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The Silent Juggernaut of Saregama’s Yoodlee Films

By Rutwij Nakhwa


In less than two years, the company already has 13 titles on its slate, five of them acquired by Netflix, and a horde of theatrical releases, international festival premieres, and awards. 

In July last year, India’s premier music company, Saregama, announced its foray into cinema with Yoodlee Films, which would cater to younger Indian audiences through gritty, realistic movies, moving away from Bollywood’s “star-driven” model.

Yoodlee’s first film, Nikhil Nagesh Bhat’s ‘Brij Mohan Amar Rahe’ followed the titular Brij Mohan, a 36-year-old hosiery shop-owner in Delhi, fed-up of his dominating wife and mounting debt. To escape this, he adopts a new identity as Amar Sethi, only to commit a botched-up murder. Hopeful of another new beginning, he runs off with his young girlfriend but is again trapped in a web of his past deeds. The film, now a Netflix Original, opened the 14th South Asian International Film Festival, New York.

The crown jewel in Yoodlee’s slate is ‘Ajji’, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival and screened at around 25 festivals including Rotterdam, MAMI, Göteborg, and Tallinn Black Nights, Estonia — to wide critical acclaim. The Hollywood Reporter called it, “One of India's strongest independents of the year” and for Screen Anarchy it was the “Must watch indie film of the year”. Directed by Devashish Makhija (‘Bhonsle’, ‘Oonga’), ‘Ajji’ is the story of a fragile old woman’s brutal revenge for the rape of her nine-year-old granddaughter. The film released in India in November 2017.

February 2018, saw the India release of Onir’s ‘Kuchh Bheege Alfaaz’. Earlier, the film opened the Indian Film Festival of Stuttgart and then screened at a host of Asian film festivals worldwide. Onir is best-known for ‘My Brother … Nikhil’; his latest, set in the contemporary social media-saturated world, is a tale of two strangers who connect over a misdialed phone call.

All three titles are currently streaming on Netflix. In addition, a forthcoming Netflix Original is Sarthak Dasgupta’s ‘The Music Teacher’, set in Shimla, on a musician (Manav Kaul) whose only claim to fame is discovering a local girl who is now a Bollywood singing sensation. Life takes an unexpected turn when the protégé returns to Shimla after eight years. Alongside Kaul, the film stars Divya Dutta, Neena Gupta and Amrita Bagchi (‘Phobia’, ‘Meri Pyaari Bindu’). The fifth title, to be released on Netflix shortly, is ‘Half Ticket’-director Samit Kakkad’s ‘Ascharya F#*kit’, a dark tale of passion set in Mumbai and inspired by the works of Saadat Hasan Manto.

The company’s future pipeline is promising. Aijaz Khan’s ‘Hamid’, set in conflict-ridden Kashmir, is on an eight-year-old boy with a missing father, who has a special connection to God. The film was warmly received at its premiere at MAMI and is expected to have a good festival run, starting with the Tallinn Black Nights Festival.

Yoodlee had three films in the recently concluded NFDC Film Bazaar. Nachiket Samant’s rural sports-drama, ‘Habaddi’ was in the Viewing Room’s “Recommends” section. The film centres on a stammering young boy unable to say Kabaddi, the most crucial aspect of the game of Kabaddi. Yet, he must master it to go to Mumbai with his school team, where he hopes to meet his old crush from the village. The other two films in Viewing Room were Apurva Dhar Badgaiyann’s ‘Chaman Bahaar’ — a love story that revolves around a paan shop in a central India small town — and ‘K.D.’ by writer-director Madhumita Sundararaman, in which an 80-year-old man wakes up from a coma to find out that his family is planning to euthanize him. He runs away with nowhere to go but meets a 10-year-old who gives new meaning to his life. All three titles are awaiting premieres at international festivals.