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The club of big league producers

By: Screen Weekly, IndiaFM
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Today's producers are charming as well as daring. As their films hit the jackpot this year, they've also been earning a reputation for doing whatever it may take to succeed. Check out the club of big league producers...

The road that leads to producer Sajid Nadiadwala's swanky office-cum-residence in Versova also leads to a cemetery and a kabristan - in the movie business, where symbolism plays a big part. It is a reminder of just how tricky the route to being a producer these days is. In case you are having some difficulty finding Nadiadwala's house, just ask shanty-dwellers around where the Nadiadwala House is. Kaun? Woh Joh bada bada picture banata hai? Salman Khan ke saath? Mujhse Shaadi Karogi wala na? Woh to wahan rehta hai, bade se ghar mein."

Again, in an industry where grassroot reaction is the ultimate litmus test, such glowing references from his target audience are sure to please Nadiadwala, or Nadiad as he is called. After all, they sit well with his reputation as a part of Hindi filmdom's new producer powerhouse club.

The joke in film circles being that becoming a producer is the coolest job profile these days. This year, where the box-office has been jingling from January onwards, particularly, has proved it. Of course, there is Aditya Chopra. The creative force behind Yash Raj Films, Adi is the undisputed emperor of showbiz who saw Fanaa meet with success despite the Aamir Khan-Narmada controversy, which many felt would harm the film. Then there is the face of UTV, Ronnie Screwvala. Rang De Basanti's Oscar nod is a reconfirmation of the success ratio of the production house's studio model. Munnabhai - producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra (VVC) was feted on the film, its message and its Oscar-quotient, as much as its maker and creator, Rajkumar Hirani. Then you have Woh Lamhe, where over-the-top producer Mahesh Bhatt outdid himself by employing what many saw as a disgusting antic: Making the Parveen Babi tapes public to boost his film's opening. The film grossed Rs 4 crore in the first week of release.

These savvy guys, with their hands-on approach, represent the modern day version of the original Mr Moneybags. Today's film producer is no longer just a ringside version of the star and his favourite director. Guys like Chopra and Screwvala are so well entrenched in the entire showbiz circus that nothing can escape them.

Stories, this year more than ever before, have circulated of producers manipulatin g a film's fate at the box-office, sabotage, arm-twisting distributors and spin-doctoring publicity stories, as much as their commitment to high production standards and lobbying or awards. They are larger-than life and are increasingly emerging from the shadowy corner and are being seen as the face of the film they back.

Trade analyst Komal Nahata, says: "At the heart of it, every producer is a businessman. And that will never change. But what today's producers are doing is that they are capitalising on the media boom and that's why they are so savvy and in-your-face."

With his Diwali release Jaan-E-Mann, Nadiadwala has also joined the same list. Post the Salman-Akshay-Preity starrer, he gets busy with funny man Sajid Khan's Hey Baby starring Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan and Riteish Dehmukh and debutant Sabir Khan's untitled venture.

While Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts, Ram Gopal Varma's Factory, Manmohan Shetty's Adlabs and Mukesh Bhatt's Vishesh Films with their three films a year buffet happily fill up the producer periphery, it's no wonder that even well-established directors like Sanjay Gupta, Rohan Sippy and of course Vidhu Vinod Chopra - who tasted blood post the Munnabhai series and Parineeta - are the latest converts to producer-dom. Gupta, known as Bollywood's most frequent foreign DVD library visitor, is coming up with a buffet of six films namely Chamki Chameli, Alibaug, Dus Kahaniya, Shootout at Lokhandwala and Woodstock Villa. Even as Chopra's own directorial venture, Eklavya waits for a release date, he is already on to the next Munnabhai adventure. As for Sippy, happy with the response to Milan Luthria's Taxi No. 9211, he is now putting money in Sujoy Ghosh's Aladdin and the Mystery of the Lamp starring Amitabh Bachchan.

Gupta sees this trend as a natural progression. "As a director, I can make one film at a time. But entertainment is booming right now. You need many more films to fill the multiplexes. What better way than making more films."

Nadiadwala also feels it's all a matter of resources and infrastructure. "It's only now that I feel my production house can handle three films. The plan is to make more films but not many films," he says.

But when the stakes of the game are something to the tune of millions, it's literally a way. Earlier, the standing industry joke was that if the star was having a bad hair day, the shooting would be cancelled. But now - and this is testimony to how much the producer calls the shots - the producer sits on the table and calmly opens the star date diary and doles out the star dates blocked for his film.

This breed of producers is also earning a reputation for going to any lengths in order to ensure top of mind awareness - gimmicks, publicity blitz and tie-ups. Name it and they'll use it. Trade buzz is rife that Gupta seized the moment and promptly announced Woodstock Villa with Anupam and Kiron Kher's son Sikander when Yash Raj Films wanted to launch him. Apparently, Sippy used his father Ramesh Sippy's goodwill to get Bachchan to agree to play the role of a genie in Ghosh's childrens' film. And rumours of the Chopra banner's ability to arm twist distributors is now the stuff of urban industry legends. Other stories of their "unscrupulous" methods abound - only recently, there was talk of the attempt to sabotage Omkara by a big banner, which had a release coming up.

It is becoming more and more evident that today, it is the producer's perogative - and ability - to wield his power that separates the New Producers Club from the old one. Which is why, taking into account Nadiadwala's past record of well-intentioned gimmicks - remember how he got the entire Indian cricket team for the climax of Mujhse Shaadi Karogi? - he is clearly on his way to entering this orbit. With Jaan-E-Mann, he created a record of sort by cutting the most expensive promo at Rs 40 lakhs. For Hey Baby, he followed the Hollywood norm of organising a look test with a 12-month-old baby who plays a pivotal lead much before the film goes on the floor. His Mujhse Shaadi Karogi heroine Priyanka Chopra unapologetically terms Nadiadwala as "Bollywood's most generous producer." Says Chopra, "Nothing is too expensive or impossible for Sajid bhai. He is the most non-interfering and generous producer."

A good producer is also a big of a gambler. Only Gupta has the courage to entrust Shyam Benegal with the responsibility of churning out a mega budget rural musical, Chamki Chameli. For his latest production, Chakh De India, Adi Chopra has coaxed Shah Rukh Khan to play an ageing hockey coach to the women's team. Nadiadwala agreed to invest Rs 35 crore in debutant Shirish Kunder's project based on a one-minute narration by Kunder's wife Farah Khan at a party in Shah Rukh Khan's house. Nadiadwala reasons that there is logic behind his madness. "I make one film in three years, if I go wrong it will take me another three years to prove myself," he says.

It also helps if the producer knows a bit of crisis management. VVC publicised Lage Raho Munnabhai without a single interview of lead actor Sanjay Dutt who didn't wish to speak to the media because of his legal troubles. The shooting of Jaan-E-Mann was also fraught with truckloads of tension. Salman Khan and Preity Zinta were embroiled in the tape scandal and two schedules were cancelled. Expensive sets were also broken down but Nadiadwala forged ahead with his latest baby.

With such high stakes and furious stress levels, what keeps a producer going? While Gupta quips, "Who said filmmaking is an easy job," Nadiadwala says, "The best deal about being a producer is that unlike a director who has to go on the sets even if he doesn't get along with the actor, the producer has the liberty to remain behind the scenes."

Golden words, indeed!

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