With the recently released Sarbjit, the brother – sister duo of Deepshikha Deshmukh and Jackky Bhagnani turned producers under the banner of Pooja films. The duo who started early by helping their father, noted producer Vashu Bhagnani, waited for the right script for their debut as producers. In an exclusive chat with Pandolin, Deepshikha talks to us about starting from the ground level, her learnings as a producer and how graduating from the ‘Institute of Vashu Bhagnani’ prepared them to do everything, no matter how big or small.

Deepshikha Bhagnani Deshmukh

Deepshikha Deshmukh

Tell us a bit about your background and how and when did you decided to turn producer.

My father has been in the film industry for the last 25 years. Ever since we were 18-19 years of age,  both Jackky and we were always involved in the back end of things. I was the executive producer on most of his films and then moved on to the role of an associate producer. We then started deciding on the kind of film that we’d want to debut with as producers. When Omung (Kumar, Director) brought us the script of Sarbjit, barely 40 pages into the script and I had tears in my eyes. And I knew that this is what I want to be my first film. It is also the first biopic that our company has made, and it seemed like an extremely relevant subject to make my debut as a producer.


Coming from a film family with noted producer Vashi Bhagnani as your dad, was it easy and natural to pursue production?

We always traveled with Papa and spent all our summer vacations on the sets of one film or the other as we had a film or two on the floor every year. More than it being a natural process, because of the time spent there, you understood what was required and how the process worked. So we actually started from the ground level. It is important to have a feel of it; you can’t suddenly turn producer. You need to know camera facing, you need to understand shot breakdown, because it is a team effort, you can’t sit in an office and say you will produce a film.

But I guess it was natural because we have seen Papa do this. I tell people that we have passed out of the ‘Institution of Vashu Bhagnani’. He never believed that any work was big or small, if there was a requirement, he would do it himself, he wouldn’t need an assistant to delegate that work to.That is a very important lesson and the reason why we have come this far as a company.

Apart from this hands on training, what else have you studied?

I studied Business Economics followed by Entrepreneurship and Marketing from London School of Economics. Marketing has been Papa’s forte. A director will make the film and give it to you, but how you project the film, how you target it to the audience and be true to them so that they get exactly what is promoted, is the job of the producer. That’s when you build a loyalty, and that’s what my father always taught us – Sell what you have –  good, bad, ugly. And I think now the audience understands that when a trailer comes out, that  is exactly what they are going to get.


There were several producers on board Sarbjit. What motivated you to be a part of it?

The film was brought to us by Omung and Sandeep (Singh, Creative Director) of Legend Studios. After reviewing the film, it was the story that compelled us to be a part of it. Because Omung and his wife Vanita are so good at creating sets, that was best left to them and the marketing, promoting and packaging was left to us. A month down the line T-series joined us and they have their own plus points, they brought many things to the table like the music, their hold over radio stations and so on. So it was a combined effort of all the three production companies. And I know that people think that they are so many names, but each one has benefited and played their role towards the film. That’s what is important, to take the film forward and it only got better with each producer on board.

Randeep Hooda in a still from Sarbjit

Randeep Hooda in a still from Sarbjit

Was there any advice that Mr.Bhagnani gave you’ll for Sarbjit?

My father always says that you should be true to the audience, be true to yourself, be true to your work. Be honest and give it your 100% and success will always follow.

As producers how were Jackky and you involved in the film? Were you‘ll involved in the creative process as well?

When the script came to us, it was a completely bound script as Omung had worked on it for over a year and a half. So it was ready to go but they were looking for a finance person to back the film, and that’s when Papa and we decided to back them. And backing a film is the best thing that a producer can do, because otherwise the film can’t start. That’s the reason the film didn’t start earlier because they were waiting for that one producer and I am glad that we believed in their product. It is such an amazing story that we were compelled to do so.

We’ve also distributed the film which involves making sure that we get the right number of screens, the film reaches the right audience, which centers is it shown in, marketed in and so on. Marketing for this (film) couldn’t be about dancing around the mall, which is what we generally do. With this film we had to be very strategic as to what we are putting out as it is a tribute to Sarabjit, a tribute to someone who lost his life because of certain unfortunate circumstances. Also Dalbir Kaur ji is still present, so we had to be sure that we portray them in the correct light, even while marketing. Though the film is made by the director, but the pitch has to be correct through the messages that we send through the promotions.


What kind of marketing did you’ll finally do for this film?

Firstly, since it is a biopic, you have to promote it as one. Secondly, it’s about the human connect which goes much beyond borders. So it was very important to bring the message of ‘hope’ across. We did a lot of interviews and debates on news channels like Aaj Tak and India TV. We were focused on getting the facts across, which we did through our digital promotions. Till you don’t know a character you can’t understand his or her story. So it was important to prepare people about Sarabjit’s story and what the film was all about.

What was Sarabjit’s sister, Dalbit Kaur’s reaction to the film?

The biggest moment of pride was when, at the premier in Mumbai, she met all of us and looked at Aishwarya (Rai Bachchan) and burst into tears. We are responsible for these peoples lives as we are portraying it on the big screen and that was a moment of satisfaction for all of us. We knew that we stuck to the facts, didn’t take any cinematic liberties except for when we added songs at the happy moments in their lives. We added songs only to convey the emotion.


(L-R) Omung Kumar, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Jaccky Bhagnani, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Richa Chadha and Bhushan Kumar

(L-R) Omung Kumar, Deepshikha Deshmukh, Jaccky Bhagnani, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Richa Chadha and Bhushan Kumar at Cannes

How was it collaborating with Jackky for this film?

It was amazing. This was a brother – sister story and that is one of the reasons why both of us came on board as producers. Only a sibling can understand what the other will do for them. Dalbir ji is selfless and she has given up her entire life for her brother. Though nothing like that has happened in our lives, but a sibling knows how far they will go for their sibling. These are the people you grow up with and the people you spend the maximum amount of your life with. It was amazing working with Jackky as he has a fantastic business acumen. Most of the business decisions that are taken in the company always come from him.

Being your debut, what were the learnings and challenges on this project?

I don’t think there were any challenges per say, but like I said it was most important to pitch the film correctly. You are always nervous with your first project, even though you have done a lot before, but we were confident about the product.


How was the reception to the film at Cannes and are you happy with the way it’s being received in our country post release?

We have received so many accolades. I have had people who have not called me up in years, calling and telling me that they cried after watching the film. We have also got a lot of critical acclaim baring a few, but most of them have really appreciated it. Cannes was brilliant. It was my first time on the red carpet, and thanks to Aishwarya, we got a fantastic response. A lot of people don’t even get a moment on the carpet, but we got so much respect and love for Sarbjit. It was great to receive such importance for an Indian film. It was a moment of pride.

According to you what are the points that one has to keep in mind while turning producer?

There are actually a million points. It’s not just about how you distribute the film or how you make it, it’s also about the finances, making sure the film is completed on time and in the right budget and even marketing. There are so many aspects to marketing as well, that it’s actually quite a task. One has to have a 360 vision and be ready to do everything. It is your film and therefore your baby. A producer has to ensure that the film reaches the right audience.

What kind of films do you wish to produce in the future?

I don’t want to typecast myself right now. I believe in more relevant and real cinema. The audience is changing and people want to get acquainted with more real cinema. I have a couple of things but they are all from different genres. There are some interesting projects coming up but I can’t say anything right now. Once things are put together you’ll will hear about it very soon.