Bangalore Days to RDX: Producer Sophia Paul speaks on her relentless winning streak

Sophia Paul stands out among the few successful women producers in Malayalam cinema, and her production house Weekend Blockbusters has been on a winning streak with the recent blockbuster success of ‘RDX’.
Sophia Paul
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When it comes to women in the production department, Malayalam cinema – which movie buffs say makes some of the most progressive films in India – lacks in numbers. In Bollywood, Ekta Kapoor has done over 150 productions (television and films), while Alia Bhatt debuted in production with Darlings and the recent, critically acclaimed web series Poacher. Priyanka Chopra’s Purple Pebble Pictures produces regional films, and her contemporaries like Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, and Kriti Sanon have all ventured into production. Down south, Amala Paul produced the critically appreciated Cadaver, while Nayanthara has also been in production, backing films like Pebbles and Shub Yatra. They all talk about the importance of telling stories from a female perspective. and for most female actors, having production houses helps them create strong films and roles for women, removed from being sidelined as a hero’s muse. But being a standalone producer without much inside know-how is a whole different ball game.

From Sandra Thomas, Supriya Prithviraj, and Lakshmy Warrier, to Shenuga, Shegna, and Sherga, the handful of women who have been successful producers have mapped their unique paths in a male-dominated industry with much grit. Sophia Paul stands out among them, and her production house Weekend Blockbusters has been on a relentless winning streak with the recent blockbuster success of the Shane Nigam-Antony Peppe- Neeraj Madhav starrer RDX

Sophia, who married into a family that previously had a prestigious production and distribution house, says that the induction into film production was a natural progression, though navigating the currents was not easy. The term “family production” has to be taken verbatim when it comes to Sophia’s modus operandi – a collective enterprise that involves her entire family, and this seems to have really worked for her. 

“I have always been a movie lover. My husband’s brother was into film production and distribution. Their Pratheeksha Pictures distributed films like Unnal Mudiyum Thambi, Thalapathy, and Roja in Kerala. Their first production was Nagarangil Chennu Rapparkkam,” says Sophia. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Bangalore Days was co-produced by Weekend Blockbusters and Anwar Rasheed Productions. Coincidentally, both were debutants in production. What led to that association?

When we wanted to open a production house, we wanted Anwar Rasheed to direct our first production, but he was planning his first production and suggested a collaboration. Considering his body of work, there was no reason why we would decline that offer. After hearing the story and writer-director Anjali Menon’s name, we were in. I don’t think we could have gotten a better launch.

What was the biggest learning experience from your first film?

I didn’t get too involved in my first production. For me, the first step was what counted. That film helped me decide that production is what I should do. I fully trusted Anwar and his expertise, and since his films were blockbusters, I knew there had to be something in the project if he greenlit it. All the actors came on board, thanks to his connections.

There is no foolproof formula when it comes to box office success. So how do you pick a project?

Of course, the story should appeal to all of us as a family. If one family member has reservations, we don’t take it. We listen to the story as viewers and keenly imagine what reactions it would evoke among the audience. Many elements go into the decision-making, but a lot of it is also a gamble. And we would know only after the first show if the gamble paid off. Our calculations might not always be right.

Why did you choose a film like Kaadu Pookkunna Neram after a blockbuster success like Bangalore Days?

I liked Dr Biju’s story and wanted to give an art house movie a shot. Besides, the budget was minimal. Having said that, I wouldn’t do that all the time. A film requires a lot of money and effort and like any producer, we expect returns. I travelled with the film to 14 festivals and it won several awards. Creatively, it was satisfying, but art house movies have a limited audience and very small monetary returns.

Do you agree to produce a film after listening to a one-liner of the story or do you read the whole script?

No, if we like an idea, we tell them to develop it. There are also times when the narration might not be exciting and the idea gets abandoned. During the script narration, we figure out the running time and other important aspects. If those aspects work and the idea is exciting, we ask for several drafts and give inputs. For Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol, we loved the one-liner. Since it was written for Mohanlal, once he okayed the project, we asked the writer to develop it further.

