Sunil Bohra sees films in books

Ranjita Ganesan
When Sunil Bohra likes a book, he shops for it a second time. Of late, the film producer appears to have made a habit of acquiring the rights to adapt non-fiction titles for the big screen. His production house, Bohra Bros, recently secured the film rights for The Accidental Prime Minister, a memoir by Sanjaya Baru about his time at the prime minister's office (PMO) under Manmohan Singh. This was not long after he won permission to make films on Vinod Mehta's biographies on politician Sanjay Gandhi and actress Meena Kumari. But it is only a serendipitous turn of events, says Bohra, adding that there is no method to how he goes about selecting literary works for cinematic retelling. "I just come across a book, I read it; and if I like it, I buy it."

Having just landed the deal, the man whose production house has backed critically acclaimed movies including Gangs of Wasseypur, Shahid and Saheb Biwi aur Gangster in the past says there is a lot of time to decide on details like how the PMO story will be visualised. His in-house team will work on a rough draft first, before pitching to potential writers. The next six months will be spent on creating a script. The film will go on the floors after getting a director on board and putting in three months of pre-production. His partner, Shailesh Singh, will work with him on the script.

With The Accidental Prime Minister Bohra is aware he has stumbled upon a controversial subject -while Baru has maintained the book is a defence of Singh's prime ministership, parts of the book were dismissed as fiction by Singh's office. According to the terms of the agreement, the makers cannot add anything that is not there in Baru's work. "We will stay true to it. We want to make a simple film. There will be no political agenda, nothing derivative," Bohra says. He adds that there will be no attempt to manipulate or add drama to episodes from the book, making it sound a tad like a documentary. "I have huge regard for Singh and all others who have been prime minister. Our team will research, reconfirm, cross check each detail and then work on the script."

Bohra says he is always on the hunt for stories that appeal to him as important and which have the potential to entertain. Some of his productions deal with themes that may be considered "weird," he says. Indeed, his repertoire includes unconventional choices like Mastram, about a pornography writer, and Malegaon Ka Superman and Malegaon Ka Spiderman, made in the Maharashtra town known for parodying Bollywood films. He backs projects "directly from the heart," insists Bohra. The film on Meena Kumari, set to begin next year, is being worked on by Tigmanshu Dhulia, while Hansal Mehta has been assigned to direct the one on Sanjay Gandhi.

The Jodhpur-born man grew up in a household which did not know "anything else except making films". His grandfather, Shree Ram Bohra, and father, Surendra Bohra, directed and financed movies in Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi. "My grandfather had a futuristic eye even back then. He made action and thriller films like Hercules and Dr. Shaitan," Bohra says. "Everyone makes sequels and remakes now. We remade Thief of Baghdad under our own banner three times."

The family reportedly even formed a trust to help those struggling in the film industry with medical aid, education and housing. Though the production house has been in the business for 67 years, it is still very small and cannot afford to take on too many things at once, says Bohra. It does not have a corporate structure and is not media savvy, he adds. As a result of several ongoing projects, Bohra is going slow on a film he was to direct about Dawood Ibrahim. "The difficulties then and the difficulties today are the same. If projects are not backed by big stars, raising funds, meeting budgets and making films is still a concern."

First Published: Jul 25 2015 | 12:19 PM IST

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