The real angel investors

For only his second film, the buzz and the anticipation that the teasers and the trailers of Vikramaditya Motwane’s Lootera are creating is fascinating. If YouTube views are a yardstick to go by, and they seem to be an indicator of popularity nowadays, the number of eyeballs the trailer has got is more than half of what the trailer of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani has. The latter is also a sophomore effort, director Ayan Mukerji having made his debut with the successful Wake up Sid, but the fact that its leads are Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone and it is a Karan Johar production, kind of guarantees the response it has got.

In contrast, Lootera has Ranveer Singh and Sonakshi Sinha who have done little of note since their impressive debuts to warrant their “almost best thing since sliced bread” reputations. Also, Motwane’s debut Udaan wasn’t exactly what you would slot as mainstream Hindi Cinema and so the eagerness for his next film is indicative of audience’s faith in the director’s abilities. Given that Udaan did not have the commercial elements that producers tend to punt on, Lootera being a big budget period romance financed by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms is an encouraging sign. It is not very different from a startup with moderate success making it big in the first round of funding. It might be premature to uncork the champagne but the fact that producers are willing to back films almost purely on the director’s calibre and a reputation that is built on debut films is slowly becoming a norm.

A friend of mine looking for VC funding for his startup mentioned meeting an investor sitting on loads of money who told him that making money was secondary to supporting a path breaking, innovative idea that really changes the game.  While it would be foolish for investors and producers to base their decisions on goodwill and good-naturedness, the fact that many of them believe that a game changing idea, not necessarily risk-free from a commercial standpoint, irrespective of whether it will succeed or not, deserves a chance is commendable.

This trend seems to be more apparent in the Tamil film industry although the productions are definitely on a much lower budget. At least three contestants from the show Naalaya Iyakkunar(Tomorrow’s Director)  on Kalaignar TV,  have managed to make their film debuts and very successful ones at that. Balaji Mohan’s Kadhalil Sodhapuvadhu Eppadi, which is an extension of a short film he made in the show, was co-produced by actor Siddharth who also starred in it and it went on to become a super-hit. Karthik Subburaj’s Pizza which does a fantastic twist on the horror genre and Nalan Kumarasamy’s Soodhu Kavvum, a crime comedy, both of which have the same producers, have been extremely successful.  The latter is my personal favorite among the three and creates an impact purely on some excellent characterisation and extremely funny lines. A wacko, principled kidnapper who operates by a fixed set of rules, a psycho cop who doesn’t speak a word, an honest politician who is supposedly the last of his kind, his son who is diametrically opposite to him, a set of unemployed youth, the kidnapper’s muse who is exactly just that and a botched kidnapping make up for a fun ride.

Banking on the unknown

What is significant about these movies is that they have flipped the convention that popular directors, star power and big budgets are some of the essentials needed to succeed in the box-office. Instead, these films have relied entirely on the strengths of the story, screenplay, perfect casting, great acting and technical brilliance to do well. It is very hard to tell that these films are works of debutants and the way they have been extensively promoted and marketed on television, radio and the Internet makes it even harder to believe.  

There is a definite change in audience perception and movies with great stories, regardless of commercial elements are being received positively, which producers are looking to capitalise on. The question that interests me is how much of the fact that they are promoting good cinema is a factor in their decisions. Is it too idealistic to believe that they even think about such a thing? Do they see it as an opportunity to give a break to struggling talents with great potential? Or do they just view the low budget films with a relatively unknown but competent cast and crew as a high risk, high return investment? Soodhu Kavvum with some of its no-compromise decisions which would have traditionally been viewed as risky from an investment perspective in the film industry makes me believe in this romantic notion that money-making is not the only driving force for these producers. Firstly, the film carries a UA certification putting it in the 30 percent tax slab, when with some cuts it could have been tax-free(because of a Tamilnadu government sop to U rated movies with Tamil titles). The chief protagonists are people who live a life of crime and there is no redemption, remorse or repent. The music, which is trippy, oddball and perfectly in sync with the mood of the movie, is anything but conventional.  The romantic angle is practically absent, the sole song involving the lead couple plays out in the most absurd of situations and most importantly the heroine’s very existence is questionable. 

A friend of mine looking for VC funding for his startup mentioned meeting an investor sitting on loads of money who told him that making money was secondary to supporting a path breaking, innovative idea that really changes the game.  While it would be foolish for investors and producers to base their decisions on goodwill and good-naturedness, the fact that many of them believe that a good idea, not necessarily risk-free from a commercial standpoint, irrespective of whether it will succeed or not, deserves a chance is commendable. Maybe that truly is the angel in the investor.