Producer Monisha Advani needs no introduction. Together with her brother Nikkhil Advani and friend Madhu Bhojwani, she co-founded Emmay Entertainment which went on to establish itself as a premier production house in Bollywood in years to come. She has a string of successful films under her belt, including Airlift (2016), Satyamev Jayate (2018), and Batla House (2019). Advani is presently waiting for the release of her next outing Indoo Ki Jawani, a coming-of-age comedy starring Kiara Advani in the lead role.
Ahead of the release of Indoo Ki Jawani, Eastern Eye caught up with Monisha Advani for a freewheeling conversation. In this interview, the successful producer tells us what led her to choose a theatrical release for Indoo Ki Jawani in a time when a lot of filmmakers are opting for a theatrical release for their films, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on Bollywood, and how she looks at her a decade long journey in showbiz.
The year 2020 has not been a great one for all of us because of the Coronavirus pandemic. How has it been for Emmay Entertainment?
Obviously, it has been a tough year not because we have not been to work but because we have been to work and we have to constantly take risks on our faces. Touchwood, we managed, at each point, to counter risks till now and keep the flag high by getting our shows and films ready. Overall, we keep looking for the light at the end of the tunnel and I think I can begin to see those now.
In a time when a lot of filmmakers are opting for a digital release, you have chosen to go to theatres to release your upcoming film Indoo Ki Jawani. How did you arrive at the decision that you wanted to release it in theatres only?
The moment we were taking stock of how we wanted to handle each one of our films, we were very confident of one thing that Indoo Ki Jawani was a film that we made with heart. The film may be small but it is a fun entertainer. It could be likened to the kind of humour which you see in Queen (2014) and Tanu Weds Manu (2011) and Badhaai Ho (2018). These are the films which you can consume anywhere. Why theatres because, for us as a company, we have been partnering with theatres for a long time. It is important that we show our solidarity towards them. We were very confident that this was the film that we were going to theatres to release.
Additionally, we did not have any financial pressure that we had to relent and give in to theatres and that let’s not look at theatrical options right now. Very honestly, Indoo Ki Jawani is a very wonderful example of bringing humour to our audience at a time when, as you said, things are really bad. It is our commitment to theatre owners that we are going to make content for you. We continue to do. It is our commitment to all our partners and stakeholders because at the end of the day I have two hundred technicians on a film who have done it because they enjoy the joy of seeing their names on the big screen. My audiences, my theatre owners, and my team are my three stakeholders.
But the government has put a 50% occupancy cap on screenings in theatres. Do you think that is going to affect the final tally of box-office figures?
I have been asked this question earlier also. There are some films which you make and you calculate them in your head. And then there are some films you do with your heart. In the time that we are living in right now, we got to do it with our hearts. For me, it is really important that we show our solidarity towards theatre owners. I am not really driven by what my figures are going to be. I want people to come out for watching a movie and feeling more confident. Quite honestly, if you see the protocols that workplaces and places like malls and theatres are following, in a lot of ways they are safer than our homes also.
Emmay Entertainment was one of the first few production houses which began production amid the pandemic, with films like Bell Bottom and a few more. How difficult was it for the team to convince actors to come to sets and shoot amid the pandemic?
One thing that I should clarify is that though we are jointly producing Bell Bottom, the credit goes to our partners at Pooja Entertainment and more importantly to Akshay Kumar because he is a fantastic professional and somebody who will never compromise anyone’s health let alone his own. He is so punctilious about it. He really motivated the team to get back on our feet. For us, closer home to India, we did the same with our films and shows. We have almost finished half of Satyamev Jayate 2, we wrapped up a film with Arjun (Kapoor), Rakul (Preet Singh), John (Abraham), Aditi (Roa Hydari), and Neena (Gupta) Ji. We have concluded a number of web shows, one of them being Mumbai Diaries whose teaser got released last week. We have a number of other shows also, which are slowly taking shape.
As owners of our company, we have been driven by one singular thought which is how do we make sure that 500 people who work for us are put to work every day and they have zero interruption in their earning. We have created protocols and safety bubbles to achieve this. I am happy to report that now we always work like this. We always wore masks and washed our hands every ten minutes. So, it has become second nature to us, pretty much like how after every terrorist attack we used to have our car bonnets opened and things checked before entering a theatre or mall. Life changes you and we adapted to the change.
How do you see Bollywood during or post COVID-19 era?
I think there is definitely a change which we are seeing. One of the changes, which I am happy to see, is that there has been no marginalisation of human life. Very often there is this perception that in Bollywood our responsibility towards them is limited. I don’t think that is the case because whether it is the Producers’ Guild of India or Cine & TV Artistes’ Association, everyone is ready to find a way not only to help people within our industry and keep them safe and secure as well financially strong, but the fraternity has also extended itself whenever possible to support the initiatives of our government. And I think that speaks volumes for an industry which, you know, has such a large influence and it takes that very responsibly.
You have completed more than a decade with Emmay Entertainment. How do you see your journey over the years?
It has been quite exciting actually and very honestly overwhelming because when we had time off during the lockdown, my partners and I realised that wow we actually finished ten years in this business and we are still here. What makes us get up and go to work every day is the passion of putting our team to work every day and make sure that their salaries are paid to them every month. That is the first priority for us. The second priority is to make sure that the content that we keep putting out there is representative of new talent, young directors, and young actors. We give them all an opportunity and a chance that talent flourishes. We keep our commitment which is to entertain. I would love to tell you that we are not here to teach people lessons or preach them, not at all. We are clear that life teaches us our lessons, movies are for entertainment. That really has been the driver. We are very grateful for the opportunity to keep coming back to work every day.
Indoo Ki Jawani enters theatres on 11th December, 2020.