INDIA. Akshay Bardapurkar, the young and dynamic founder of AB Film Company Pvt. Ltd. and Planet Marathi, dons multiple hats. He is a film producer, brand imaging expert, entrepreneur and philanthropist. In 2017, Akshay was featured in the Forbes India Magazine as the game changer of the Marathi digital industry.
In this interview, Akshay talks about Planet Marathi, a digital platform he created in partnership with Twitter India, AB Aani CD, the Marathi film he produced that brought the legendary Vikram Gokhale and Amitabh Bachchan together, the emergence of OTT as the last refuge of entertainment during the COVID-19 times, and his upcoming projects.
Q1. You created a niche for yourself with Planet Marathi, a digital platform you started in partnership with Twitter India. Tell us about the platform. What was the vision behind it?
A. Marathi cinema and overall the Marathi diaspora in the field of arts, culture, sports, literature and politics have contributed a lot towards the overall growth of this country. We are talking about an ancient culture which for thousands of years has been a centre of eye for many reasons; be it the father of cinema Shri. Dadasaheb Phalke to the first woman President of India Smt. Pratibha Patil, it has always left a mark in the upliftment of India. However, in the current world that we live in it could not cope with the speed of technology and branding and packing of itself, and it got limited to a certain extent and it needed to be carried forward globally, and with the advent of social media it was necessary that someone took up this initiative of harnessing, nurturing and spreading this vast culture throughout the world. Hence, we decided to promote ‘anything’ that is Marathi and we named it as Planet Marathi, which denotes everything on this planet that aggregates Marathi to the next level
Since Twitter is a global giant in micro blogging, we partnered with them for a brief while to take Marathi global. Soon we expanded our wings and spread across all possible digital platforms and now we are unstoppable when it comes to promoting anything from a brand to a smallest individual, from films to politics everything. In the quest to taking Marathi global, we have come a long way and will go even further in the times to come
Q2. Tell us about your role as a film producer in the regional space. What are the biggest challenges associated with it?
A. Like I said overall Marathi as a language and its people are known for their talent; we do have some fantastic home talent, which makes, cultivates and creates some great content. However, I personally felt that it lacked severely in its promotion, branding and packaging. I saw a great brain drain happening. I got into cinema with the desire to make great films, which do global business and uplift Marathi language worldwide. So, basically, I entered cinema with the aim that the talent stays put where it is and yet reaches en mass.
My biggest challenge as I said is to change the mindset of film makers that filmmaking may be easy many a times but to find the audience isn’t and that can only happen if you market your film well. And that is the craft I am good at and I am quite confident that within a few years I shall be successful in my efforts to brand Marathi and sell it like hot cakes.
Q3. AB Aani CD brought two stalwarts together in Vikram Gokhale and Amitabh Bachchan. How was the project conceived? What was it like to work with both these stalwarts?
A. Well, for me, the project didn’t conceive; it was accidental. Every film suffers from certain woes, initially, in spite of a great team. I realized this film wasn’t shaping up properly and that’s when I got into the game and got rid of the hiccups in a bid to take it to the next level. Of course this feat wouldn’t have been possible without our team and co-producers
With regards to working with the two stalwarts, I guess I did find myself very lucky to have stumbled upon a great script which was accepted within no time by these two stalwarts as they saw their real self in that and that was it. Once it was decided that these two are going to act in this film, the game was more or less set; we immediately swung into action and got it released within 9 months.
The experience that I gained on this film while working with the great Bachchan Sahab and Vikram Ji, it was like being in an institution of great talent, clubbed with high level of energies which is rarely seen these days.
Q4. AB Aani CD’s theatrical run was cut short by the nationwide lockdown. How did it affect the film’s prospects?
A. Frankly, we didn’t anticipate that COVID-19 would affect us so badly. But, it was our misfortune that it came and hit us very hard. We lost out on a great opportunity of reaching a wide audience through the theatrical release. Thus, we also lost out on the box-office income and a few other sources of revenue. But that was it. Fortunately, it was later appreciated very well on the OTT.
Q5. To what extent did the digital release help you in compensating the losses your film suffered owing to the lockdown?
A. Honestly, the box-office income is something any film maker considers his own income or sort of a bonus income after all your rights are sold off and the cost of the projects are covered from all the ancillary rights and since we lost our bonus income we were left to recover our cost of the film from OTT sell out. I must say we were lucky that we could cover our majority of expense from the selling of digital rights and more than that we were happy that we could salvage the loss somehow by reaching out to the audiences at their homes as the lockdown primarily meant was to sit at home and entertain yourself. That’s why we got good audience and good reviews and appreciation from everywhere. After all, who would miss the great performances by the two stalwarts?
Q6. OTT platforms have emerged as the last refuge of entertainment during COVID-19 times. What will be the long term impact of this on the Indian entertainment industry?
A. Well, I agree that it did offer some reprieve to a few filmmakers like us in the COVID-19 times, but I don’t think dependency on OTT platforms would go too forward as cinemas aren’t made keeping in mind one medium of exhibition. They are made for a wide audience; simple example would be if Maharashtra has a population of 14 crore, which is second highest in the country, how many subscribers would all OTTs put together have? Well, it would not be more than 50 lakhs or to stretch it further maybe a crore. Does that help a film? The answer is straight ‘No’. Does it have a repeat audience? The answer is straight ‘No’. Plus, with so much of variety already in place, you are anyway overshadowed. Hence, in my opinion, post COVID-19 the things will come back to normal and the speculations around cinema screening would end. We shall see people once again thronging and queuing up outside theatres. OTTs can act as a desert after a sumptuous lunch
Q7. Tell us about your upcoming projects. Also tell us about your plans about taking regional Indian cinema to global audiences.
A. We have two more films coming up viz. Goshta Eka Paithani Chi and Chandramukhi. Both are in Marathi. Both the films are unique in nature and the scripts are out of the world. While the former is ready for release, Chandramukhi is yet to go on floor. I hope we can resume the shooting as soon as we can so that we can release the films this year itself. Apart from that four other films and web series projects are in pipeline. We shall see all of them releasing next year.
The idea itself revolves around taking cinema global and hence we have partnered with a Singapore based company known as Golden Ratio Films and a few others who are experts in taking cinemas to the next level globally and exhibiting it to wide audiences through festivals and international releases. Our immediate ideas are to produce more Marathi short films meant for global audience keeping in mind that we nurture the young talent that we have and that they are noticed worldwide in a short duration as short films are easy to be marketed and can reach a wide audience.
AB Aani CD is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Watch the trailer here: