“I saw a lot of tweets saying Shah Rukh is back from his sabbatical but he was always there. He has been in the business for 32-33 years, and continues to invest in the business,’ says Gaurav Verma, COO, Red Chillies Entertainment.
Shah Rukh Khan was last seen in the 2018 release Zero, after which he took a long sabbatical which will end with Yash Raj Films’ Pathaan, co-starring Deepika Padukone and John Abraham.
But the superstar has remained busy playing various roles in scaling up his production house Red Chillies Entertainment that had made foray into production with films like Main Hoon Na, Kaal, Paheli, Om Shanti Om, Ra.One, Don 2, Chennai Express, and Zero among others. The company gradually moved towards producing content beyond SRK-starrers, and has in recent years, given critically acclaimed titles like Badla, Kaamyaab, Bard of Blood, Betaal, and most recently, Bob Biswas and Love Hostel.
During the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, while cinemas got impacted, Red Chillies Entertainment has continued with the process of preparing and developing films, says Gaurav Verma, producer and Chief Operating Officer, Red Chillies Entertainment.
“We have had a lot of narrations and creative work happening over Zoom. We utilised this time in terms of engaging with more writers, more directors, and developing more content, pitching it to actors, so it has been quite eventful and productive. We also got a lot of time to watch content and evaluate our strategies. A slate has been built over the last two years. We are now going through the casting stage, and once we are ready with at least the faces for the film, we will be able to share with the public. We have tried to develop a very diverse slate,” says Verma. The production house apparently has five to six films in the casting stage, and they will officially announce the projects in near future.
“It is not just that products continued going to the consumers but the consumption of entertainment went up significantly during the pandemic. From two hours, it has gone up to three and three-and-half- hours a day. They are now engaging in content at every level, it can be television, it can be streaming, it can be phone, which is a big boon to us. We have to now see that people come back to theatres. We have to consolidate on that, which can be great on the entire business, not just streaming, not just theatrical but the entire entertainment bouquet. If a film is liked on OTT, it can be liked in the theatrical as well. Brief to us is very simple: telling engaging stories. For us, we don’t make films for theatre or digital; we make films and eventually then we decide which is the best way to take it to consumers, and how we can garner maximum reach for our content, no differentiation between pipelines or platforms,” adds Verma.
Having a superstar who is a guiding force, both in the areas of creative and marketing is a boon, he says.
“I saw a lot of tweets saying Shah Rukh is back from his sabbatical but he was always there. He has been in the business for 32-33 years, and continues to invest in the business. He has been actively participating in the development process, producing and making films.We got a lot of time from him since he is not shooting. He has the ability to nurture talent and give space to writers, directors, actors, and films across all genres that do not feature him. He plays various roles. He is a superstar, loved and adored by millions and billions of people around the world, which gives us access and reach. At the same point of time, he is an amazing creative and marketing mind. We are extremely lucky. You write a concept and go to him, he will give you an insight that you have not even thought about. So to have someone with so many years of experience, well-read, aware, who has a worldview to contribute to your film and filmmaking, is just phenomenal. Creative people are always looking for mentors who can guide them, nurture them, and invest in them with their experience, time, and money, and it is only SRK who is able to do that. Mr Khan is wonderful for us,” says Verma.
Promoting and nurturing first-time writers, directors, and young actors, while expanding their reach as a production banner, is one of the main focuses of Red Chillies Entertainment, as per the COO. “Today, with demand for content rising, you need more creators, more talent, and if you can be that vehicle where you can encourage people and invest in them and come out with something exciting, why not?”
The company’s upcoming releases include Darlings,a comedy drama featuring Alia Bhatt and Shefali Shah, and Bhumi Pednekar-starrer Bhakshak, an investigative crime-thriller. “Darlings marks the directorial debut of writer Jasmeet K Reen, and is co-produced by Bhatt. It is set against the backdrop of a conservative lower-middle-class neighbourhood, and traces the lives of two women who find courage and love in exceptional circumstances. Bhakshak is the story we wanted to tell for a long time. It is inspired from real-life events but we had to do a little bit of churn. It features Pednekar as a feisty journalist who realises the consequences, threats, and intimidation she may face as she uncovers a story. We thought having a female protagonist fighting for a cause would do more justice, and it works better for us. The idea is to tell unique stories with social relevance, and if you can connect with the audience, it would be wonderful. Even in the future slate, you will see a lot more young, promising talent who are here to conquer the world. We can become the vehicle, catalyst or contributor to their careers,” says Verma.
Further elaborating upon content evolving over the years, and especially in the last two years, he says, “For the last 15 to 20 years, since we saw English channels and international films premiering in India theatrically or on television, people started consuming [them], and once you have exposure, you expect the taste changing. We have seen from 2013, Paan Singh Tomar, Kahaanis of the world… Vicky Donor… we have been evolving slowly and gradually, it is not about today. So in the last two years, because the consumption on streaming was so high, and people being much more vocal today whether they like or dislike the content, you have to go through the grind and hope they like the content because if they dislike, they will be out there and that can reduce the product’s shelf life. But at the same point of time, you can tell more and every kind of story because the exposure is such. Had we made Love Hostel three to five to six years back, it may have not worked but today, we can attempt stories in a very unique way, which can be international and regional. Love Hostel is based in the heartland of India but told in an international way. People like that kind of mix, it is being acknowledged,” says Verma.
Looking at the box office numbers of some of the recent releases, Verma feels bringing back audiences to theatres is not a challenge anymore as one felt earlier during the pandemic. “Audience has not gone anywhere. People are aware of the pandemic, whether they can be under one roof, and that is the concern everyone is going through. But the numbers that we saw for Gangubai [Kathiawadi] at 50 percent capacity in many of the states is very encouraging. People want to return to cinema, they want entertainment. Entertainment today is probably the first thing they want to interact with outside of their routine life. And if you have the right film, people will come to the cinema. Engaging and entertaining, if these two elements are met then we have hope,” says Verma, who, however, feels that judging a film by the box office numbers is unfair.
“Information, over a period of time, has started travelling fast. Earlier, people used to declare a film a hit or flop after three to four weeks, and the digital world means everything is instant now. People want to react fast. Nobody wants to talk about whether they liked the film or not but they want to judge a film by the numbers, which is unfair. Today, had Gangubai released before the pandemic, the numbers would have been very different. Box office numbers are a little unfair, and at the same point of time, some people are coming in and voting from their wallet, so I think their vote matters. That is the ultimate vote,” he says.
Lastly, when asked when would SRK announce a film with his own production company, Verma quips: “It is for Mr Khan to comment on that and share with the world, when and how… this announcement belongs to him whenever he is ready to do that.”
Seema Sinha is a Mumbai-based mainstream entertainment journalist who has been covering Bollywood and television industry for over two decades. Her forte is candid tell-all interviews, news reporting and newsbreaks, investigative journalism and more. She believes in dismissing what is gossipy, casual, frivolous and fluff.