Sunday, November 27, 2011

Tamil director Gautham Vasudev Menon making India's first trilingual film

How do you offer the same film to multiple audience groups? Dub it or remake it? No. Photon KathaasProduction, the brainchild of Tamil film director Gautham Vasudev Menon and where music director AR Rahman is a creative advisor, is well on his way to make what is India's first trilingual movie.

Photon Kathaas, which has producer Michael Rosenberg as its chairman, was established in 2009 and listed on LSE's AIM exchange, says it wants to be in the entire value chain of movie making.

Photon's idea is to make three movies with three different heroes, three different producers in three languages – Tamil, Telugu and Hindi. But only one script. Menon himself will be directing these three movies.

"Economically this is a good deal because you have all the three heroes on one set. You can complete three movies in a span of 110 days. This helps cut down on cost," says Venkat Somasundaram, chief executive officer of Photon Kathaas.

When asked whether this concept would work, he said, "There is no magic formula to calculate this. You can never predict on what works and what does not work when it comes to movies."

The trilingual, shooting for which is 60% over, will be released in 2012. The total cost of the three movies is about $8 million, Photon said in a statement to LSE's AIM exchange.

Photon has signed up with Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, part of the Viacom18 Group, to fund the yet-to-be-named Hindi version. According to the deal, Photon will receive half the profits.

The Telugu version, also to be named, will be funded by C Kalyan, president of the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce. The Tamil version, titled Neethaane En Ponvasantham (meaning You are my golden spring) will be funded by RS Infotainment, the makers of the recent hit Tamil movie Ko.

There's business reasoning behind the trilingual plan: cover key markets faster and with lower costs. Kollywood (Tamil), Tol lywood (Telugu) and Bollywood (Hindi) are three of the biggest markets for commercial cinema in India today.

A leading film critic, who wished anonymity, however, wondered if this approach will work. He recalled a similar attempt was made in 1975 by Gemini Studios with a Tamil film called Ellorum Nallavare, whose Hindi version was called Ek Gaon Ki Kahani. There was a Telugu version too. Except for the Telugu version, the other two bombed, he said. "When you do it all at the same time, you can't think of improvements or adding value," he said.

There's a growing trend in the Indian film industry of a single film being offered to different audience groups either as dubbed movies, remakes or bilinguals. The recent Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Ra.One was dubbed in Tamil. The blockbuster Salman Khan movie Bodyguard was a remake of a Malayalam movie which was successfully redone in Tamil and is now being done in Telugu. Even Salman's Dabangg is now being remade in Tamil as Osthi.

Ace film director Mani Ratnam's hit films Roja and Bombay were dubbed into Hindi. His Hindi film Guru was dubbed into Tamil. His Raavan was a bilingual.

Menon, who is also Photon's chief creative officer, said his inspiration was something similar. "When there were requests to make Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa (a hit bilingual movie that Menon directed in Tamil and Telugu, with different endings and actors) in Hindi, I thought why not make movies at the same time in the future," Menon says.

"That's how the idea sparked. Instead of making movies later I thought we should do it immediately." Thirtynine-year-old Gautham is no greenhorn when it comes to such celluloid experiments. Known as a creative guy who always delivers new and refreshing story angles, Menon began his film career as director of film advertisements. After shooting different commercials he joined film maker Rajiv Menon as assistant director.

Rajiv was making Minsaara Kanavu and Gautham was assisting him in this movie. Post that there was no stopping for him. Till date he has done films with different themes and concepts and has explored regions where none have been. He started off with Minnale in 2000, the movie was a superhit.

He went on to make some of the biggest hits in the Tamil film industry. Some of his notable films are — Kaaka Kaaka (2003), Gharshana (2004), Vettaiyadu Vellaiyadi (2006), Pachaikili Muthucharam (2007) and Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) and Rehna He Tera Dile Mein (2001), a remake of Minnale. These seven films of Gautham have together been estimated by the South Indian film trade to have achieved total gross sales of $14.6million.

His latest bilingual film, Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya (in Tamil) and Ye Maaya Chesave (in Telugu), which was released in February 2010 received positive reviews and this movie is now being made in Hindi also. The film, which is being made in Hindi now — Ek Deewana Tha — made gross sales of $8.8 million as on April 30, 2010.

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