'One cannot make good films without passion'
...say Swapna and Priyanka Dutt, the producers of the National-Award winning Mahanati (Nadigaiyar Thilagam)
Mahanati was a film that redefined a lot of things for Telugu cinema and the people associated with it. The female-centric film, which fetched a National Award for Keerthy Suresh, was produced by the sister duo Swapna and Priyanka Dutt. The sisters feel that the recognition has added a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. "We are extra careful now when picking scripts and we have also set a couple of goals for the upcoming years," says Priyanka.
It's easy to assume they would want to produce another critically acclaimed film, but Swapna says that commercial success is more important for them now. "Only if we deliver a commercial hit, we will get the chance to produce our next film (laughs). If the film also gains critical acclaim, that would be fantastic." Priyanka quickly clarifies that Mahanati was a winner in both aspects. "It doesn't often happen like that. Mahanati is a very rare film. We want to make good and sensible films like that."
Was it a conscious decision to make a woman-centric film, being female producers? "We are not the typical 'feminists'. We didn't want take up a female-centric story just because we belong to the same gender. We just love to tell stories and if we find a worthy one, we will produce it without a second thought. For instance, if we come across a story revolving around a child, we would love to take that up too," says Swapna.
People usually say that one should not take work home, but that clearly isn't the case with Swapna and Priyanka. They feel belonging to the same family makes them more productive. "It is extremely advantageous. We have the same mindset and we belong to the same environment. We get extra time to discuss cinema. It is actually nice to take work back home," says Swapna. Priyanka reveals this wasn't the case when they worked together for the first time on Yevade Subramanyam. "We had our share of fights back then and we learnt about each other. But Mahanati was pretty much a smooth ride, as we did year-long pre-production work for it."
Both Swapna and Priyanka attribute their passion towards cinema to their father Aswani Dutt, the founder of Vyjayanthi Movies. "While we are running a sprint, our father is running a non-stop marathon. He is so passionate and energetic for his age. Seeing him motivates us to run forward," says Swapna. "Our father is our supreme source of energy. Apart from him, seeing our film on the big screen encourages us to aim for greater things," adds Priyanka.
The sister have seen their fair share of highs and lows in the film industry, producing films individually and under their father's banner, before delivering a hit together with Yevade Subramanyam. Swapna says the toughest part of being a film producer is rising back from a failure. "I started my career earlier than Priyanka, and I've seen both greater successes and failures. Getting back on your leg to produce a new film after a dud isn't easy. We did that before Yevade Subramanyam, and thankfully everything turned favourable for us." Priyanka feels that getting the distributors, actors and technicians to believe in them was a tough task. "We have to start all over again, and gain the trust of everyone. It isn't easy."
Asked if it's an additional challenge to make films in an industry dominated by men, Swapna says, "Right from the beginning of our career, we have never felt that cinema is dominated by men. It may be because we hail from a family which has been into films for more than fifty years. But,that said, things have changed a lot in the past few years and women have started to take up out-of-the-box roles like editing. It feels great to be a part of the change." She feels that the last fifteen years have been extremely progressive. "Earlier cinema was not considered a respectable job for women. Even during the early 2000s, the situation was like that. Now, things have changed and people have a better understanding of cinema and it has become an organised industry."
Swapna and Priyanka are waiting to announce their next production venture, once again helmed by Nag Ashwin. They also have a couple of projects lined up under their father's production house. I can't help but ask them this one question — Which do they think is more important to become a producer, talent or money? They reply in unison: "Both! And above that one should have passion."
Swapna credits their father for inspiring this passion in them. "He used to be on the sets and recording theatres actively supervising the way every film of his shapes up. We've seen him building his own baby." Priyanka adds that one can excel in many other businesses with just talent and money, but passion is necessary to make a good film. "If a person is just good at handling money and people, there are a lot of other business where the prospect of them being successful is higher. But making films is risky. When you're making cinema, you have to do it with passion."