Sulemani Keeda is the kind of film I would love to watch with my friends – Datta Dave
They are the only talent management company that caters to screenwriters and now directors and producers as well. Tulsea Pictures represents not just renowned names but is also instrumental in introducing promising new talent to the industry.
Founded by Datta Dave and Chaitanya Hegde, the company has also forayed into film production and their film, Sulemani Keeda directed by Amit Masurkar will soon hit theaters.
Datta speaks to Pandolin about Tulsea, the association with Sulemani Keeda and their involvement in the film.
How did the idea of a talent management company for screenwriter’s germinate? Have you always had an association with cinema?
I was working with Shekhar Kapur as his Business Manager and my business partner, Chaitanya, was into advertising and radio. What bugged us was why there are so few Shekhar Kapur’s who are able to make it to the international arena. The notion was not that you have to go international; the notion was that the opportunity should exist. So we did some digging and realized that content is just undervalued. Stars are important to the system but they are overvalued. And in any industry or business it is important that everyone across the value chain be successful. It just doesn’t make sense that you have films making crores of money yet the writer or director is just making lakhs. That’s what let us to start this enterprise. We represented Akshat Verma who wrote Delhi Belly and that did very well. And it created a snowball effect for us being in the management business for content creators.
I’ve been a cinema and content lover forever. I grew up in States and we would have five Indian VHS tapes shipped to us every week and we enjoyed watching them. Also, before working with Shekhar Kapur I was into acting, so there was always an interest in the industry. But I have to admit, as an actor I never paid much attention to who directed or wrote the movie. But over the past 5-6 years, as a manager of content creators, you tend to look at things through a different lens.
Why did you’ll start off with screenwriters in particular?
We do represent directors as well. But we started out with writers because we realized that they were honestly not getting what they were entitled to. The most value needed to be unlocked there. We thought that we could help them pitch, think through their long-term carrier goals and negotiate their deals for them and in turn allow them to focus on what they do best, which is writing. From there on, directors, producers and studios started seeing the value created and started approaching us to represent them as well.
Tell us about your partnership with Chaitanya and how are your roles divided?
Chaitanya and I met through a mutual friend while Chaitanya was a radio producer at World Space. We then reconnected when both of us moved to Mumbai. Chaitanya is extremely strong from a creative perspective and has a very good eye for content. He is one of the few people who watches television, films etc., and watches it across all regions. We have a lot of people who want to do something in television here (in India) but don’t bother watching television. The reality is that if you are going to be in a business you need to consume the content of the business to understand what is going on.
I come from a management consulting and deal making side. Even though I was into acting and there was a creative side to me, which does help, overall Chaitanya is smart from the business perspective but is a little more creative while I have a creative sensibility but I’m a little more business. One of the things I’ve noticed in the industry is that there is a little too much focus on the business side. But we need to be around 51 per cent creative and 49 per cent business. If we are a little more creative in our sensibilities, the money will come. And a lot of projects just need that little bit of a creative or managerial courage.
What is the one thing that you as a company are constantly on the lookout for – in terms of talent?
We are on the lookout for so many things but I think that nothing beats meeting a great scriptwriter, one who is willing to develop content incessantly. In Hollywood you have writers who have written several scripts and no one has paid them to write. They’re just writing to hone their craft because they want a plethora of content to pitch around. For us it’s always finding those people who are interested in constantly honing their craft and not saying that they will write only if they are paid.
You’ll have some enviable names onboard your company. Does having renowned names help giving an impetus to newcomers as well?
We are very lucky to have names like Anjum Rajabali, Vikramaditya Motwane and others on board. It is easy for someone like Vikram to go direct a film or write one. But for us it’s more about how do you do a creative deal that people wouldn’t have thought of. With emerging talent, it’s about showing the industry, that here is a great storyteller or great director, that you wouldn’t have otherwise known and we have to find a way to get them their first opportunity. So what happens is that someone like a Vikram or Akshat or Anjum, are so supportive of our emerging talent that we are constantly finding ways to partner our upcoming talent with the established talent. They both complement each other.
You’ll have turned producers with Sulemani Keeda (SK). How did the association happen and why did you choose to back this film?
