Ashvini Yardi _ Grazing Goat Pictures copy

Ashvini Yardi, co producer Grazing Goat Productions

‘I know Shah Rukh Khan longer than I know Akshay (Kumar),” says Ashvini Yardi, who along with Akshay Kumar, co-founded Grazing Goat productions. Yardi reveals she was very happy with her television career but wanted to try something different. “I wanted to start my own company. I had spoken to some friends in the industry. SRK gave me an idea to move to films. He felt I should stop doing television and questioned me how long could I keep working in the same format,” she says. SRK had told her: ‘It’s about time you did something different.’ That got Ashvini thinking and wanting to try her hand at something different. “I had been in TV for 20 years and I was feeling saturated. I had seen enough success. There was nothing more for me to achieve there. I could have stayed back and enjoyed the success or found a new challenge. I had discussed the idea of starting my own company with a couple of friends including Akshay,” she says.

After their first conversation, two months later Akshay called her to read Paresh Rawal’s script saying “this is your kind of film.” “Once we both felt it was a script we could explore and we finalised it, Paresh premiered the play in US. Akshay and my family saw the play as we had to decide if this was the script, we could start the operations of our production house with,” says Ashvini.

This also was an important decision as Ashvini would have to leave Colours, a channel she built from scratch when she was its first employee to making its TRPs bypass that of Star TV, the only leading entertainment channel then. Back then Ashvini was one of the top paid executives in television in the country. “We were all unanimous in our conviction in what we saw on stage. It sealed the deal. And thus began Akshay and my co production venture,” says Yardi. That Akshay gave her a freehand in choosing the films she wanted to make was cherry on top.

Since then Ashvini has produced OMG-Oh My God! (OMG), Marathi film 72 miles with a National Award winning director Rajiv Patil, a commercial Punjabi film and then Fugly (hindi) and next is the banner’s most expensive project so far Akshay Kumar starrer Singh is Bling.

“With every project, I am learning new things about film production. We started with OMG which was a touchy subject given the Indian context. My beliefs are the same as the ones you see in OMG. That’s why I felt the connect. I don’t go to temples and pray nor do I ask for things,” she says.

Fugly, her second Hindi production which starred newcomers and was made at a modest budget talks about “things that women face on everyday basis in India.” She says, “The film deals with eve teasing. We have broached the topic in a story that doesn’t preach but conveys the message in an entertaining format. As a producer, I learnt the most from the making and releasing of this film. We didn’t tie up with a studio for this one so we did film distribution, publicity and marketing of the film ourselves. For the next one, Singh is King we are trying out a different model. We are co producing the film with Jayantilal Gada of Pen Films.” Her production house has also tied up with Dharma Productions for a non masala South movie’s remake.

Ashvini says her appeal towards good scripts and concepts started way back in her first tryst as a content creator in Zee where she worked for 14 years. “I owe everything I know and have been doing today to Zee and my years there.” As a young graduate and a South Mumbai born and bred girl when Ashvini joined Zee, a Hindi entertainment channel, her parents thought she had gone “bonkers.” “I was all set to go abroad for studies after completing a course in advertising at Xavier Institute of Communications. But when I got an offer from Zee, I found it interesting and joined there. Later I met my husband there, so the idea of going abroad got shelved automatically.”

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Taking risk – a way of life.

“I think I have always been a risk taker. Everyone thinks joining Colours or leaving it were the only risks I took. But the biggest risk was to leave Zee after working and being happy there for 14 years,” says Ashvini. In her words, the move was a result of her conversation with Raghav Bahl about his dream for an entertainment channel with a difference and the freedom he gave her to choose everyone from the receptionist to the CEO of the channel she was going to be the first employee of, a channel that would complete a task she had taken up while at Zee – that of beating Star Plus. She took risks even as she was launching the channel. It began with a show on child marriage, a known and accepted tradition in smaller towns. She says, “Friends from the Industry warned me why I was doing something so ridiculous as child marriage. That people wouldn’t connect to this issue as it’s not a relevant topic for most people who haven’t experienced or seen it. My gut feeling said it would work. Till today it’s the number 1 show on Colours.” However back then, when the channel was being launched she was told to promote Fear Factor and Mohe Rang De instead of Balika Vadhu.

Work on instinct

“I go by instinct. If my gut tells me do it, I go ahead and do it. I need to see the challenge or find a ‘connect’. Six month prior to actually leaving Colours I had started thinking of taking the plunge,” she says. However she insists if she hadn’t seen the script of OMG, she wouldn’t have done so. “It was the script that propelled me to do it. I was enjoying my life at Colours was the top paid executives in the country. For Colours, the connection was Raghav, it was the conversation with him that made me think that there was a plan in his head and I think I can execute it. In Fugly’s case it was the script. I think that one thing propels you to take the step. I love risks…”

By Priyanka Jain