The 1940’s-1950’s era of Bombay film industry provides an incredibly beguiling canvas for Vikramaditya Motwane’s new series, Jubilee. Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Jubilee is transportive and thrilling, with its immersive world building, intriguing characters, and nostalgia for the golden era of Indian cinema. Acquainting us to the show, Vikramaditya Motwane shares, “I think the core of the series, aside from the fact that it’s based in a very unique and a very interesting, very special world, is the fact that it is a pure, straight up, high drama series between a few key people and how it affects their lives over not just a period of months, but a period of a few years. And that for me is what sort of makes the core of it. Like it is just this intensely dramatic series that could be maybe placed in any other time period or any other industry, but it’s a very, very unique take on identity, on the movies, on stardom, on who you are and what lengths you will go to to achieve what you want to achieve.”
Below, he unpacks the show further for us.
What was your entry point into creating the world of Jubilee?
So the entry point into Jubilee was a couple of things. One is that it was a moment in time, I think 2012, 13, 14, when some series were the talk of the water cooler conversation. Just sort of us film geeks talking about movies. We were talking about Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and House of Cards and Mad Men, and that kind of stuff. And that was really part of your cultural zeitgeist, that sort of longer series that can really immerse you into it for multiple episodes and seasons. And I think one of them kind of spun off into discussions at Phantom where it was like, “okay, what if we did this really interesting series like Mad Men, which is based on the film industry of the 1940s, 50s, the golden age of cinema and the giants that you had over there.” That idea sort of snowballed itself into what we have today.
Could you take us through your creative process behind the making of Jubilee?
So the main thing in the creative process, which I think is the first thing, is always writing. And you need to have a really, really good take off point in your pilot or in yourbeginning. You can then have energy and your momentum to sort of like let those episodes work and how all the characters will now start playing off each other and all that sort of stuff. So I think that was the main thing, I think the main focus here is the making sure that the writing of the series worked before anything else. That we had compelling characters that people would want to watch and love and hate and whatever. So that was part one.
I think the second part is then working to say, how do you create an interesting world and immerse people into that world. Even though it’s unique and might be alien to somebody because you’re talking about an analog world, which is now more than seventy years in the past, how do you make them knowledgeable about certain things and believe certain things? How do you balance the dramatic narrative and not taking the audience for granted, but also not letting it be too obtuse. I think that was the main sort ofcreative focus, and then visually, it’s again, trying to find, which is a normal thing you do in every film, every series, a palette that works for you. You find tone that works for you, you find a shooting style that works for you. There’s a little bit of hit, a little bit of miss, and you do tests and all that kind of stuff, but eventually you find that pattern and that’s the collaboration between, you and your cinematographer, production designers, costume designers, et cetera.
In terms of thematic concerns, was there a singular guiding force that propelled your directorial vision?
I think the singular guiding force was, as I said earlier, about just making sure that the audience is invested in these characters. I think there’s a danger when you’re a filmmaker that something about the film industry can end up becoming a little bit more attractive to you than it is to the average person who has no information about the film industry. And I think keeping that balance is always the creative core. Let people invest in your story. Don’t spoon-feed them, but at the same point in time, let them get involved in a dramatic moment. If they believe something a character’s doing is wrong, then then it’s wrong. They don’t have to absolutely understand what it is. From a purely technical perspective, I think that was our guiding force.
What kind of challenges did you face with this series?
The challenges we faced, they’re the same with anything else. When you end up shooting, it is always a question of like how much money you have versus how much you can do with that money. Thankfully, Amazon shared our ambition. They were great partners, great collaborators. So I think the challenge normally ends up becoming like, okay, how do you end up creating this world which you kind of have to do from scratch. There’s not much you can do in India, especially when it comes to doing stuff for a period piece. There are no streets left you can shoot on. There are barely any offices left that you can kind of shoot, and you have to pretty much design everything yourself and build it up from scratch. So I think that balance of being able to sort of say how much we can achieve was the challenge.
And the other challenge I think was just keeping the momentum going. When the lockdown happened, we were supposed to start shooting, in April of 2020. We got locked down literally three weeks before principal photography was about to start. We had to push by a year, and then push by another three months. And so it was tough. It wasn’t easy to keep the momentum going and keep your crew interested, active and excited. But those are challenges that I think are kind of typical production chal- lenges, in a sense, you will always overcome them.
What are you working on next?
There’s a film called Control that I have finished shooting. It’s a cyber thriller starring Ananya Panday and produced by Nikhil Dwivedi. We’ll get into post-production soon, and that should be out hopefully by the end of the year.
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Words Nidhi Verma