Karan Johar’s Dharma Productions is recognised as one of the most successful film banners in India today. After making blockbuster films it has started its own ad film production house, Dharma 2.0. Director Punit Malhotra, who is in the midst of pre-production for Student of the Year 2, will be helming this new unit. Malhotra spoke to exchange4media about the plans, the creative team and key aims for Dharma 2.0. Excerpts:
Tell us about Dharma Productions’ new ad production house and how did the idea come about?
It’s called Dharma 2.0 and it is an ad production house. Basically, Dharma has in-house directors and there are quite a few of us. So we all have been doing ads and there was always this thought in Dharma that we all must use our in-house talent and start a company where we produce ads and keep a creative control on things like that. A lot of times you see some strange ads and we didn’t want to do any of that. Karan (Johar) was aware that I was shooting these many ads and he wanted me to head the ad production house, which is what we are doing.
How open was Karan to the idea of starting this new venture when you told him about it for the first time?
Karan was more than happy. I mean it was an idea that was also in his head for a while but we never took the step so when I told him that we must start the company, he said it is a great idea and in fact, he came up with the name Dharma 2.0. He said that we must go all out and produce well. In fact, it was he who got the first client on board, Adar Poonawalla and we pitched for Poonawalla’s Clean City Campaign, which Adar Poonawalla is helming. The campaign is an initiative to revamp public spaces in Pune where they are doing things to make the city prettier. So we designed that campaign from scratch and we shot a couple of ad films for them.
Tell us about the creative team at Dharma 2.0.
We have a bunch of in-house writers. That apart, they provide solutions on every level and as a production house that’s what we want to do. So how do we differentiate from what’s already there in the market since it’s not like a regular production house where we make films and release the date. We offer point-to-point solutions so we do everything you want- we are in touch with the clients, we are in touch with the agencies and we produce it on every level for them. We were looking at complete in-house solution since we are very particular and also very proud of the talent we have in-house. We have nine in-house Dharma directors who are working with outside directors too and they cover the whole spectrum of films. So no matter what kind of a film you have, whether it is glamorous film, action, whatever you want, we have a director for every genre. So there is of course, Karan (Johar), Abhishek Burman, the director of 2 States, Ayan Mukerji, Karan Malhora, Punit Malhotra, Shashank Khaitan, Shakun Batra, Tarun Mansukhani and Sonam Nair. So we pretty much cover different directors for what you want as far as the treatment goes for films. That’s the kind of one-stop solution we are looking at.
So for every ad film that comes to Dharma 2.0, you will assign directors based primarily on the category that the ad belongs to?
That as well as well as whom the agency is looking for. A lot of times, the client wants a particular director so we are open to that as well.
How involved will Karan Johar and Apoorva Mehta be in this new venture?
They are completely involved but they have left its running to us in a huge way. The only diktat from Karan we had was that no matter what, we are not to let the Dharma standard drop. Even in terms of campaign, we are not taking anything and everything that comes our way. We are very choosy about what we are picking up. It’s not about the money, right now this is what we want to put out and then change the perception in the market that film directors cannot do a 30 second and that they don’t understand the format. We are more than happy to break that image. We have already broken it.
How challenging is it to move from making full-length feature films to making 30-second ad films?
I wouldn’t call it a challenge. It’s in fact been quite a fun journey. We have all done our bit and I myself have shot over 100 ads. It’s a different medium and it is fun to communicate like that. The new Jio campaign with Shah Rukh (Khan) has come from us then the LYF mobile ad with Priyanka Chopra came from us too. What we have lined up is another exciting round of films so it seems like good days ahead.
Are there any particular sectors or brands that you are looking to explore in Dharma 2.0?
No, we are going to go all across as the idea is to cater to everyone. We have directors who would love to do real films that the ad world is now really lapping up. And at the same time we will also do the most glamorous films that we have been doing. The idea essentially is to put out something fresh and make a mark.
You have also directed films, how do you plan to balance feature films with this new venture? It seems like you have too much on your plate right now especially with Student of the Year 2 soon going on the floors.
I enjoy the madness. I am more than happy being working 24 hours a day. This is the time we should be working and why not! My feature is starting really soon (Student of the Year 2) and in the midst of all of that we started the ad division.
Since this is a new venture, what are the plans for the first year?
We are first looking at putting out a really nice showreel and be known for the good work we did. Making money is not our intention right now and we want to be known for the good ad films from Dharma 2.0 and to show the world that we have good talent and that we put the money where the mouth is.