Summer Gupshup, an exclusive interview with Atul Pandey – Producer of Summer 2007.
In the last few years, Indian cinema has undergone a significant change. Audiences today yearn for movies that have more than just fairytale romances, a larger than life hero, and Gabbar-like villains. They yearn for cinema that has the foundation of a powerful story with a significant purpose to it and that also boasts of strong performances to back it up. Summer 2007 is one recent film that not only has a powerful storyline, a significant purpose but also has some great performances that catch you off-guard. BollySpice caught up with one of the brains behind the project, producer Atul Pandey, who shared with us his thoughts on cinema, stars and most importantly his cinematic debut as a producer.
I started by thanking him for taking his valuable time out for this interview and without wasting another moment jumped on to my first question.
Firstly, something everyone is dying to know, what inspired you to get on board with a project that tackled such a challenging issue?
I guess you could not have started off with a more difficult question. Well, it is tough to do anything that you are not convinced about – let alone making a film. It is extremely important to have a good story for a film. When we started writing this film (in the end of 2006), the issue of farmer suicides was getting prominence in media, there was spurt of deaths that were getting noticed as a trend. To say the least, it was disturbing for three of us – Suhail (director), Bijesh (writer) and me. Now we are not farmers nor are we social activists but guess we are a bit aware, concerned and conscious. Our film was initially titled STUDS, it was youth centric and the protagonists were to travel to village for an assignment. So I think it just flowed in our minds that instead of forcing a false story in the village, we decided to explore rural misery, debt, dishonour and deaths. Obviously STUDS did not work as a title anymore.
Given that you have highlighted such horrific concerns and issues, is there anything you took home from the research conducted for the movie and from the experience of making it?
Not really. We have been like this for a while. One feels absolutely helpless seeing poverty all around and shameless show of opulence by few. I am a small town person. I have been in touch with un-blessed areas. I think we are pretty much a feudal society even now – just that urban feudal lord would be bit more suave compared to his rural counterpart. However, I have realized that the rural-urban divide is reached alarming proportions. Disparity is growing, compassion is diminishing. Trust me the situation is real bad. We are at the street of no return. I get laughed at when I tell people not to waste food, water – somebody might just live another day just by consuming what we consider waste and throw – some people show their concern but I am not able to gauge if it is real.
Also, since your movie has rising newcomers, what was that experience like? Do you think it is any more challenging than working with established and experienced actors?
We had a combination of new comers like Arjan, Alekh & Uvika. Ashu, Gul, Vikram Ji, Sachin – all are seasoned performers. Sikandar can hardly be called a newcomer with 2 powerhouse performers and stars at home. We were fortunate that everyone believed in the subject and took it very personally to deliver their best.
As you are commencing on your career as a producer, are there any artists that you would like to particularly work with?
This is my favourite. I would like to work with Shah Rukh of Chak De, Aamir of Sarfarosh and Akela Hum Akele Tum, Kareena of Jab We Met, Akshay Kumar in his current avatar, searching so hard for Madhuri, Sanjay Dutt of Mission Kashmir and Bachchan Saab (Whoa). But the fact is that I can’t afford any of these guys. So what I will do is I will request Nasir Saab, Kay Kay, Rahul Bose, Konkana, etc. to agree to work with me and even they don’t, I will go back to new comers (they are my all time fav’s).
How much of an impact do you think ‘big names’ and ‘banners’ have on the success or acceptance of a project? Do you think audiences today are more receptive to good movies, in general, or do you think there is still a lot of bias for familiar/established names and faces?
I do not think that the audience has any kind of bias for any film. But the guys who currently control the industry have strong opinions. Most of the times these important guys mess up with good films. Audience needs to know about a certain small but good film to go out and see it. It is just that the films should reach audience. At the outset who does not like light entertainment but cinema is lot more than humor and big sets/songs.
What are your thoughts on the changing trends in Indian cinema and do you think that these changes affect how movies, like Summer of 2007, are accepted by the audiences, considering the fact that Summer of 2007 is a rather unique film?
Audience has a wide range to choose from – not only from films but also shortened version of cricket, reality shows, comedy television, foreign television and routine leisure of emerging lifestyle. So they would only pick up what they think is the best for them on a particular day. Smaller films have become far more risky business because of this as the future is decided on a weekend. Films will remain unique only in the minds of the few till such time they are catered to the audience as a unique product – i am sure that audience are ready to accept the unusual unlike the distribution, promotion and marketing setups. People need to think out of the box. It is really funny that even critics seem to analyze the films based on their commercial viability.
As a producer how involved do you like to be with your projects? And what is the process that you personally follow when selecting a script and cast?
I am hands on. Scripting, casting and all. I am a good manager as well. It is not such a popular and respected term otherwise I would grace myself with the title of Creative Producer. Director is the captain, I am the co-captain.
Lastly, Summer of 2007, at the moment, may not be reaching its full potential at the box office, how does that make you feel considering it is your first production venture? Does this affect your plans to continue in the industry? And most importantly what are your plans for the near future?
The box-office has betrayed me on Summer 2007 up till now. But the film will eventually recover investment. On a much brighter note, Summer has given us huge credibility as makers. For a person like me, it is like living a dream – making a film, having international release of it, most of the people are appreciating it. Mark my words, people who have misunderstood the film will turn around in a bit. We have made a very important film – on the most pertinent issues faced by our country. I have got hundreds of mails from youngsters I do not even know that Summer 2007 is a brave effort and that it has changed the way they look at life. It is a huge high. In an industry currently ruled by people with insane amount of resources, I have survived despite being alone – single producer. Investors are curious about my future plans and I cannot disappoint them. Shortly, we will announce our next – a film titled 73. Within next three months, we will have Vakeel Shakeel and Princess Me going on floor. I will grab the space destined for me.
Atul, thank you once again for participating in this interview. We at BollySpice wish you the best for the future and your films.