What hooked you to Minnal Murali?

When Basil Joseph told us the story of an auto driver who gets superpowers after being struck by lightning, and that he is called Minnal Murali, we were hooked. Since there was no other homegrown superhero so to speak in Malayalam cinema up until then, we were intrigued. That’s when he started developing the story. 

I had worked with Basil in Padayottam, and when I pitched the idea, he was keen. After many suggestions and reading sessions, we loved the final draft. The same happened with RDX, and we are a very hands-on production house. For Minnal we brought in a Hollywood action director. It is about doing whatever needs to be done to better the project.

Minnal Murali ran into several hurdles….

Our biggest crisis was regarding the release. It was a theatre movie and the pandemic had put us in a soup, and our investments were on hold. That’s when Netflix called after watching the teaser. They were impressed by the raw footage and said that after Mr India, this was the best superhero movie they had ever seen. 

Since there were restrictions during the pandemic, we knew that children wouldn’t be allowed to go to theatres. That’s when we decided on OTT. Though it was a huge theatre miss, the sheer global attention it garnered was out-of-this-world.

Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol was your only ‘superstar’ film so to say. What is the advantage when a star headlines your production?

We have worked with many young actors, but Mohanlal’s professionalism has to be emulated. That is a different school altogether.

Padayottam was your first collaboration with a debutant. Is there space for more creative involvement when you have a new director on board?

Padayottam was a fun movie, and we didn’t incur any losses. But the final product didn’t exactly reach the level I expected. Rafeeq has been in this industry for years and we have seen his short films. Even Nahas (RDX director) was chosen after watching his short film. Also during the story narration, we could guess their potential. 

In the first week, we give them time to warm up and get into the groove. After that, we get involved. I am involved in every aspect of filmmaking, including casting, and I am on the sets throughout the shoot. That it’s a male-dominated workplace has never deterred me.

RDX was the dark horse last year. And it turned out to be one of the biggest hits of 2023. What do you think worked in its favour?

I think we picked the right technical team. Since the film’s high point was action, we approached Anbu-Arivu to design action choreography and that worked big time. They also had quite a reputation post Kamal Haasan’s Vikram. That kind of choreography wasn’t something we had seen in Malayalam cinema before. Then, of course, we knew that if the audience were moved (and furious) in that scene where they snatch the chain from the baby, RDX would work. 

Since everyone was billing on King of Kotha, we didn’t even get enough theatres. We were allotted only 150-170 screens when they got 400 screens. But then, we trusted our product and we wanted to release the film during the Onam season which is crucial for the box office. Even Nahas was skeptical and wanted us to postpone. The director was new, and the lead actors didn’t have an initial, but eventually, we all gained from the film. Our next with Pepe will be a visual treat, set against the sea.

Are you insistent on having more women technicians on board?

For RDX, there was a female assistant director. Direction assistants are chosen by the crew, and we don’t interfere. Also, not many women technicians have approached us. 

What is it that a woman does better when they are involved in film production?

I think women are better organisers, and they are keen on details. People management is a crucial aspect, along with problem-solving and diplomacy, and I think we do that well. You need a different skill set to manage artists who are very sensitive. But having said that, some things are out of our control.

Do you think reviews can affect a film’s box office results?

I don’t think everyone watches films based on reviews. Today, most youngsters watch films on the first day, and if it is a good product, it will run. But when reviewing films, people must try not to get personal or nasty.

So if someone has a good story, they can just walk in and narrate to you?

You can say that. I give my office number, and they give dates for narration. There is a team that initially filters the narration (my daughter-in-law is also involved). At times, we hear up to four stories a day and that can be taxing. It can affect our sense of judgment. Some stories will be terrible, or a repeat of a success formula. But we still listen and send them away sweetly. 

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to and She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to and She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.

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