Testing the waters | The South film industry weighs in on creative producers

While Tamil is the only film industry crediting creative producers, the rest in the South are slowly warming up to the concept

Updated - February 24, 2023 12:05 pm IST

Published - February 24, 2023 10:45 am IST

Clockwise from top left: Aditi Anand, stills from Koozhangal and Shivamma, Amudhavan Karuppiah,  Jaishankar Aryar, and a still from Priyamani-starrer Bhamakalapam

Clockwise from top left: Aditi Anand, stills from Koozhangal and Shivamma, Amudhavan Karuppiah,  Jaishankar Aryar, and a still from Priyamani-starrer Bhamakalapam

Amudhavan Karuppiah, a long-time associate of Tamil director Ram, still remembers the initial days after the duo chanced upon P.S. Vinothraj’s austere drama Koozhangal (Pebbles) at the IFFI Film Bazaar in Goa. The film later did the international festival rounds and eventually went on to represent the country at the 2022 Oscars.

A still from Koozhangal

A still from Koozhangal | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Midway through its making, actor Nayanthara and director Vignesh Shivan, who produced the film, asked Karuppiah to join as creative producer. “While my role was not that of a textbook creative producer, I helped to take it to a larger audience through a well thought-out festival strategy,” he says. Koozhangal is still doing the rounds and talks are on for an OTT premiere.

Encouraging growth and ideas

While the concept of a creative producer is fairly known in the Hindi film industry, down South, it is still a fledgling idea. While Malayalam doesn’t seem to have any, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada are slowly working towards embracing it.

At writer-director Pa Ranjith’s Neelam Productions, Aditi Anand — co-founder of its subsidiary, Neelam Studios — has taken up the position of creative producer. Anand, who ran Little Red Car Films in Mumbai, began informally with Franklin Jacob’s fabulously-written Writer (2021), before coming on board. “What the big studios call talent development, that’s what we are doing right now. We create, replicate and trigger growth to get access to capital and the market,” she says. “As part of this profile, we marry a powerful development engine with the traditional structure of entertainment companies.”

Aditi Anand, Jaishankar Aryar, and Amudhavan Karuppiah

Aditi Anand, Jaishankar Aryar, and Amudhavan Karuppiah | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Anand sees creative producers as the bridge between art and commerce, who help develop a film from its inception. “The idea is to support the director in their vision, package the film cleverly, and then position it where it is most likely to succeed.”

Lending muscle to the form

Kannada cinema has been taking over the box office in the past few years, with films such as KGF 2 and Kantara raking in hundreds of crores. But the concept of a creative producer is still new. Jaishankar Aryar, whose film Shivamma won big in Busan last year (it is still doing the festival rounds), says his journey would have been easier with a creative producer on board, and hopes to have one for his next film.

A still from Jaishankar Aryar’s Shivamma

A still from Jaishankar Aryar’s Shivamma | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

“[Producer] Rishab Shetty backed me completely and I did not have to worry about finances. But a creative producer would have taken a lot of the load off me — the road would have been easier for grants for story development, and they would have eased the festival circuit journey,” he says. “I come from a non-film background. Those who study films know these things, and that helps them focus on just the movie.”

Karuppiah seconds this. “Not every filmmaker is aware about the grants available. If a creative producer is present from the scripting stage, it will result in a set with less hassles and more focus on the creation.”

An ideal foil
Writer-actor-director Raj B. Shetty, who made the 2021 hit Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana, believes a creative producer is someone who invests time and craft to help a director find resources to make a film better. “They should step in when there is a gap between what the team needs and the skill set the director has,” he says.

Meanwhile, in the Telugu industry, writer-producer Sujatha Narayanan of SNDS Dreamcatchers, which made Addham for OTT platform Aha, shares that “the industry is still working around the nomenclature”. She will be credited as creative producer in upcoming productions and will oversee decisions, be it casting or music, from the business point of view, and offer an outsider’s perspective. “I think a creative producer will help lend muscle to the form envisioned by the director, and this role should become official soon.” Last year, Bharat Kamma, who directed the 2019 action drama Dear Comrade, joined as creative producer on the crew of the Priyamani-starrer Bhamakalapam on Aha.

Venkatesh Maha and Sujatha Narayanan

Venkatesh Maha and Sujatha Narayanan | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Director Venkatesh Maha, who will be credited as creative producer in the next two films he’s backing, including Ambajipeta Marriage Band, adds: “The creative producer is one of the most important production jobs, but it is not very popular in the Telugu film industry. Earlier, people who did something similar would call themselves directorial supervisors, probably because it involved more creative pride.”

The consultant writer from Mangaluru has been covering the entertainment beat for two decades.

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