Renowned actor Ritika Anand has made her production debut with web series JL50. The actress turned producer has struggled very hard to make her bison and dream reach out to many. From initial investors backing out in 2017 to JL 50 supposedly a film releasing on an OTT as a series, the actor and producer managed funds and won the legal battle against all odds. And now as the show is streaming on Sony LIV, the producer is happy with the critical acclaim that she has got for the series.
JL 50 stars Abhay Deol, Pankaj Kapur, Rajesh Sharma, Piyush Mishra, Saswati Guhathakurta, Ritika Anand to name a few.
In an exclusive conversation with IBTimes, Ritika Anand spoke at length about the struggled she faced while filming JL 50, how she battled against all odds to arrange funds for the shoot roping, Abhay Deol, for the lead role and more.
Excerpts from the interview
You have donned the hat of both producer and actor how challenging was it?
It was very challenging, more as a producer and less as an actor. As an actor, it was a blessing to have a director like Shailender, help me bring out what the character needed. We nailed some high octane intense dramatic scenes and I am glad viewers liked it.
As a producer, the last 4 years has been challenging. The initial investing partner of JL50 stalled the film after 90% filming was complete in September 2017. There was a lack of funding and he didn't allow third-party financing for reasons we didn't quite place our finger on then. Shailender and myself were left with no option but to seek justice with the law at that point and started a legal action against him, which finally ended up in an out of court settlement initiated by him in mid-2018. This allowed the project to finally seek third party financing to complete it. That's when Abhay Anand Singh & Golden Ratio Films stepped in to support not just the creative vision of JL50 but also our fight to bring it to the people. The film started re-filming the final 10% in January of 2019 and some of it was pushed to April of 2019 due to unavoidable circumstances out of our control. Up until Golden Ratio Films stepped in, the fund flow was a nightmare. I still remember back in 2017, how I'd run to my vanity between my scenes as Bihu Ghosh to organize funds for the next day's shoot because the production account had no money. The post-production took a few extensive months, given that it is a challenging contempt in itself, and a pitch-able version was ready in February of 2020. In March 2020, we were hit with the pandemic and that is a challenge that the whole industry has faced, so seeing that as an isolated challenge is futile. Sony Liv saw the vision and I'm happy that they brought it to the people. Yes, given the legal history, and the current circumstances in the world, we had no choice but to take some very tough, creatively detrimental and heart-breaking decisions like converting the film into a series, but the prime objective was to get the film to the people. Just as the teaser dropped, the initial investing partner, once again tried to seek an injunction on release in India, after no relief in Canada. Obviously the film released and it is with the people now.
By knowing in the vision behind JL50, not just as an entertainer but also as a necessity for the audience, is what continuously drove my fight for justice; where I found the right support, including Abhay (Deol) whose initial encouragement to fight for our vision and rights, I will forever be indebted to him in this journey. It has allowed me to learn a lot. Now, this isn't my fight, or Shailender's fight, or the producers' fight, or Sony Liv's fight. It's a bigger fight now, the people's fight for their right to the content they want to see. There should be something for everyone and I'm humbled that the people are taking it on from here.
Was Abhay Deol the first choice of the role?
Yes, Abhay was always the first choice and an intimidating one too! I remember back in 2016 when I was locking up the door of my house in Canada, to catch a flight to India to cast for JL50, Shailender said to me, 'I wish we get Abhay Deol for Shantunu'. I say intimidating because we had heard so much about how difficult it is to convince him on a script and JL50 was a script that involved unreal concepts like time travel. We knew Pankaj Ji and Piyush ji from earlier than JL50. Although we knew they were equally difficult to convince, we were not intimidated in presenting the script to them because we had interacted with them before.
Shailender and Piyush Ji both suggested we call Abhay and send him the script. Those were a few anxious nights until we heard that he liked the premise and the script. No one could've played Shantunu better than him.
With OTT boom during lockdown do you think once the theatre's open things will the same?
I don't think anything will ever be the same again! A downward trend in theatre culture has been noticed around the world, long before the pandemic, with the introduction of OTT (and TVs getting larger and larger). India is a little different due to a large number of people but in India too the downward trend was evident. Even when theatres open, I would imagine that people would largely prefer to watch content in the safety of their homes.
A filmmaker certainly misses the grandeur of a theatrical release, but there is a relief in the pressures associated with an 'exam result posted on the notice board' sort of feeling with first weekend collections and the struggles to get theatrical releases for smaller productions. I trust it's a necessary change for the art form!
How you gauge success/failure on the web?
Success and failure for me is an internal journey rather than an external one. I've had no experience on the web before the release of JL50 on the 4th of September. It's a short span of experience that I'm basing my answer on but it is a question that I've been asking myself over the last 3 days. In this short span of time, I've been compelled to think about this, something I didn't even take into account while making this film. I'm learning every day and what I've learnt so far is that the web is the most public platform which reflects not only the voices of the entities that Control the space but also the true voices of the people. My true success and the success of JL50 is within its viewers and I'm being given an opportunity here to connect with them in a whole new way.
So to answer your question, I've consciously not allowed the web narratives; good, bad and the ugly alike, uproot me from the grounding I have found through my belief in what I'm doing here in this space.
I have two web series in development - The White Monk - A manhunt with a twist, and Paraaya - a children's horror-comedy set in 1920's British India in a village in Kutch. I'm also looking to bring a film I co-produced titled Palki to OTT - a message-oriented film with a very important take on empowering our women. I've also performed in that film alongside Piyush ji and Rajesh Ji.