This was late 2011 and Delhi Belly had just released and there was a bit of a snowball effect that was created where people were interested in learning about Tulsea. Amit (Masurkar) had heard that we represented writing talent, so he came to us with a script and asked if we would be interested in representing him. So I read SK, loved it and told him that it was a great script and that we have to make this film somehow. Plus it didn’t seem like a film that will be very expensive to make. At that point we were relatively new in the business so we started taking it around to some of the studios and producers we knew, but no one was aligning with Amit’s vision. And we really tried because we wanted this film to be made. Then one evening Amit and I were sitting along with our other clients, Satyanshu and Devanshu Singh who made Tamaash (Also produced by Tulsea), and we were all talking about how making an indie film is more about having the spirit of making something like that even with a low budget and figuring it all. And something there seemed to have struck Amit.
Two weeks later, I was in LA and got a call from Amit in the middle of the night. He told me that he started shooting the film and also sent me a couple of scenes that he had shot. We loved them and decided to figure how to budget it since it was a great momentum and we wanted to keep it going. We could have thought, planned and done a lot of stuff, which is good for a project but we just went for it. At the end of it there was something about the spirit, it being the first film for Amit and us as well. And it was all so memorable.
Being producers, what is the kind of creative involvement that you’ll have had in this project? How would you describe your relationship with Amit Masurkar?
Between Chaitanya and I there has been a fair amount of creative involvement. For instance, one of the things, which is a minor thing, but whenever a film is shown abroad there are subtitles. I remember while growing up I learnt my Hindi through watching Hindi movies and comparing them with the subtitles and eventually realized that those subtitles were really bad. So when Amit started making the film I told him that I would subtitle it. So the subtitles for the international version is basically a completely different script and I’ve spent countless hours subtitling every word which Amit then approved. There was a 100 per cent involvement in terms of that international script that is in English. In terms of the musicians too, Chaitanya and I knew Arfaaz and Anurag. We were also looking for particular singers and that is how we got Pia Sukanya, Namit Das and Siddharth Basrur. Also Satyanshu and Devanshu (Tamaash fame) wrote the lyrics for this beautiful song called ‘Dooor’. So I think we have been a full studio in this process barring the distribution part, since we didn’t know how to distrubte a film. Overall it’s been a great experience.
Anytime you make a film, you’re bound to go through your ups and downs. But it’s been a blast for me getting to green light and make a film that I would watch, it’s like Thomas Tull who runs Legendary Pictures, he’s the guy behind Dark Knight and some other legendary films. He is a guy who read comic books while growing up and now gets to make those comic books into movies. So for me it’s super exciting to sign on clients who write the kind of script I like and then to be able to make it into a movie. SK is the kind of film I would love to watch with my friends.
How has the industry responded to this initiative (Tulsea Pictures)? Expansion plans?
Overall it’s been pretty good. Initially there was a bit of a resistance with people thinking, “I already know Akshat or Vikram, why shouldn’t I call them on my own?” Of course you can, you have your own relationships and we are not here to spoil that for anyone. All we are trying to do is make it easier for studios and producers to sift through talent. If someone tells us we are trying to make this kind of film, we know the kind of scripts and writers that are out there and we can actually help enable that. And in terms of our content creators we would work to match them to those opportunities. I think people now understand how it works, which is partly aided by the fact that we represent some great talent. So there are instances where people would like to work with someone, but that someone is booked for the next 2-3 years. Instead we tell them about an amazing new talent, a writer or director, who is really exciting and worth exploring.
Future plans – We are producing a film called Chintu ka birthday, written and directed by Satyansu and Devanshu. We also have a biopic on Ranji who the Ranji trophy is named after. It’s an English language film and we are trying to set that up as a co-production between India and UK, so we are looking for a UK partner. We have two or three other projects in various stages of development. We are willing to back our clients in whatever way, if we have the means to produce it, we will or the means to just do a deal, we are happy to do that too.
Sulemani Keeda produced by Datta Dave, Chaitanya Hegde for their banner Tulsea Pictures in association with Deepa Tracy, Sailesh Dave, Suresh Mhatre of Mantra/Runaway Entertainment hits theatres on 28th November 2014. The film is distributed by PVR Director’s Rare.