Supriya Menon is not new to the film industry. She has been married to one of the busiest personalities in Malayalam cinema for close to 8 years now. However, she has now turned producer along with husband Prithviraj for their upcoming film 9.
In a chat with TNM, Supriya speaks about Prithviraj Productions, the work that went into 9, the couple's ambitions for the production house and how they wish to make a difference to Malayalam cinema.
Excerpts from the conversation below.
Prithviraj had said in an interview that this production house was a way to give back to Malayalam cinema. What kind of films are you looking to do?
We're looking to produce all kinds of content. There's no particular formula. We would want to encourage new talent - new directors, new writers. I, for one, would definitely want more women to be part of this endeavour. You hone, you encourage, you are able to give a platform for their work. And also new stories which are not able to find takers right away.
Malayalam cinema is well-known for producing small budget, realistic films. But we don't have too many that are on the scale of a Baahubali. Is that something you'd be interested in doing?
I really hope so, at some point in time. Prithvi has been saying in interviews that we need to see how we can monetise if we're spending that kind of money, and how we can take this content to the maximum number of people. We've had a Baahubali from Telugu, a KGF from Kannada...I think Malayalam is at the cusp. I'm hoping to see something big come from our industry too, and there are so many who want to do it.
Tell us about 9?
9 is set in the backdrop of a cosmic event that takes place over 9 days. It's a story about Albert and his son Adam. Albert being played by Prithviraj and Adam by master Alok. It's on a relationship between a father and son, it's a bit troubled. So how does he settle the dilemmas in his mind and figure it out? That's what the film is about.
From the trailer, it appears that the film has quite a bit of VFX work?
VFX is one of the integral pillars of the film. It's extensive because of the kind of events we wanted to depict. It's one of the reasons why we had to delay our release. We were earlier slated to release in November, but we realised we had to give more time to the VFX department. All of these things are very time consuming.
Is it tougher for Indian producers and directors to make such VFX-heavy films that offer a satisfying experience for the audience, considering people have easy access and exposure to Hollywood films?
The access and exposure are there, but I think the audience also gives us some leeway by thinking it's an Indian film at the end of the day. They understand that this is where it's coming from. But that doesn't mean you don't try for perfection or excellence. I think that's one of the hallmarks of Indian cinema, and particularly Malayalam cinema, that we're able to produce world class films with such limited budgets.
Also there's the time factor. If you look at Hollywood films, they spend a few years on VFX work. Here, we're churning out 120 films a year in Malayalam! So, we don't have the luxury of time or money because the industry is so small.
You had quite a unique promo for 9, releasing the trailer at 9 pm in several channels. How did you come up with that?
We were thinking about how to make a bit of a noise about the trailer and the fact that the film is coming. 9 pm is usually prime time across all households, and people are either watching the news or their favourite soaps on TV. We were talking to our partners at Sony and between them and us, we came up with an idea to get the most number of people talking about our trailer. We thought why not try this. We were lucky, I guess, we managed to put it across 15 channels and everyone aired it.
Do you think Malayalam cinema needs to step up when it comes to promos? The industry seems quite laid-back in comparison to Tamil and Telugu in this respect.
Everything comes back to money. What are our sources of revenue, how much can we monetise the content? But I think when there's a big Malayalam film, like Pulimurugan, people talked about it. They saw it in other states as well. Or Ennu Ninte Moideen - people watched it in other states. By and large, the content has to speak for itself. I'm a firm believer of that.
We do try and market if given a platform. But everyone knows Malayalam cinema for its content, so in that sense, we don't have to go around telling everyone. People do keep tabs. A lot of content from the south does go to the north and other industries as well.
You worked as a journalist previously. What made you get into film production at this stage?
I took a break from journalism once I had my daughter Alankrita. I worked as a TV journalist for the BBC and my office was in Mumbai. So heading back to Mumbai with the baby wasn't an option at that point. And cinema is something that I have learnt with my life with Prithvi in the 8 years that we've been married. He's been talking about wanting to start a production house for the last few years and then I thought why not. Why not try and see if I could give shape to this vision that we both had? That's how the leap happened. It was very organic. I've been on film sets, but I hadn't learnt anything. I've just seen people working all the time. But this was something I can say was my own baby.
We started the project together, we took it to Sony over a meeting, got it executed, and now the film is about to hit the screens on the (February) 7th! I guess my training in journalism has helped me immensely. It's all about telling stories, and that's what I'm doing in cinema as well. Telling stories but on a far bigger scale. Journalism offers near instant gratification when you see your byline on a story or when it is aired, but this takes way longer.
Prithviraj is among the busiest stars in Malayalam today. He's acted in over 100 films and is into direction and production. Is it difficult to keep a work-life balance?
It is quite hard. Work-life balance is probably what most of our arguments are about as a married couple, I must admit to that! But we try. There are some non-negotiables. We take some time off at the end of the year for us...we travel. But if he's shooting for long periods of time at a particular location, I make it a point to travel with my daughter and spend time with him. He also gets lonely when he's working on sets back to back.
Even on Lucifer locations we turned up, because it's a 4-hour drive from where we are. And when he was shooting in Mumbai as well I took my daughter and went. Every year he keeps promising me that he will slow down, and maybe this year will be it! Let's see.
Can you tell us about your next production? Is there anything else on the cards?
We're discussing a film at this point, but it's too soon to talk about it because we haven't signed anything. There's a script we have in mind that we want to do, and we're hoping to do it in June this year. We haven't inked the deal, so it wouldn't be right to talk about it now. But as soon as 9 is out, and we have the information, we will definitely make the announcement.
The Malayalam film industry has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent times. In Hollywood and Bollywood, there are people who have said they won't be working with men accused of sexual harassment till their names are cleared. As a producer, would you make such a call?
As a production house, we would like to be conscious of all the guidelines that are in place, like any other industry or company. I would like a safe environment for everybody who is part of the company. I guess it also helps that I am a woman and I'm heading the company. Having a background in journalism, I'm aware of the Vishaka guidelines, the fact that we need to have an internal complaints committee, and things like that. We're hoping to be a law-abiding company.
All images courtesy: Instagram/Supriyamenonprithviraj