Siddharth Roy Kapur is synonymous with India’s motion picture business for over 15 years. Kick-starting his career with UTV, becoming the managing director and CEO of Disney India, and then going out on his own with Roy Kapur Films, he was spearheaded for success. Kapur, who has been behind some iconic films like Dev D, the ABCD franchise, Fashion, Dangal, is now putting all his might behind some very special and different stories.
He entered the OTT game with two recent bets — Aranyak (Netflix) and Rocket Boys (Sony Liv), the latter being the talk of the town at the time that this story is being written. In fact, Rocket Boys was referenced by Cabinet Minister Piyush Goyal in one of his speeches. Sujoy Ghosh of Kahaani and Badla fame tweeted, “Everyone I am meeting is asking me if I have seen Rocket Boys? At this rate, I think I’ll be fined soon.” When we mention this to Kapur, he says, “I will fine Sujoy if he doesn’t watch it soon (laughs).”
Rocket Boys is based on the life of two scientists, Dr Homi J Bhabha and Dr Vikram Sarabhai. Discussing the terrific response that the show is garnering, Kapur shares, “The reaction is quite overwhelming. Sometimes, you succeed, and sometimes things don’t work out. I have been lucky in my career to have experienced a few moments like these before. You rarely happen to create something that touches a nerve and snowballs into this sort of an emotional response. You can sense the characters, the period, the patriotism, the idea of young new India trying to find its feet. These nuanced personalities with frailties and failings have so much heroism and bravery.”
“So, we all have heard about Vikram Sarabhai and Homi Bhabha. They have been featured on our postage stamps. Various institutions are named after them, and we have a general sense of what they have done for our country. When this young writer Abhay Koranne came to us, many of us didn’t know that the lives of these two scientists were so intertwined with each other. We always thought of them as two separate individuals who did great things, but never thought they shared this mentor-mentee relationship.”
Kapur goes on to explain, “The two had such contrasting personalities, yet they deeply impacted each other’s lives. Their professional and personal journey set over a period of a decade really excited me. I had been speaking with (film producer) Nikkhil Advani to collaborate on something for a while. When I shared the story idea, even he had no idea about this particular connection. He had done a fair bit of research. Then we decided to work on this together. Nikkhil brought in Abhay Pannu (director), who simply ran with it. He read everything that was out there on these two gentlemen. We even met the Sarabhai family, and they were very supportive. They were happy that Vikram Sarabhai was shown for all who he was, rather than just a one-dimensional character.”
Reminiscing about his journey from UTV to now, Kapur recalls how Ronnie Screwvala, the actual entrepreneur at UTV, always gave him a sense of being an entrepreneur too.
“There was never a time when I felt that UTV was not my company. But yes, I did get a salary at the end of every month. That brand meant so much to me personally and professionally, those things stayed with me. It was the same while I was at Disney. Being an entrepreneur is pretty much like falling off a cliff without a safety net. But at that point, I was prepared to take that plunge, and it has been very good so far. I don’t think there has been a day when I don’t think this is where I should be.”
One would have expected Siddharth Roy Kapur to launch multiple mega projects as soon as he turned independent, but that wasn’t the case. He explains that it was a very deliberate move. “When you’ve worked with a studio for as long as I have, there is a certain volume of work you put out every year. We decided to take a breath, really develop projects from the ground up, work with writers and directors, and be very mindful of how we wanted to move forward. I have to admit it takes a lot of patience when you are used to a certain pace and level of working. I’m glad I allowed myself to have that breather.”
Collaborations have become another mainstay in the current scenario for film-makers. A lot of big names are coming together to make bigger projects. Siddharth Roy Kapur teamed up with Ramesh and Rohan Sippy for Aranyak and Nikkhil Advani, Monisha Advani, and Madhu Bhojwani for Rocket Boys. He is of the opinion that collaborations are the way forward: “I have never been affected by sharing the credit with someone else. There is no point in holding onto something so close to your chest that it doesn’t achieve its full potential. If that means collaborating with like-minded people who bring something to the table, then so be it. It makes more sense to bring more people into the creative journey. You can make more amazing stuff when you work with like-minded people.”
Siddharth Roy Kapur has always been a motion picture producer, but with the times changing, he also ventured into producing long-format web shows. Though the role of the producer does remain the same, web shows bring in their own set of requirements that he is coming to terms with.
“With a film, it’s about the plot, its structure, and the two hours of adrenaline-pumping action. You have to unlearn and relearn certain things. With a web series format, you need to be more mindful and have compelling characters. The writing process for a web series format is very different. The sheer volume of writing required for any series is rarely put out by just one writer. The whole concept of a writers room is to maintain artistic integrity as one cohesive unit despite having multiple cooks. The concept of a showrunner is not familiar in our industry. I had to learn to manage and create. It has been transplanted from an industry where it has been developed over a period of a decade. Here you have a producer, a director, and a writer. In contrast, a showrunner is an emulation of all these three roles. The ability of people to step into that role, find the right outlook, and not put a square peg into a round hole. All these learnings are still underway for many of us who have never done a web series. It is very important to be flexible, given the times we are in. We need to make the right commercial and creative decisions, and I believe it is the only way to move ahead,” he explains.
Besides being a producer, Siddharth Roy Kapur is also president of the Producer’s Guild. Covid threw a wrench in the movie-making business. Under his watch, the Guild led the industry’s response to this disruption. They formulated SOPs for safe shooting procedures, advocated for shoot resumptions, organized vaccination camps for its members, and facilitated financial assistance for daily wage workers through donations. About bringing the audience back into the theaters, Kapur expresses, “One really can’t tell. There will be short-term discomfort because many releases will be bunched up together, depending on when the cinema’s seating capacities restrictions are removed. I’m pretty bullish about the theatrical release in the long term. Now that we’ve seen the business of films like Pushpa and Spiderman, it is almost like you give them the content they want to see, and the audience will come.”
The acclaimed producer has stayed away from working with his family members, namely Vidya Balan, Aditya Roy Kapur, and Kunaal Roy Kapur. He says, “We’ve made a pact that we wouldn’t work together. It is just healthier that we meet on weekends. If we don’t feel our best after a film releases, the family can buck us up instead of all of us crying on each other’s shoulders simultaneously. I’m just kidding (laughs). But we, as a family, believe that it is healthier to keep our professional and personal stuff separate.”
What about the trajectory of his career? Does he feel like there’s pressure? “No, I just want to be able to tell great stories. I think I can do that by collaborating with talented individuals and creating just two great things a year. In this current state, do I want to scale things up? Of course, I want to. But I don’t want to compromise the quality of the work in the process. This is why I moved on and started my own film company.”
We wrap up the conversation on a positive, highly charged note. “We want to create Indian stories, but make them for the world. We haven’t had our Parasite or Crouching Tiger, and I think it is waiting to happen. Earlier, distribution was so difficult for our kind of cinema. We now have the distribution ability to make that happen. Thanks to streaming platforms coming in, we don’t have that excuse anymore. The world is our oyster, and it is upon us to take advantage of it,” Kapur says.