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Interview Hindi Marathi

Producer Sethumadhavan Napan: Keen to lead DAR Motion Pictures's foray into regional languages

The co-producer of Bucket List, starring Madhuri Dixit Nene, spoke to us about his career change, joining DAR Motion Pictures, and what kinds of films he likes to produce.

Sonal Pandya

Sethumadhavan Napan, after becoming a pharmacist and completing an MBA from Xavier School of Management, Jamshedpur, took a detour and veered into writing on cinema and finally, moved into film production when he joined DAR Motion Pictures, which was established in 2009, as a creative consultant.

Today, the avid film fan, who watches films constantly, is COO of DAR Media (DAR Motion Pictures) and sits on their board of directors. With Madhuri Dixit Nene's first Marathi film Bucket List (2018), he turned co-producer. The company turns a decade old next year and Napan hopes to lead the company into new and exciting opportunities.

We spoke with him about changing his life to follow his passion, his forays in online writing, and trends in the film business. Excerpts.

How did you transition from pharmacy to an MBA and finally into writing and film production? Was cinema always your passion?

Yes, media and entertainment, especially cinema, was something I was always passionate about. Coming from a regular middle-class background and blessed with good academic credentials, I initially tried to play it a little safe in terms of the career path I approached. But after spending some time with a regular corporate career, I knew I had to move on and follow my heart.

Thankfully, despite not hailing from any film family, I did manage to break in, after a lot of effort of course, and what helped was that I could write, [and that] I understood cinema and the medium fairly well.

I had interviewed Amborish Roychoudhury for his book, In a Cult of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office, and he talked about how Passion For Cinema was a great platform for film buffs and enthusiasts to write about cinema. What was your experience at that website?

Passion For Cinema was a great platform for many people like me who were from outside the industry and had no clue of how to go about making the move. It also gave us direct exposure to so many stalwarts who are now very popular including [filmmakers] Anurag Kashyap, Sriram Raghavan, Dibakar Banerjee, Sudhir Mishra, etc.

Not only did we gain knowledge about the sector, we also realized that the only way to live our dream was to slog it out the right way. I graduated from being a casual reader initially to a guest writer, a regular writer and finally the chief-editor of the portal. It was an amazing time while it lasted.

You also set up your own website, Mad About Moviez. What was your aim in founding the movie portal?

If Passion For Cinema (PFC) had continued, perhaps, Mad About Moviez may never have been set up, that's the truth. When PFC shut down, a lot of us felt bad about the same and we could do nothing about it as I did not have any ownership in it. Hence, the idea was to start another platform which would retain some core values of PFC, like supporting indie cinema, but at the same time not be a clone and have its own identity. Hence, we identified regional cinema as a strong pivot to support and we continue to maintain that focus strongly.

When did the opportunity to work with DAR Motion Pictures come up? Were you hesitant or eager at the life change?

So, I've been associated with DAR Motion Pictures for more than five years now. Initially Vivek [Rangachari] and I met up a few times to discuss the possibility of doing something together in the online space thanks to the work I was already into, with DAR's focus in mind.

For some reason the online venture did not take off but we realized that we shared similar backgrounds and sensibilities in terms of our views on cinema, etc. Hence, I worked with DAR for sometime as a creative consultant, with the focus being on scouting for films to be remade, plays to be adapted, etc.

Later, when there was a rebuilding in the organisation happening in 2016, when we decided to go in for our 2.0 phase, I was given the opportunity to turn producer as I was elevated as COO and joined the board of directors. I was a little hesitant to be honest because at that stage we were going through a very tough phase, but deep inside I had a lot of confidence in the brand and in the vision of Arun and Vivek [Rangachari]. Thus, it became a decision that I am proud of.

Vivek Rangachari: DAR aims to be seen as a serious player in the business

What kinds of projects are you hoping to produce under DAR? What usually appeals to you?

My initial exposure to film production came in the form of a few indie projects but as a full fledged hands-on producer the first assignment I've taken on is Bucket List. Going forward, I am keen to produce a variety of films, explore various genres and try some concepts that are a tad unconventional. I am also keen to lead DAR's foray into languages apart from Hindi and Marathi, as a first step we are looking at entering Tamil cinema shortly.

I am open to all genres, as long as the film manages to excite and impress me. So, currently I am evaluating all kinds of projects including horror, thrillers, romance and drama.

What do you think of the impact of online platforms and streaming services on the film business? Is it helpful or does it hurt the business?

While it’s still early I would still say that online platforms and streaming services are here to stay and we need to look at the brighter side of the situation. A lot of concepts which may struggle to be seen as a theatrical release can probably fit in very well as a direct to digital release [film] or a web-series depending on the scope and potential.

Also, it does open up a new and ready channel of revenue generation, and reaching out to the target audience even for regular films which do manage a theatrical release. So, I see the whole thing as a positive aspect for the business.

The recent trend in Hindi cinema, for the past few years, has been biopics and sports films. How long do you see these kinds of films lasting?

Too much of anything will only lead to an overkill and that's true for cinema as well. So there is no fun in doing a biopic and/or a sports-based-film just because that is the current trend. However, if the subject is indeed unique and has the potential to hold the attention of the audience, then a good biopic or a sports film will always work. As there are too many of these films in the pipeline currently we'll have to wait and watch as to how long this trend might continue.

After the success of the Baahubali films, there have been a number of historicals in the making like Manikarnika: The Queen Of Jhansi (2019), Tanaji (2019) and now, Takht (2020). Do you think that is another trend that we will see?

I wouldn't refer to historicals as a trend as such for now, but yes, there seems to be a renewed interest in the same for sure. But we'll need to be watch out for these films eagerly to see how they eventually work out. Though I hope they all end up successful. It's not easy to come up with a Baahubali, but who knows, with the right intention and effort we may see more such historicals finding success. And if they do or at least some of them manage to find success then it could truly spawn a trend.

Do you still write on cinema? What recent films have you loved?

I don't write on cinema as much as I used to earlier but I still try to do it once in a while to ensure that the creative streak is kept alive. Some of the recent films I've loved would include [Malayalam films] Ee.Ma.Yau (2018), Sudani From Nigeria (2018), Koode (2018), [Telugu films] Kaala (2018), Mahanati (2018) and Goodachari (2018), and [Hollywood films] Searching (2018), Hereditary (2018) and Incredibles 2 (2018).