Could it be ‘Luck by Chance’! Well perhaps, except that it’s yet another hit movie made by them this year and maybe Lady Luck is smiling or rather grinning at them because they make her do so. “Zindagi hume mauka nahi deti, hume mauke khud banana padte hain (Life doesn’t offer you opportunities. You have to create them). You have to create your own luck,” Farhan Akhtar tells as much to Konkana Sen in a poignant scene in this film. These lines ring true for many, and producers live it in every moment of their real lives. Ten years ago, in 1999, Ritesh Sidhwani teamed up with Farhan Akhtar to make their brand of luck and start a venture born out of mutual interests in film making. They formed “Excel Entertainment” to produce movies with unconventional subjects bearing a stamp of reality and youthful zing. “We produce films and work on stories, which we believe in and, are a reflection of today’s society,” says Ritesh.
Though always an ardent film buff, Ritesh Sidhwani started his career by joining his family business - “Marlex”, the largest selling home appliances brand in India. Even as he fine-tuned his skills in marketing and management for six years, he never gave up his dream of wanting to start a production company of his own. Ritesh took his first step towards Bollywood by visiting the sets of the movie ‘Lagaan’ to soak in the nuances of film-making. He says “Yes, it was unknown territory. But then I had no pre-conceived notions and I learnt a lot about different aspects of film-making.”
When Farhan Akhtar, his college buddy discussed with him the now well known story of three friends and his desire to direct the movie, Ritesh knew they could change the way movies were made and seen in India.
And thus ‘Dil Chahta hai’ happened in 2001, which went on to become a cult film with hip lyrics, great fashion, spiky hair, three friends and a great story making Bollywood “cool” like never before. “The story is very important to me. We need to be convinced about the story first. Then only can we sell it to millions of viewers,” says Ritesh. Excel Entertainment followed it with a spate of successful films such as Lakshya (2004), Don (2006), Honeymoon Travels (2007), Rock On (2008), and Luck By Chance (2009). Needless to say he has laughed all the way to the bank on several occasions.
With this in mind “Yourstory” popped the question every other producer is dying to know the answer to “What the secret behind ‘Excel Entertainment” and it’s Midas touch?
“Trade Secret,” Ritesh laughs and adds thoughtfully: “Right from the beginning we knew that there are no definite formulae and we don’t shy away from trying unconventional stories, new directors etc. We showed love between a young man and a middle-aged lady in ‘Dil Chahta Hai’. It talked about friendship and accepting friends as they are. ‘Lakshya’ was about the dilemma of today’s jaded youth who have everything in life but have no purpose. ‘Don’ was an out and out commercial potboiler. ‘Honeymoon Travels’ dealt with various layers of relationships in our society. ‘Rock On’ was all about following unconventional dreams when you get sucked into the daily humdrum routine of life. In ‘Luck By Chance’ we have shown the life of strugglers and Bollywood work ethics without going over the top. The movie communicated effectively through subtle dialogues, mannerisms, and costumes. See, we look for stories, which are a slice of life- that are similar to yours, mine and a million others. Once we are convinced about the story then we think about how best we can translate it into a visual format. That’s where the director and crew come in. Directors like “Abhishek Kapoor” and “Reema Katgi” have directed movies for Excel. We are going to work with more first time directors in near future.”
When nine out of ten Bollywood films sink at the Box Office, how does Excel production get away with a track record of 100%? Ritesh explains:
“We spend lot of time in detailing: right from selecting a story to hiring a sound technician. There are no half-hearted measures. We do lot of research on characters and spend considerable time in pre-production with our production designer, costumes designer, sound, technicians, and director. We share the script with everybody so that even a guy manning the lights is in sync with the director’s vision and subsequent execution for a particular scene. We shoot the whole movie according to schedule and stick to our budget. It also helps an actor to get into the skin of the character. For example, while shooting ‘Lakshya’, we made Hrithik Roshan sleep in his uniform with guns and go through all the drills and arduous physical tasks done by the cadets at thes Indian Military Academy. I am often the first person to report on the set and last to leave long after pack-up is announced. We also put in lot of emphasis on film marketing as it gives impetus to the first week run on the box office. We carefully design our film promos and publicity campaign to reach out to the audience.” As one can tell it’s not exactly rocket science but they have perfected the way they do things and the numbers speak for themselves.
Ask him about the recession and its effect on the film industry and Ritesh shrugs: “We were never ones to pay inflated prices to actors and have never overpriced our films to distributors either. Actors trust us and are ready to work with “Excel Entertainment” because of our good track record and great production values. They know our strike rate is better. In fact, for the first time, Excel Entertainment will work on three projects simultaneously. ‘Karthik calling Karthik’ with “Farhan Akhtar” and “Deepika Padukone is under production. There is an untitled film with Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai to be directed by Abinay Deo and we will be announcing our third project in a week’s time.”
However, Ritesh has a word of advice for other aspiring film-makers in this time of recession: “Please spend maximum time on the script. Be passionate about the film-making but also work out the economics of your project… in order to thrive, you need to strive sensibly without compromising on creativity. Remember whom you are making the film for. Position and market your film accordingly through promotions and publicity.” Great advice from someone who knows how to get to the mountain top and stay there… is it any wonder then that the company was named to “Excel”.