With Bulbbul, Pataal Lok, the idea is to tell stories true to their respective worlds, says producer Karnesh Ssharma
Karnessh Sharma, who owns Clean Slate Filmz with actress-sister Anushka Sharma, discusses the switch to streaming services with Pataal Lok and Bulbbul.
After over a month of the audience raving over its last show, Paatal Lok, Clean Slate Filmz strikes back with its new production, supernatural film Bulbbul on Netflix.
Ahead of the release, one half of the duo behind the production house, Karnesh Ssharma, talks about developing a brand with actress-sister Anushka Sharma, how they plan to manage the expectation after Pataal Lok, and how the switch to streaming from theatrical releases has fared for them so far.
Edited excerpts from the interview below.
Paatal Lok was criticised by some quarters for the lack of backstories or definitive arcs for its women characters. Do you believe a woman-fronted film (with Tripti Dimri in the titular role) like Bulbbul can redeem you from that criticism?
They are very different worlds with different representations. Anyway, you don't make a show or a film to 'represent' someone. You just tell stories of people best suited to them. That's what our belief is. That's how storytelling works.
(Also read — The silent women of Paatal Lok: Where are the voices and backstories of the female characters in the Amazon Prime series)
Bulbbul is your third supernatural drama after Phillauri and Pari, and is starkly different from the raw, hard-hitting realities of Paatal Lok. How do you think the genre adds to its storytelling?
It's a very different genre. You've got to look at films in totality, and separate the baggage you have from another story. The supernatural thriller elements work really well for Bulbbul because it's a different story, different era.
You return to the setting of Bengal after Pari. How different was Bulbbul since it is a period drama?
Very different. Pari was a story of today. It was set in contemporary Kolkata whereas Bulbbul is from the late 1800s, early 1900s. Right from the architecture, design, colours, they both present very different visuals. Both the films required different research in terms of the visual aspects. I think we've done justice to what the requirements of the visual language of each were.
Why did you not think of casting Anushka in the lead role again?
Bulbbul was conceived at the time when Pari was happening. It was a story which Anushka really liked, and there were considerations of whether she should do it. But I think it's a very similar genre, and she'd already signed and committed to Pari. Having said that, our endeavour was, or rather is, never to make films for Anushka. She's acknowledged it herself that Clean Slate Filmz isn't a vehicle to showcase Anushka Sharma's acting talents. It's a company to showcase the newer talents which are out there and want to say different. Once we moved ahead on Bulbbul, we cast actors on merit. There was a thorough audition process (by Abhishek Banerjee and Anmol Ahuja's Casting Bay), and the actors you see in the film are the ones who nailed their audition process.
How did you gain the confidence in Anvita Dutt to direct her debut feature in Bulbbul?
Anvita is a celebrated lyricist and a writer of great repute (Dostana, Patiala House, Queen, Phillauri). There was no need for me or Anushka to gain confidence in Anvita. I think she'd have to gain confidence in us to take her story forward. Haha! Right from the time we came across the story to now, what has stayed very clear in our head is Anvita's vision. You could see that the visual language was embedded in the writing. She's delivered on that front. It was a very easy choice because she knew every beat of the story, whether it's the shot breakdown, colour palette or even the propping. We just have to make sure we get her a team that understands her vision, and probably take it forward from what she could've imagined. We're very fortunate to have Meenal (Agarwal, production designer), Veera (Kapur Ee, costume designer), Siddharth Dhiwan (director of photography), and Harry (Hingorani) from Red Chillies (visual effects supervisor).
What liberties have you enjoyed with the switch from theatrical releases to streaming platforms?
As far as I'm concerned, there's no difference as such. Every projects demands its own mounting for the story. We don't perceive films on the basis of the platform. For Bulbbul, it was a story that we liked because it was very engaging. It required a certain aesthetic and mounting. Post that was a process of engaging with the studios to see who would understand the requirements of this film. We were extremely fortunate that Netflix realised the potential of the film, and gave us a free hand. I don't feel we would've done anything different that wouldn't have been done if it was a theatrical.
Pataal Lok was criticised for its slant towards sexual violence. There is some of that element in Bulbbul as well. How do you plan to tackle that criticism?
I hope there isn't any such criticism coming our way, and it's seen in the light of the story. Anything shouldn't be commented on in isolation. It's very important for filmmakers to be sensible and sensitive towards these matters. As long as it's portrayal, and not indulgence, and done in an aesthetic manner without titillating, I don't see any issue. It has to be shown in totality, along with the payoff as well.
(Also read — Pataal Lok, Sacred Games, Mirzapur: Has sexual violence become a common trope for 'edgy' streaming shows?)
You have introduced several new voices over the years. How do you scout for talent?
I go to Versova every evening, and hold a placard saying, "Koi naya talent hai toh aa jao". Kidding! We started with Navdeep (Singh, NH10) a few years ago. He had just come off a break in Manorama Six Feet Under (along with Sudip Sharma in NH10, followed by Anshai Lal in Phillauri, and Prosit Roy in Pari). We were always fortunate to meet people who matched our sensibility. They were all ready to take the leap and make their first film then.
Our philosophy to tell fresh stories is probably what attracts new filmmakers.
What do you think as a producer, you excel in where Anushka falls short, and vice-versa?
Anushka doesn't lack anything in the world. What I fall short in are patience and temper. But I'm trying to work on it.
(Also read: Anushka Sharma's filmography as an actor is laudable but it's her stint as a producer that sets her apart)
As you continue to develop a brand of storytelling, how do you plan to manage expectation as you go along?
We don't! As the name suggests, we believe in starting every project with a clean slate, and don't carry the prejudice from any previous project. We aren't really looking at what people are expecting of us. We're not trying consciously to be different from what we are. We're just trying to find people who have a story to tell that's absolutely theirs. That's what we want from our cinema. We're fortunate we're in a country where there's a space for every voice.
Bulbbul will premiere on Netflix on 24 June.
All images from Twitter.
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