Sophia Paul is living a dream in Mollywood by producing back-to-back hit movies. She heads production house Weekend Blockbusters, which has produced three successful ventures — Bangalore Days (which she co-produced with Anwar Raseed Entertainments), Kaadu Pookkunna Neram and Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol . Up next is a Fahadh Faasil-starrer directed by Marthandan.
Speaking on phone from Dubai where she is settled, the 48-year-old looks back at her journey in tinsel town with a lot of pride. “I have no background in cinema. However, I got married into a family that has had a lot of experience in the film industry. My father-in-law, S James, used to run two theatres in Kollam and my husband’s elder brother had a production house, Pratheeksha Pictures. Nevertheless, the only reason we decided to step into production was because all of us are hardcore film buffs!” says Sophia, a native of Kavanad in Kollam district.
All in the family
The ‘we’ she uses in every sentence refers to her family, comprising her husband, James Paul, a businessman, her two sons, Cebin Paul and Kevin Paul, and her daughter-in-law Lincy Varghese. “The company is about all of us. I take every decision in consultation with them. We knew about the risks involved and had to take every step cautiously. But cinema is a passion for us and we were looking for an opportunity to enter the industry. That’s when we came in touch with Anwar Rasheed. He is my sons’ favourite director and he asked us if we would co-produce his next venture, Bangalore Days . That was the best entry we could have asked for,” she says.
Her dream was to produce a Mohanlal movie, being the actor’s “ardent fan”, and it finally materialised with Munthirivallikal.... “It took us nearly two years to finalise the project. It was during that time that Biju met us with Kaadu Pookkunna Neram . Since his films belong to a different genre, many tried to dissuade us by saying that the returns would be low. Also, I had not seen many of his movies. So I watched all of them and I didn’t find any reason why we shouldn’t produce his movie. He has such an amazing body of work with almost all his films getting screened at film festivals in India and abroad,” she says.
Kaadu Pookkunna Neram has already been screened at many film festivals and is now travelling to the New York Film Festival later this month.
Sophia says the movie was a learning experience for her as a producer.
“In Bangalore Days , my involvement was less because Anwar was around to manage everything. It was Kaadu Pookkunna Neram that helped me to learn tricks of the trade. I was with the crew during the entire shoot in Achankovil and I learnt basic principles of the business. That gave me confidence to produce Munthirivallikal... ,” she says.
But just when the two movies were to be released during Christmas, theatres were closed following a rift between the producers and exhibitors. But Sophia and Biju decided to release Kaadu Pookkunna Neram in government-run theatres. That was the first release of 2017 and got good reviews as well. With Munthirivallikal... also doing well at the box office Sophia became a name to reckon with.
Lessons from life
There is no success mantra behind her journey. A commerce graduate, Sophia says that life itself has been the best teacher for her.
“We had faced many ups and downs in our business ventures. We had to sell our house at Kollam to get out of the situation we were in. I had to work for a few years to steady our finances. But we stayed optimistic and our perseverance paid off when we started our venture, South Asia Group, which is into manpower services. We could even buy back the house we had sold,” she says.
Sophia admits that she was prepared to face failures. “I did get guidance from Anwar and I keep clearing my doubts with him. For us, the criteria are the director and the story. We ask for the full script. Weekend Blockbusters is ready to support new filmmakers, provided we are satisfied with the script,” she says.
With just a handful of female producers around, especially with many of them married to producers, Sophia has held on, on her own terms.
“The industry has welcomed me with open arms and, thankfully, I haven’t faced any gender bias till date. On the contrary, I have been treated well,” she signs off.