In a candid interview to MadAboutMoviez, producer of Madras Cafe, Mr. Ronnie Lahiri, shared with us his experience of making the film and told us why it would be different from run-of-the mill stuff movies.
What is Madras Cafe all about?
Madras Cafe is an espionage political thriller with settings and backdrop in Sri Lanka. ‘Madras Cafe’- the place- plays a central character in the film and the whole plot revolves around it. Hence the title.
Given its massive scale, how did you manage to keep the film tight-budgeted?
Well with good planning one can control the costs. We have been in the advertising business for 15-16 years. So we did maximum possible optimization of resources. We did not spend on frills. Only on what could be seen. With our Production Designer and VFX Team we had visualized how exactly the film would be and spent on what was required for the film rather than food and luxury.
With the LTTE angle coming in, were there no legal issues involved?
We have not mentioned LTTE in the film. It is a fictional story with the presence of a rebel group that is inspired from that period. There was some legal issue in Tamil Nadu, but the High Court has dismissed it. According to a recent ruling, once the Censor Board clears a film, there won’t be any further layers of censorship. The film’s release won’t be an issue.
As a production house, what was the experience of shifting from a quirky comedy (Vicky Donor) to a political thriller (Madras Cafe)?
Shoojit (Sircar) and me had done Yahaan, a similar film, few years back. Only thing was that it had the backdrop of Kashmir. All of us have been working together since the last 15 years as a cohesive family and have been shifting genres consciously. We don’t want to stick to one thing. We want to explore different kinds of stories. They can be political. They can be humorous. And they can be romantic as well !
You started production with a Bengali film – “Aparajita Tumi”. How did the shift to Bollywood happen?
Aparajita Tumi starred Prosenjit Chatterjee, a South American actress (Arianna Arias) and Chandan Roy Sanyal (Kaminey, D-Day). It was one of the first few Bengali films to be shot in the U.S. Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, the director had won two National Awards prior to that and we liked his subject. We did not look upon it as a Bengali Film but as a good story to be told. The film set new parameters in Bengali Cinema in terms of production values, which has anyways gone up for many regional film now. Prior to that we had made Yahaan, under the Red Ice Production House Banner. Then we had also made Johny Mastaana with Mr. Bachchan, UTV co-producing it, but it has been caught in a few legal hassles. So Bollywood was always there in the plan of things .
Tell us something about Rising Sun Films (RSF)- your production house.
RSF is run by Shoojit and me. It has been operational as Rising Sun since the last 6 years. We have been making Ads. Under RSF we have made ads for Binani Cement & Gujurat Tourism (with Big B) and for Coke & Titan (with Aamir Khan). Then we made Johny Mastaana with UTV but it got into a legal wrangle.
Shoojit Sircar is the partner and director in the company. We have many International Directors in the company for making commercials. Now we are shifting to feature films.
What are the film projects in pipeline?
Well they are all in talking stage and it would be too early to talk about them right now.
Would you like to shift to direction ever?
I work mostly on creative front. Shoojit and me go back a long way. He is the captain and has the final vision. I work behind the camera. But whenever I give my suggestions he respects that. I would love to tell stories, definitely. Nothing planned. Right now contributing creatively and am happy with that. Some day might shift role!
Tell us something about John Abraham the producer.
John and I are both producing the film with Viacom18 as the partner studio. I handle the production part while he handles the marketing. (He was into media planning prior to joining films). I look into the pre-production, shooting and post-production phase while he handles the front end. However, we both give each other suggestions. The two of us there – we recognize each other’s strengths. Our philosophy is to make maximum use of money and not spend it where it is not required. He has been in the business for a longer time and understands things like right budgeting, market recovery of a film and how to spend efficiently so that the film looks bigger than it is. We both don’t want the studio to loose money.
Interestingly the first look of the movie was shared on YahooMovies.in and not YouTube which is the norm.
It was a marketing decision taken by Viacom 18. Of course they did consult us but they are expert in that field and we trusted them. And I must say that it worked well for all of us.
Before we wind up, your final thoughts on Madras Cafe.
It is a realistic espionage thriller – a never like before experience. You will see a new John. He has given a tremendously restrained performance. Its a re-launch of sorts for Nargis. She plays a very different character in the film. Apart from this we are launching Quiz Master Siddhartha Basu who has given a very nuanced performance in the film. All the performances are very real. And not theatrical. These are the things people will take away from the film. Also, the way the War sequences have been shot. We shot the action sequences in Thailand with real guns because in India you can’t have animation of guns within certain millimeters of range. We have done Atmos for the film. That is why this film should be watched only on Dolby Atmos. Overall, Madras Cafe would be an experience the Indian audience has never had before.
Madras Cafe releases tomorrow (23rd August), here’s wishing Ronnie and the entire team of Madras Cafe all the very best.