Producer Achin Jain of Sikhya Entertainment has some credible titles in his filmography – The Lunchbox, Pagglait, Masaan, and the Oscar-winning documentary The Elephant Whisperers. In an exclusive interview with Cine Blitz, Achin Jain talks about his beginnings, journey and what it takes to take your film to the global audience.
Why did you decide to become a film producer which could be a stressful job?
Achin Jain: Because of innocence and naivety. I got into filmmaking because I wanted to tell stories. I enjoyed working with directors to tell a story. I like the role of working with the captain of the ship and allowing them to achieve their dream. Somehow, doing that repeatedly led to the part where we are today. But it all started with me wanting to tell stories and not knowing anything else.
According to you, which projects of yours have been very instrumental in your journey so far?
Achin Jain: We all started independently on a film called Peddlers. It was the first film that we produced. Though it played in Cannes, sadly, it was never released in India. It played a different role in the journey back then.
Then came The Lunchbox and it changed the arc of our journey. Somewhere Pagglait played a huge role too. People started seeing that we’re making accessible cinema with a social change. Then there was a documentary called Period. End of Sentence. Every project has played a part in our journey and what we have got out of them is unique.
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How does the kind of cinema that you make survive in the current scenario at the Box Office?
Achin Jain: With the OTT coming in, we got a democratic ground where we could make films that we always wanted to make. Having said that, we are in this business to tell stories on the big screen. And it is an interesting time because there’s a behavioral change happening in the audience. There’s way too much content for them to watch. We are all figuring out what are those stories that will bring people back to the theatres. I hope and pray that the current trend will change, and people will go back to the fun of watching the film in theatres.
At this stage in your career, what are your aspirations and ambitions in terms of what kind of stories you want to tell and the way you want to tell them?
Achin Jain: There’s a certain taste that we have. If you see the films, we have made over the last 15 years, it resembles that taste. That taste also determines that we want to tell entertaining stories that will lead to social change. Or at least start a conversation. At the same time, we want to tell stories that will go international as well.
Winning an award internationally is a big achievement. But how difficult it is to even enter that international race?
Achin Jain: Entering is not a big deal. Anyone can enter. But it is about how do you create a path for yourself and your content. And I don’t think it happens overnight. Firstly, you can do whatever you want to, but your story has to resonate. There’s a reason why RRR and other films have resonated internationally because they’re very local and true to what they’re doing.
Secondly, people don’t understand that there’s an entire ecosystem. You can’t just make something and expect it to fly automatically. You have to know what the right strategy and you is having to keep pushing the content to the right people. Somewhere, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have played a big role in bridging that gap. Had it not been for Netflix, I don’t think our journey with The Elephant Whisperers would have been seen. There’s a big machinery of Netflix in the US that worked on pushing the film.
But yes, the film has to be unique and fresh for someone in the West to back the content because that is not the only content that they’re producing. One is to know what the right content is and what is the right target audience for it. Two is working day in and day out to push that content.
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What were the takeaways for you from the journey and victory of The Elephant Whisperers?
Achin Jain: It is more stressful than making the content. Day in and day out you’re working on a certain campaign. You’re working with people who have done it often but for you, it’s the first time. You’re too small a fish in that big ocean. It is very challenging and stressful. It’s pretty much like releasing the film in theatres. How do you make sure that the documentary reaches enough voters and members for them to experience it? Then it’s up to them whether it resonates with them or not. But the onus of pushing it is on you. So, it is very stressful.
Besides your own productions, which films/series have you enjoyed watching from both the indie and mainstream spaces?
Achin Jain: Recently, Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes which was there at the Oscars from India. It is amazing and it is relevant. Wild Wild Country is the most popular one. With Wild Wild Country and The Last Dance, you have documentaries that are as engaging as fictional feature films. What these documentaries have done is that they’ve opened up that audience to enjoy documentaries much more.
Historically, the work of Asif Kapadia – Senna, Amy, Diego Maradona. What I experienced in theatres with both Senna and Amy was so powerful and amazing that it was a discovery for me that how a documentary can move you.
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As a producer, in terms of storytelling, what looks promising to you in the current scenario of Hindi cinema and what needs to be improved?
Achin Jain: Firstly, we need to drop the formulas that we have in our mind and be honest to our storytelling. It doesn’t matter whether it is an independent film or a film backed by big bucks. When you watch Oppenheimer, you feel that you’re watching a very intimate film. The biggest problem that we face is that we’re trapped in our formulas.
In today’s times, sadly, independent cinema has lost the power of both theatres and OTT. We, as the Hindi film industry need to figure out what are our stories, what are our roots, and what will resonate with a larger audience. Those are the conversations happening every day, and everyone is trying in their own way to bring people back into theatres. We need to figure out our voice. It’s good to see films like Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani and Zara Hatke Zara Bachke doing that.