Mumbai-based Yoodlee Films has been behind some of the most diverse and offbeat endeavours. Since their successful debut indie feature, Ajji, in 2017, the film division of the renowned Saregama label has been supporting indie filmmakers in India with a penchant for telling out-of-the-box narratives with minimal budgets. Among the notable recent examples are Axone (Hindi) and the critically acclaimed Tamil feature, K.D.
Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President, Yoodlee Films, says the brand philosophy has always been “fearless filmmaking” with an aim to “tell stories which have the potential to shake people to their core and ultimately spark a conversation which would end up creating a positive change in the society.” He adds, “In fact, every film of ours has an underlying social message conveyed creatively and subtly, and this will continue to be the bedrock of all our upcoming projects.
Even our latest release, Zombivli, which was a commercial film, had the issue of classism at its heart. I feel proud in the fact we are perhaps the only production house which has tried to shed light on societal issues like caste discrimination, racism, bullying, euthanasia, rape, political indoctrination, and debt trap through our films.”
As the company looks forward to the release of the Malayalam feature, Padavettu, starring Nivin Pauly, Siddharth speaks to Cinema Express about their unique approach to business and future plans.
The indie film business is a high-risk gamble. The projects you undertake can sometimes be successful and sometimes not. In the case of the latter, what are the takeaways?
When your goal is to make content that makes an impact where the story is the hero, success is bound to come sooner rather than later. Ever since the pandemic shook the world, the Indian audience has been exposed to all kinds of content across languages and countries, thereby enriching their viewing palette. The audience is hungrier than ever for films that champion storytelling, with mindless entertainers increasingly out of favour. We also strongly believe that it is not the films that fail, but budgets. Our budgets are never the highest; hence, it gives us the freedom to experiment and make fearless films.
How has the proliferation of numerous OTT platforms changed your approach to business?
The data revolution and the subsequent boom of OTT platforms have completely transformed the dynamics of filmmaking. The proliferation of numerous OTT platforms means that content-driven cinema now has a safe haven. Here, the writer becomes the most important person to ensure that the story moves in the right direction. Producers can also experiment more with content and formats instead of being limited with their storytelling and end up with formulaic content. Moreover, it adds to revenue for producers, which is great for the business.
It has been lately noted, especially by the South Indian film industry, that OTT platforms do not accept small-scale films with the same enthusiasm as they did during the pandemic. Of course, films with known faces would have a slightly better edge. However, the signs are seemingly not encouraging when it concerns star-led subjects devoid of mass appeal ingredients. How do you look at this scenario?
The pandemic has not just changed the way the audience consumes content, but it has also changed what content is being consumed. There is a change in audience tastes, and we are all working to serve that change. Platforms, too, have accepted this change, and now it is not just the star power or the story that works, but the combination of the two. A cinematic experience at home isn’t achieved without mass appeal elements. We, as producers, realise that and aim to give the audience what they want.
Yoodlee is yet to make a strong presence in the Malayalam film market. Is that about to change with Nivin Pauly-starrer Padavettu—and is there a plan to back more Malayalam films in the near future?
We are firm believers in the power of Malayalam cinema. The talent in the industry is absolutely incredible. Their actors, directors, writers and cinematographers are so good with their craft that they get you glued to the screen. The intense filmmaking completely blends in with our philosophy. With Padavettu, we have just the perfect launch pad to mark our entry into the rapidly growing market. The film hits theatres on 2nd September 2022. Apart from this, there are a host of interesting projects in different stages of production, including the Tovino Thomas-starrer Anweshippin Kandethum, an investigative thriller. We are totally committed to the Malayalam film market, further highlighted by the fact that we have recently inked a multiple slate partnership with Tovino Thomas, which will see us jointly create mind-bending projects across formats and languages.
Could you tell us what drew you to Padavettu?
Padavettu is a special film —truly for the people and made by the people. Shot across various waves of the pandemic, Padavettu would not have been a reality if not for the unwavering support of the local villagers. At the heart of Padavettu lies the story of fighting for survival against all odds. The coming-of-age drama has come out beautifully, and we are sure its story will strike a chord with the masses.
What other projects are you working on?
Well, we are now also venturing into the Hindi web series space with an action show marking the OTT debut of Suniel Shetty as the first of many. We are also developing a series on the riveting life story of India’s first billionaire, Rajan Pillai, headlined by Prithviraj Sukumaran. There are a couple of other interesting projects in development, the details of which will be revealed at the right time.
Siddharth Anand Kumar, Vice President - Films, Saregama India, on backing indie filmmakers with offbeat narratives, the company’s brand philosophy, and venturing into the Malayalam cinema space