Shobu Yarlagadda: Selecting scripts has become a challenge
Baahubali-producer Shobu Yarlagadda, whose production venture, Anya’s Tutorial, premiered recently, discusses how the pandemic has changed showbiz
Shobu Yarlagadda might be most popular for being the producer of Bahubali but years of experience in the film business precede him. After the inception of Arka Media Works in 2001, Shobu and his partner Prasad Devineni produced several television soaps across Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Marathi, and Oriya. Looking back at the jump from the safety of television revenue model to the volatility of film business, Sobu believes that the experience he had accumulated as a line producer on several films helped him. Now, a decade later, Shobu’s production house has forayed into the digital space, having produced two shows, Parampara on Disney+ Hotstar and Anya’s Tutorial, which recently premiered on Aha.
In this interview with, the producer discusses the importance of marketing, parallels between the revenue models of television and OTT, and the elephant in the room—the influence of the pandemic on cinema.
Films are often described as ‘well-shot’ or ‘well-directed’. What do you think defines a ‘well-produced’ film?
A well-produced film is one that meets its timelines and budgets, utilising only the optimal amount of time from the cast and crew. In addition to producing the film, it is equally important how we present it. I have always believed that in production, finishing the first copy of the film is the easier part. As a producer, how well you take the film into the market and draw the audience also plays an important role.
Bahubali: The Beginning, which turns seven this month, was one of the most extensively marketed films in the past decade…
If our focus had only been the Telugu-speaking demography, there would have been no reason for us to promote it as we did. We had a huge star cast and a great director, and we wanted to take it as far as possible beyond Telugu states. I took the lead in marketing and felt social media would be the easier and most cost-effective way of reaching out to audience across the nation. We did a lot on Facebook. The idea was simple: Make the fans a part of the journey.
After the advent of OTT, it’s hard to predict what works and what doesn’t in theatres. Films like Ante Sundaraniki and Virata Parvam featured popular stars and opened to positive reviews, but ended up underperforming. Your film, Pelli SandaD, despite receiving negative reviews and lacking star value, emerged as a surprise hit last year. How do you greenlight scripts with such uncertainty prevailing?
It has definitely become a challenge. Even a film like Acharya, which boasts a solid star cast, did not get a good opening. It is scary. The scenario in the Northern belt is even scarier. Films starring Ajay Devgn and Akshay Kumar are doing dismal numbers in the opening weekend. A film crashing after the weekend is a different thing, but not taking an opening is a matter of concern. A common observation, however, is that comedies and large spectacles are doing well. Spectacle pieces like RRR and KGF: Chapter 2 have done phenomenally well. On the other hand, films like Jathi Ratnalu (2021) or DJ Tillu, which are packed with loads of humour and work as a community experience, are definitely working. Yet, it’s really difficult to point out what works, but it looks like people are reluctant to come to watch serious and message-oriented films.
Moreover, films that piled up due to the lockdown are now finally releasing, creating an over-saturation in the market. I feel people will hopefully be open to coming to theatres in a few months. The major question we ask ourselves is, why would people buy a ticket to watch this instead of watching it on OTT?
To what extent are the revenue models in OTT and television similar?
In terms of economics, TV and streaming are more or less the same. You get commissioned to produce content for an X amount. Of course, unlike a TV show, which has five to six episodes per week, the number of episodes for streaming is lesser. However, the quality and technical values are much higher in steaming; it is almost like producing a film.
Is there an inclination towards easily executable projects like Anya’s Tutorial, which is entirely shot in a controlled studio atmosphere?
Yes. That is definitely a consideration, but we cannot expect every script to be this way.
Paramapara is a huge project, in that sense…
True. Parampara is not at all like Anya’s Tutorial. In fact, with Parampara, we learned the perils of having an excessive number of characters and multiple locations in the long-format medium. A series demands more content. There is more pressure. We now want to produce content in a more contained atmosphere. Not only because of the pandemic but logistically, it makes more sense for a series.
You have produced only two films—Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya and Pelli SandaD—after Bahubali 2: The Conclusion…
We have generally been selective, even before Bahubali. We look for a comfort level with the director when a good script comes our way. Neither are we in a rush to make a ton of films. As producers, we want to make films that we enjoy. While dictating their fate at the box office is not possible, the aim is to produce films that give us an opportunity to contribute something beyond finance to the project.
And, of course, the pandemic happened. Post Uma Maheshwara… we would have ideally produced more films but had to step back. We now have some great scripts on our table and announcements will follow soon.