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June 2024

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Tanaji Dasgupta

Tanaji Dasgupta is a producer, filmmaker and actor based in Kolkata. He is the writer and producer of The Hungry - an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus which was  funded by Film London and Cinestaan Film Company.


He is also the producer of Ronny Sen’s Cat Sticks. He is the co-founder of Kindling Pictures along Kiran Rao which has recently produced Laapataa Ladies, an indie dramedy that has created waves both in theaters and on OTT. ProducerLAND spoke to Tanaji Dasgupta about his experience as a producer on the film, what goes into making a film without a star cast, and his hopes for the future of independent films in India. 

In conversation with Céline Loop and Pankhuri Zaheer

How did this film come to you?


The journey of the film started in 2018 when Biplab Goswami pitched the story at the Cinestaan Script Contest and secured the second prize. Aamir Khan was one of the judges for that contest and really liked the story and expressed his interest to produce it. Kiran Rao then came on board as the director. Since she was directing again after a long time, this was also very exciting. Kiran called me when they were ready to  begin pre-production. After  I was formally brought on board,we were looking at further polishing the script as well as  casting, location recces and securing  department heads.

 What was your contribution to the story as a producer? 


Not much. The story was already written by Biplab Goswami, and then Sneha Desai had written a couple of drafts of the screenplay before I came on board.. 

With regards to the script, my involvement was shaped by understanding what Kiran (Rao) wanted in terms of further polishing the script and helping that happen. We brought on board another writer called Divyanidhi Sharma to work on the dialogues and characterization of certain characters.

How involved were you in the casting process? Was it always understood that the script demanded non-known faces as protagonists?


The casting process was guided by both Aamir (Khan) Sir and Kiran. They always wanted  to find the right actors for the characters rather than hiring well known names from the industry. We brought on board a casting director called Romil Modi who has previously worked on Sherni and Newton. Both those films had a very good balance of local actors  and known faces like Vidya Balan and Rajkumar Rao. I must say that even though looking for the perfect actors for our characters was challenging, it is incredibly rewarding to work with actors who bring something completely new to the table.

How much time did it take to finish the audition process? Approximately how many actors did you audition before finalizing the cast? What order were Pratibha, Sparsh and Nitanshi cast in?


Around 6-8 months. I'm not sure about the exact number of actors that were auditioned but Romil and his team auditioned actors for every single character in the film. They even went to the villages in MP where we shot the film to audition and cast local actors.


How does one budget for a film like Laapataa Ladies? 


Budgeting is crucial for a film like ours with no stars and we had  to keep it under a reasonable amount. A big hurdle for us was shooting at train stations which turned out to be quite expensive. Additionally, because this was a rural story, we couldn't shoot in Bombay. Hence, the travel, boarding and lodging automatically became a significant part of the budget. One of the biggest challenges that we faced was the pandemic. Our DOP got COVID the day before we were leaving for the shoot. We had to create an expensive setup using which the DOP could look at the frames in the monitor from his apartment in Mumbai. In addition to all this, we also created a bubble for all the extras and that cost money.

How and when did Jio Studios come on board as a partner on the film, and were there other partners in the film’s marketing and distribution strategy ?


We were at an advanced stage of the film’s editing when Jio Studios came on board. Aamir Khan Productions was showing it to suitable studio partners for distribution and Jio Studios joined the team as a marketing and distribution partner and the journey afterwards was very collaborative. Our other partners were Spice PR who handled the PR for the film. And One Hand Clap ran the social media campaign for the film. T-Series was our music partner. 


Marketing for a film like ours has to be cost effective. Since we had a tight budget we needed to be very creative in how to spend that money. My main job in this whole exercise was not so much coming up with marketing strategies, there were more qualified people to do that. My job was to protect the film and make sure the best creative assets were going out. 

Can you speak about the theatrical vs. OTT release ? 


We are living in times where our audience knows that sooner or later the film is going to come to an OTT platform. So the reason to go to a theater has to be different. Just generating interest for the film is not enough. 


In this regard, Laapataa Ladies has had a good experience. We are very happy, after an 8 week run, we were still hearing about full houses on weekends and people applauding in the theaters. But to be honest, smaller films doing a good theatrical run,  is a larger question. From the theatrical run to OTT, you have an eight week window right now. Could the OTTs be ready to increase that time frame, so one could get more time for the word of mouth campaigns, even with a small number of screens? 

Which brings us to Netflix. Could you tell us when the Netflix deal happened?


The very experienced folks at Jio Studios handled this. They were looking into digital and satellite rights. Netflix came on board in January this year (2024). Earlier we had a release date of 5th Jan and it's only after Netflix came on board that we shifted the release date to 1st March, to make sure that the OTT release is not too far away from the theatrical release.

Films are rarely being bought by OTT platforms without a successful theatrical release. Did your experience on Laapataa Ladies give you hope to repeat this model?


I think overall there’s a lot of hope. The learning is to be as contained within the budget as possible. For theatrical releases, one has to rely on more grassroot screenings to build word of mouth before the film actually releases and it starts counting. Testing the film with an audience is really important before you make your release strategy, because a theatrical release might not be the best strategy for all films. 

It has been so lovely to get to know that Laapataa Ladies now has more views on Netflix than several big budget films? What do you think is the reason for this? 


I really think the film just connected with people and families in a deep way. It's rare to come across heartwarming films these days and that has struck a real chord with many people. There is also a simplicity in the film that makes it accessible for everyone. It's amazing that we got a theatrical boost after the release on Netflix and the film is still playing in theaters 3 months after the release!

Has something stayed with you from making Laapata Ladies that you will take forward to your next projects?


All of it! It has just been one of the most fun and important films that I have done. And the kind of response you get from people watching it in theaters is addictive. I would certainly like to have more films released in theaters because it's a different kind of impact and resonance that you get, which I've experienced for the first time and I love it.

Laapataa Ladies is now streaming on Netflix, India

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