Journalist, wife, mother, homemaker, and now a film producer. Supriya Menon says she was not at all prepared when one fine day her actor husband asked her out of the blue about jointly running their production company, Prithviraj Productions.
“I had my apprehensions initially. I said yes thinking it would be an easy and glamorous job. But now I realise how tough it is,” she laughs. Their inaugural venture, 9, comes out in theatres tomorrow. Needless to say, it comes with a lot of expectations.
Excerpts from a conversation:
Why did you both pick 9 as your first project?
It has to do with the merit of the script, which came to Prithviraj first as an acting vehicle. He told me he’d heard an unusual script which he wanted to be part of. At that point, we had no plans of producing it, but later on, we were actively thinking of launching our own production company with 9 as our first project.
I was also feeling the need to do something as getting back to journalism wasn’t working out as an option for me. I was thinking of being part of the world that he is part of, and see if I could do something there. We then had conversations with Sony Pictures International.
Were you on the same page about starting with a big project?
Well, I wouldn’t really call 9 a big-budget film. In terms of spectacle and scale, yes, it’s big, but I don’t think ‘budget’ is the right way to classify it because that really shouldn’t be the criteria to judge films. At least that shouldn’t be how you get into a project.
Yes, the economics matter, but ultimately filmmaking is not just about the business. The first and foremost thing is a relatable, touching story which works for the audience and, hopefully, at the box office. As a producer, I’m proud to say that me and my line producer Harris Desom managed to finish everything on time and under budget.
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Did you guys have a target audience in mind? Was there a discussion about making a film that clicks not just with the A centers, but also B and C?
It’s not possible to cater to all sections of the audience sometimes. Do I want everyone to watch it? Definitely. As a producer, you want your film to reach the maximum number of people. 9 is at its heart the story of a father and son. So, at the end of the day, we can’t really say that this film is only meant for the multiplex crowd. I think everyone will have something to take away from it.
Promoting a film isn’t easy these days given that audiences no longer fall for lofty claims. How are you both promoting 9?
Well, we have a really good marketing team and we got some valuable inputs from Sony Pictures International as well. We are only talking about what’s in the film and nothing more. We have already said that 9 is set against the backdrop of a cosmic phenomenon occurring over the course of 9 days, and is about what happens between this father and son during that period. We haven’t said anywhere that 9 is going to revolutionize the Malayalam film industry, or that Spiderman is going to make an appearance. (laughs)
Prithviraj has talked in some interviews about taking Malayalam cinema to the world. Some critics have opined that making Hollywoodised films is not the right way to do it — that the more local the stories, the more international they become. What’s your take on this?
Look, everyone has their way of thinking. You can’t please them all. Prithviraj has been saying that for the longest time, right from the time we started dating, back in 2007. If this is his way of taking Malayalam cinema to a global audience, then let’s see where that will take him. Prithvi is someone who likes to walk the talk, and I don’t mean to be immodest just because he is my husband. This is who he is, and if he fails, then he might figure out another way.
How are the tasks split between the two of you?
We have very clear boundaries. I handle the administration and finances whereas he takes the creative decisions. That way we are not stepping on each other’s toes. For 9, anything to do with the filmmaking was handled by Jenuse, Prithvi, and Abhinandan Ramanujam (cinematographer). Since we had to shot in locations like Manali, there were naturally some logistical and financial challenges. Whenever we encountered a roadblock we couldn’t handle, we approached Prithvi.
I heard you are a strict disciplinarian on set.
Well, I like disciplined sets, and Prithvi does too. I have my blinders on when I’m working. There is no time for anything else. Also, it has mostly to do with the fact that I used to be a journalist. When you have a deadline to keep, you don’t get time to eat or drink. I’m used to working 17 or 18 hours. When I was covering the Mumbai floods, I didn’t have time to go home, and had to sleep in my office for a few hours.
You had to go and do the reporting no matter how inconvenient it was. There have been moments where I would get a call in the middle of dinner, asking me to attend to a ‘breaking news’. Moreover, you have to start planning for the upcoming week’s stories in advance. All that has helped me tremendously. I think it would be cool to have more female bosses around.
This is Jenuse’s second film. Suppose a first-time director comes to you with an idea like 9, would you do it?
Encouraging fresh talents is certainly one of our company’s objectives. And Prithvi has worked in the films of so many debutants — from RS Vimal’s Ennu Ninte Moideen to Nadirshah’s Amar Akbar Antony to Nirmal Sahadev’s Ranam, among others. If we are convinced that someone is capable of executing a particular script for a particular budget, then we’ll definitely go for it. It’s not just about encouraging talents that subscribe to our vision but also someone with a different vision, as long as it’s something worth pulling off. We have only started our company, and right now, the primary aim is to get 9 released.
How do you make time for family in the middle of all this?
I think all women are born with this skill. I think men have that too, if only they could hone it and nurture it a bit more. At this point in time, I’m very lucky to have my parents live close by. They help me a lot with my daughter so that I can pursue my dreams the way I want to. I try to spend as much time as I can with my daughter. I had her in 2014 and we started work on 9 in 2017. I went ahead with this project only after making sure that I could manage things.
In Manali, we had booked an entire hotel, and as it was her summer break, she was able to come and stay with us. We both try to make sure that we aren’t away from her for a very long time. She has now reached that age where she tells Prithvi, “Dada, you’re always shooting!” I sometimes joke about choosing scripts that have Kochi as a location so that we’ll have more time together.