbelief. So, that gets me excited. Or a story like Love Shots that’s probably familiar but it’s been told in a manner which is fresh. Just look at the choice of love stories in Love Shots. Or a very fresh story of two girls in six bathrooms in Ladies Room.
As far as the selection team is concerned, it is this very team of three and a half people (Smiles). We sit and jam and brainstorm. We are most welcome to pitches. But the ideas that are clutter-breakers and high on concept are what excite us.
Going forward, what are the upcoming projects across films, Internet and music? Any other areas where you’ll have plans to progress?
There are two-three things in the pipeline which we are coming up with over the next few weeks. In films, we have Bank Chor, which will release by the end of this year.
As far as music goes, the Sultan anthem with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma and the 6 Pack Band is just out. It is a fitting finale to the band.
Next is the season finale of Ladies Room. It is our fastest growing series. It is flying like crazy. The first episode has already crossed a million views and the next three episodes are sitting at almost 800K. So, I am excited about its final one.
Let alone talking to parents, most kids discover sexuality through pornography. I feel it is tragic
After this there is Sex Chat with Pappu and Papa. This is something that I am thrilled about for a variety of reasons. At the heart of it, it’s a story of a father and son. Think about a beautiful father’s day montage – father and son playing football, walking up the beach, sitting on a bench and suddenly the son turns and asks, “Papa, Sex kya hota hai?” (Dad, what is sex?).
Every episode will deal with one theme of sex such as condoms, homosexuality, periods, masturbation, etc. This happens with a conversation in a very educational manner. It’s India’s first fictional series about sex. And why not, think about it, we are a country of Kamasutra and Khajuraho and sex is still a taboo. Let alone talking to parents, most kids discover sexuality through pornography. I feel it is tragic. We still read about stupid questions around sex in newspaper columns. Questions such as a fifty year old writing to Mumbai Mirror asking whether I will grow hair on my palm if I masturbate. It is ridiculous. Which is why we thought that this series was important. It is a well-researched series and we have consulted the best hormone experts and gynecologists. What we are doing here is pretty much what we did with the 6 Pack Band, which is that we haven’t tried to be preachy. Deliver the message with a lot of heart and a lot of humour and the job is done. This is my directorial debut. Fingers crossed!!!!