Founded by the legendary K. Balachander, 37-year old Kavithalayaa Productions is a name to reckon with in the field of cinema. Not only has it produced more than 58 films across various genres, it has also introduced superstars like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan and has had prominent presence on both big and the small screens. Keeping pace with the times, it is also reinventing itself to stay relevant in the digital realm and has recently released ‘Harmony with AR Rahman’ on Prime Video.
Have you recently browsed the Amazon’s Prime Video? If you did, trailers of “Harmony with A R Rahman” would have surely caught your attention. This show, which explores India’s musical heritage, has A R Rahman playing host for the first time and is already popular on this platform. Brought to you from the stables of Kavithalayaa Productions, this show marks its entry into the digital medium.
Founded by the legendary movie maker, K. Balachander (KB) in 1981, Kavithalayaa Productions, a film production and distribution company, has produced over 58 movies in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, with almost 45 plus films in Tamil alone.
KB, as he is popularly known, also became an icon in the country, particularly in south India, for the subjects he addressed through his movies. A Padma Shri and Dadasaheb Phalke award winner, his belief in women’s empowerment and a novel way of depicting the same made his movies impactful.
Right from the beginning, Kavithalayaa’s philosophy was to encourage talent and it provided opportunities to many aspiring young directors who worked under K.B. “We are considered an institution or a training ground for artists, film makers, creative writers and more. People come to Kavithalayaa, hone their skills and become a brand,” shares Kandaswamy Bharathan, Executive Director. He and his wife, Pushpa Kandaswamy (KB’s daughter) are leading the production house now with an aim of taking KB’s legacy forward. But they did take it slow for the last few years as they were researching their options. They have now come back with a bang by entering the digital medium through Harmony.
Bharathan also has another side to him, that of a teacher. Ten years ago, he designed the first course on the Business of Entertainment. He is a professor at many business schools including IIM-A and ISB. Just as much as he loves to teach, he is gung-ho about Kavithalayaa’s transition into the digital screen and talks in detail about going digital and its plans going forward.
(In first person)
Moving into the Digital Realm
In 2012, when K.B. was alive, he would say that the next big wave is the digital medium, particularly the mobile screen with no appointed viewing time. He wanted Kavithalayaa to transition to the ‘any time, any where’ style of content. He would urge us to give equal importance to all formats of film making – not just the big screen. However, many artists are reluctant to adapt to this format and we hope to be the ones ushering in this change. With this thinking, we have made a more concerted entry into the digital entertainment space.
Effectively, I see Kavithalayaa as a preferred content partner five years from now for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Reliance Jio and anyone who believes in good content.
Taking the non-fiction route
While we decided to enter digital content, the bigger decision was to take the non-fiction route as fiction is something we have been doing all our lives. After a year’s worth of thorough research, we identified rare and lesser known musical traditions of India. We are losing our heritage – music, arts and architecture – in many ways. And decided to do something to maintain our legacy and have something to show to the next generation. In this process, we discovered that there were so many such traditions in our country which most of us were not aware of.
For example, there is a folk singing style in Manipur called Ishai (sounds similar to tamil word isai, which means music.) This type of folk song style draws inspiration from nature and believes that nature carries the music to its people. A similar find is the Rudra Veena from Maharashtra. There are only two families practicing this tradition in the Drupad style. While it is similar to the regular Veena, it has two bases and some extra strings that set it apart.
We needed someone with strong credibility and reputation to anchor this show and could think of only A. R. Rahman to do this job and he kindly agreed to anchor it. Amazon Prime showed interest in telecasting this 5-episode series called ‘Harmony’ on its platform. Each episode will highlight one instrument or form of music from one state. First is Mizhavu , a percussion instrument, from Kerala. Second is Rudra Veena. Third, Manipur’s singing style called Ishai. Fourth is Sikkim’s flute. In the grand finale of this series, we brought all of them to Chennai to perform in Rahman’s studio with a traditional orchestra. This final episode highlights the concept of harmony – sounds may be many but music is one.
Gauging audience response
There is a lot of data that comes in for digital content where one can track feedback very accurately. Having said that, we are setting up a team that will research and identify our audience profile. This is very important for us because the current generation, which consumes digital entertainment, probably does not know much about K.B. and his work. The kind of image that we worked with all these years may not work today. Accordingly, we have also reworked on our brand and logo and have changed our communication based on this image. Our brand currently signifies high quality entertainment on multiple platforms which is any time, anywhere on your own device.
Content first, now and always
Looking ahead to the next five years, we would like to continue to produce socially responsible content. We have always been about purposeful, socially responsible entertainment and good audience engagement. This is evident in the kind of stories that we tell. We embed our message in entertainment so that the audience connects with the message better.
Today, consumer is king in our business and the person providing the content cannot define the timing of the movie being telecast. All you need is good connectivity.
Lastly, we want to create the right ecosystem to nurture talent. Today, youngsters do not want traditional careers and opt to showcase their talent digitally. We believe that Kavithalayaa can continue to play the philosophy of being the school. We will help them showcase their talent to the world.
Eyeing the future
We spent the last four years researching our options and made a conscious decision not to get into movies. Now that we have clarity and the platform is much bigger, we have taken the plunge. And to help grow this platform in the right direction, we plan to create a content research team of 15 to 20 people over the next two years. We are looking at those who are in their 20s and 30s to guide us. They need to have a passion for theatre, enjoy good music, good story telling and watch films and give critical feedback.
We also want to work on a bunch of concepts – both fiction and non-fiction. For this, we are creating an ecosystem of writers and film makers. Our goal is to showcase talent, be it singers, musicians, film makers, writers, photographers and the digital platform is suitable for this.
Effectively, I see Kavithalayaa as a preferred content partner five years from now for Netflix, Amazon Prime, Reliance Jio and anyone who believes in good content. We also would like to be the best non-fiction content provider in the area of art, culture, lifestyle, wellness and food, where there is a shortage of high quality content.
Advice to students
“Maintain a diary of learnings. Enter the two best things or bad things that happened during the day and list down what you learnt from it. Read it after a couple of weeks. You will start seeing an subconscious improvement in yourself.”