He comes from an enviable lineage… his father – Ramesh Sippy – directed the evergreen film that Indian cinema has ever produced – Sholay. Rohan Sippy is proud of his heritage and rightly so.
After graduating from Stanford University, Rohan followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to direct his first film Kuch Naa Kaho in 2003 starring Abhishek Bachchan & Aishwarya Rai. He again teamed up with Abhishek in 2005 for Bluffmaster. Needless to say Rohan is all charged up to direct his third movie early next year with Abhishek in the lead yet again.
On the production front all eyes are on the Akshay Kumar starrer Chandni Chowk To China as of now, which Ramesh Sippy Entertainment (RSE) is co-producing with People Tree Films (Orion Pictures). Apart from this, there is also a small budget film called The President Is Coming.
In this free-wheeling conversation with Businessofcinema.com, Rohan Sippy throws light on what’s brewing at the production house and more… Excerpts:
Where have you been these last couple of years? There hasn’t been much activity at your end…
Well, things take time to take shape. After Bluffmaster, we released Taxi No 9211 in 2006. It was in September 2006 when Shridhar Raghavan and I met Akshay Kumar for Chandni Chowk To China (CC2C). It is a very big film and hence it took a while for Shridhar to write it. So it’s almost been a three years long journey. I am also working on an idea, which I want to direct around March with Abhishek in the lead. We are also in the process of developing a project with Sriram Raghavan.
At the same time we have also been working on another small film called The President Is Coming. So it’s been a great experience working on two films, which are at either ends of the spectrum.
Tell us more about The President Is Coming and how this film fell into your lap?
A friend of mine Gaurav, who is the first AD on CC2C told me about a writer that he had met – Anuvab. So after Loins of Punjab released I met him and I got to know that he had written a play, which was running successfully. He organised a few play readings for us and we thought it would be good to adapt it into a screenplay. Kunaal Roy Kapur who is the director of the play, came on to direct the film too. We retained most of the characters of the play in the movie and we added Konkona Sen Sharma and Shernaz Patel to the cast.
Things fell into place almost organically and we realised that Konkona was free sometime in March and we wrapped the shooting of the film in 18 – 19 days flat. I am very happy with the way in which it has shaped.
How different has the movie turned out from the original play and how was it adapting a play into a screenplay?
It has turned out very differently. At the writing level itself I would say that it’s about 40 – 50 per cent different. Even in terms of performance while you can have a very loud performance in a play; it would end up looking very spoofy on screen. So you have to be very careful so as to not loose your audience. We have done the movie in a mocumentary style so people had to be very real and almost aware of the camera at certain times. Kunaal has got an amazing sense of comic timing wherein he can take the simplest of lines and make it hilarious.
The movie is primarily in English language and hence its release and marketing strategy will be different from that of a mainstream film. What are your plans on the same?
For me the greatest satisfaction this year has been the success of films like Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na and Rock On. The second week run has been as strong as the first week and the word of mouth spreads terrifically. So it tells me that there a market and audience for fresh films like these. I don’t think there is an issue with the language as 50 per cent of the audience that saw Rock On were comfortable with the language, which was more like Indian English.
We will be releasing The President Is Coming in the metros first and then based on the response it gets, we will then look at other cities. As far as marketing is concerned, we will be tapping the English language papers and TV channels. We have to careful with the smaller films to find the right release date.
Moreover the biggest promotion time for us is during the US elections since our movie is about President George Bush’s visit to India and his desire to shake hands with one Indian.
Will you looking at releasing the movie internationally as well?
Yes definitely but again we will have to look at the timing of the release. I would love to release it in the US because of the theme of the film. The Indian and South Asian population would enjoy the film. Definitely the film is made for an Indian audience. We will also be looking at taking the film to some international film festivals.
What is your view of the current market scenario?
I think it is fantastic because without the corporate influx of money the international exhibition exposure would have been impossible. Increase in monetisation has also happened in sectors like home video or satellite and you need investment to boost up these sectors.
On the production side I am not too sure of where the current scenario will take us. There has been a steep rise in prices. What I don’t see happening is any of these high priced films making multiple earnings. Everyone is trading at a 10 -15 per cent ratio and it is very likely that someone is losing money at the end of the day.
In the West movies lose money but then a film like Batman comes in covers up for the loss. There is potential there in the market to give you multiple earnings. I don’t see that happening yet even though the growth is great. We still need to figure out the actual economics.
At this stage I don’t see the recovery for big budget films especially after the blood bath on the stock markets. The first thing that is affected is advertising revenues and with that all your ancillary rights are going to face a huge crunch. While the projections are that revenues from ancillary rights may be 30 per cent up next year, it may be 30 per cent down.
Ultimately investors are investing in an area like production because of the opportunity to get multiple earning. Whether it is an individual producer, a VC or a shareholder, they want return on investment. I don’t see that happening as yet and I think that there will be a little bit of budget correction.
It can be safely said that corporates have come in and bailed out a lot of individual producers by signing co-production agreements with them. Suddenly there seem to be a lot movies being made. What is your take on the same?
As far as our company goes, it is important for us to have great ideas and concepts and really that is the heart of it, which will attract other talent to it. You have to find the most exciting films to make.
Overall it is a good thing since it means more people coming in and understanding the business as the industry grows and matures. Moreover, competition is always good since it pushes you to do improve yourself and do your best.
As far as RS Entertainment is concerned, we have something that no one does and that is Ramesh Sippy. There is a whole generation of directors who want to work with dad.
What is the strategy at RSE going forward? You have not made any big announcements like the others in terms of deals with the biggies.
I hope there will be big results from our end and not big announcements. There is no point in rushing things whether it is getting the right cast, story or budget together. I enjoy this business and there is no sense in hurrying. If you tend to push things beyond a point then you end up managing work rather than working.
There is no real mid-point in this business. Either you do it this way or you go the corporate way. So as of now, I am enjoying the way it is.
How has Chandni Chowk To China shaped up?
It has shaped up really well and is in the final stages of editing. There are lots of great elements to it and it’s a warm wholesome entertainer.
How did the association of RSE with Orion Pictures happen? What is the value that both companies brought in on Chandni Chowk To China?
Nikhil and I have been old friends and we were keen on working together when the right opportunity came by. Chandni Chowk To China was that for us and by that time he was already a partner with Orion Films. He brings in the talent and passion and I bring in my support… basically combine the best of both to make a good product.
How has it been working with Warner Bros?
Now is when Warner Bros’ role actually comes into play since the production is almost over. Warner will be looking after the marketing and distribution of the film. We will get a real taste of it in November – December. And essentially the team at Warner Bros, which will be looking after this, is Indian and I have known them for a long time. So it’s just that the brand name is international.
Are there any offers from corporates for co-productions?
I’m not in any rush to sign deals and moreover, I am sure there will be many changes in the corporate scenario in the days to come. What has happened on Wall Street is going to have an effect on the worldwide economy so why will our sector be left out? There will be a change in priorities and in plans. I don’t think it makes sense to commit, which is also because I don’t have 20 projects in hand. We are planning two – three films. Our aim is to find the right partners for that and see how the landscape keeps evolving.
We also need to keep in mind what one is signing on to what with actors’ prices fluctuation and acquisition prices going up. It has to ultimately be binding not just in legal terms but also in commercial terms. What makes sense is to lock in a partner when the project is ready and have a case by case approach.