‘Japan will be a proper Diwali celebration’: Producer SR Prabhu

He talks about his long-standing collaboration with Karthi, sailing through the world of social media, and how a movie will always find its audience.
Karthi in 'Japan' (Photo | YouTube screengrab)
Karthi in 'Japan' (Photo | YouTube screengrab)

Gone are the days when everything about cinema was shrouded with secrecy. Now, it is not just the actors who have fan clubs or receive adulation and brickbats. Social media has ensured that everyone involved in cinema gets an opportunity to be scrutinised in the public eye, and chief among them is the new crop of producers.

In fact, the new-age producers have given the profession a major fillip, and have done away with the stereotypes surrounding the looks and characteristics of the ones pooling in the money to make cinema. One such filmmaker is SR Prabhu, who has changed the game in Tamil cinema by delivering one quality hit after another.

While his production game is strong, his social media game is stronger. From talking about the unruly behaviour of the crowds in World Cup games to throwing in ideas about dynamic pricing in theatres, Prabhu uses social media in a way not many of his peers manage to do.

“The anonymity on Twitter is useful for many. It has given a platform for people who hitherto didn’t have a place to voice their opinions. It is a vibe check,” says Prabhu, who met sections of the media ahead of the release of their next major production venture, Japan.

Japan, which marks Karthi’s silver jubilee film, is the sixth collaboration between the actor and Prabhu’s Dream Warrior Pictures. From the responses to his social media posts, it is clear that the Raju Murugan directorial is passing the online vibe check with just a couple of weeks left for its release this Diwali.

“Raju Murugan has his unique style and a distinct comic timing that will be seen in Japan. In fact, it is a multi-genre film that has elements of thriller, action, and satirical comedy too. Just as everyone is expecting, Japan will definitely be a celebration,” assures Prabhu. In fact, he lets us in on a ‘first’ that has happened in Japan.

“Usually, someone approaches Karthi with a story, and then the project kicks off from there. This time around, Karthi, who liked the work of Raju Murugan, asked the filmmaker if he had any idea that they could collaborate on. He has never done this before.”

Another first is the characterisation of Karthi in Japan, which promises to have a wacky arc with over-the-top embellishments. “The first idea pitched by the director was a very serious film, but Karthi wanted to have his trademark too. 

Then, we zeroed in on Japan, and there was a lot of to-and-fro in deciding on the arc of the titular character. They came to a midpoint where both were excited, and we ended up with a character that has a lot of pizzazz and chutzpah,” says Prabhu, who reveals the major bonding factor between him and Karthi.

“Both of us don’t want to do regular films that follow age-old tropes. It is interesting how just like us, Karthi too prefers working with upcoming filmmakers with a lot of zeal. We share this nice comfort zone. Also, we all grew up together, so there is a lot of bonding on that front too.”  

‘LCU was a happy accident’

Having made experimentation their comfort zone, Prabhu candidly admits that it doesn’t mean they have lost sight of the commercial and economic aspects of their films. “We do understand that cinema is a medium to reflect various socio-cultural issues in our society. We want to be responsible about putting our names on films. But that is not without taking into consideration the business side of things,” says Prabhu, going on to explain their commercial expectations with an example. “Let’s say we are spending ` 10 on a product, we don’t want a return of ` 100, but if we don’t even get ` 12, then it is a problem. One mistake can put us back by 2-3 years. So, there is that fear and responsibility that pushes us to deliver the best…every single time.”

Despite doing their best, Prabhu is aware of the vagaries of the cinema business. Right from the number of screens to the release date, a lot of factors affect the reach and success of any film. In fact, Japan, which is hitting screens this Diwali, will be clashing against Karthik Subbaraj’s much-awaited Jigarthanda Double X.

There might be a couple of other films that will join the race too. But Prabhu is a picture of calm. “Every film has its own business and needs. I faced a similar situation during Kaithi too (the film released along with Vijay’s Bigil). I strongly believe a film will make the numbers it will eventually make irrespective of the number of films releasing alongside it.

All that matters is how many people want to watch the film, and that is what converts into ticket sales,” opines Prabhu, who points out that the audience demand is ultimate. “It is the demand that converts into increased screens and shows irrespective of what were the initial terms.

Didn’t we see the market skirt around the rules to accommodate KGF 2 by having 6 shows a day, and even running screens for 24 hours.” When asked if he would go the Seven Screen Studios way and ask for a special 4 am show for Japan? Pat comes the reply with a cheeky smile, “Nope, we will not.”

SR Prabhu, producer
SR Prabhu, producer

Of course, the success of Leo and the incessant talk about it is a masterclass in building up a hype train that becomes a box-office juggernaut. The film, which was part of the famed Lokesh Cinematic Universe, is the third instalment in this franchise, which began four years back with Kaithi. “Lokesh will begin working on Kaithi 2 after he gets done with Thalaivar 171. In all probability, the film will go on floors same time next year. It will be our biggest film, so far,” reveals Prabhu, who opens up about how the whole idea of LCU came into place. “In the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC Extended Universe, there are single producers, and it is possible to build such a concept. But LCU was a happy accident.”

This accident happened during the final stages of Vikram when Lokesh decided to incorporate elements of Kaithi in the Kamal Haasan starrer. “When Lokesh came to me with this interesting idea, I didn’t look at it from a commercial angle. If I’d wanted to concentrate on the monetary benefits, the idea might have been killed in the genesis stage. Considering how the audience got excited with the concept, we wanted to look at it holistically,” says Prabhu, adding, “When Kamal sir wanted us to give the go-ahead, we were okay with it. For Leo, both Kamal sir and I accepted the requests from Seven Screen. There was no ego. It is not easy to build character universes, and considering it has happened organically here, why not enjoy it and reap its benefits.”

Getting back to the conversation surrounding his social media game that allows him to be on top of things, Prabhu talks about the biggest takeaway from being a digital-era producer. “We can understand which film is under demand. The opinions are swift too, and the possibility for course correction is high,” says Prabhu, signing off by addressing the darker side of this social media spotlight.

“If we allow the negativity to reach us, then we can break. The users are ruthless, and the one lesson I learnt very early into my stint on social media... I can’t afford to be fragile.”

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The New Indian Express