It all started when I got my hands on the Late Pralhad C Chhabria’s biography- ‘There is no such thing as a self-made man’. It was graciously gifted to me by the Chairman of Finolex Industries - his son, Mr. Prakash P Chhabria. A brilliant book and it really caught my attention, because the book had so many features of what India’s first self-made industrialist was able to achieve. I was marvelling at the simplicity of the man and the magnitude of him at the same time.
Pralhad Chhabria was truly a legend. He came from a family which had a lot but lost everything.
The family’s big mansion in Karachi was bet away by Pralhad's older brothers after which Pralhad moved to Amritsar at a very young age. He moved to work for his Jeejaji’s (brother-in-law’s) tailoring unit as a cleaner and helper. At the tender age of 14, he decided to move to Bombay (now Mumbai) to make his mark and build his career. That journey is monumental. His Jeejaji gave him a 10 rupee note which was subsequently stolen and found. I personally love that paragraph in his autobiography where he finds his note because he remembers the sequence of numbers on the note.
Sometimes, an autobiography and a film about the autobiography are about instances that make a person who they are. A film has to take that instance and magnify it, which is what we had the opportunity to do.
When I read the rest of the book, two things stayed with me. First, this great man had been able to turn that 10 rupee note into a 10,000 crore empire (the value of the company was 10,000 crore rupees when he passed away) because he deeply understood people. And secondly his intellect and iron grip on numbers was second to none. For me, the whole book went back to that paragraph, when the boy turned into a man. That was the reason why I decided to make the film. I took the story back to the Chairman of Finolex, saying it was a story worth telling.
The potential to make the film was first discussed in 2017, and we shot it in 2019 which makes it a 5-year project in the making. I have transformed a fair bit in that time. it has been a growing journey for me, which was filled with lessons. We just needed the right time to release it and I’m glad it’s out.
The process of making a short-film is very different from making an ad. So for me, as a producer, this was a fantastic journey filled with lessons. The script itself went through 9 variations and we worked with 3 different writers. It was finally the director, Sayan Mukherjee who wrote the script. It felt like he got the ethos. The way he has built the characters so beautifully, the way he’s made them come alive, is magnificent.
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In that compartment, one can almost feel a sense of India in 1945, the combination of fear, hope and optimism coming together. The journey from Amritsar to Bombay is so beautifully tied into the script. I also love the nuances of the script that build up Pralhad’s character, his sharpness after seeing a trail of ants towards the box of sheera, or the way he observed that the Pathan wasn’t eating himself but the next morning he was in a situation where he was feeding Pralhad samosas.
His sharpness and understanding of people really comes out and finally the penny drop moment when he uncovers that the Pathan has stolen the note by remembering the sequence of numbers on his 10 rupee note is the film's high point. The script beautifully, ultimately came together in the end on the 9th draft, and that process itself took about one and a half years. It was only when I was confident of the script that I went back to Mr. Prakash Chhabria and narrated the script to him. He loved the script. I remember his eyes while we were narrating the script. While it is a very emotional script, it is all the more meaningful for him because it was a story of his father as a young boy, and he immediately sanctioned the film - but with a lot of guidance. He said it must win at award shows across the World and that we should not go over budget.
Once he sanctioned the film, we were on another path altogether, because making a feature film is very different from making an ad film so I felt like I needed to get right advice for production. So I turned to one of my early mentors, Mr. Ranjan Singh who has production experience with Phantom Films and he has worked closely with Anurag Kashyap and Vikram Aditya Motwane on many films. He came onboard as an advisor to help me, we put together the budget and cast. It is a great cast, all the people are eclectic, bring on board Ritvik Sahore (of ‘Laakhon me ek’ fame), Aabid Shamim, Annapurna Soni and Chinamay Das. We also had over 200 extras in the film.
The director Sayan, worked very closely with the actors to weave out Pralhad’s character and the other characters that complement each other. That itself was a fun process for Sayan, me and the entire crew. We shot the film over 9 days in Mumbai. We created an entire version of Amritsar in 1945 in one of the sequences. There went a lot of green screen work and VFX effects which were given to us by AfterStudios. With the train and train station being the focal point of the film, we spent 7 days at Richardson and Cruddas, where we transformed the entire shed into a train station. We went into post-production, where Adit Anande, the lead composer at Schbang composed the tracks in the film. He worked very closely with the director to being out the ethos of the film. The end track of the film, composed by Adith, really captures the carefree confidence that Pralhad had in life.
We economised the production, we were able to produce the film in 2.5 crore rupees. The way we crunched the cost really taught us a lot as a production house. Our house usually makes TVCs or DVCs or Corporate AVs or Digital content so doing a full blown film really helped strengthen our processes. Personally, it was a satisfying and fulfilling experience for me. The cherry on top, apart from the film has been that the it is recognised at 22 film festivals including Prague International Film Festival, London Film and Television Festival and Moscow International Film Festival.
It is very exciting to see this finally see the light of day and release on Humaramovie - a premier platform for Indian cinema. I’m looking forward to what people think of the film. I think in today’s world, the film is particularly important because it teaches us how 10 rupees can turn into a 10,000 crore empire and it stands as a sharp contrast to the world that we see today where we celebrate large valuations over lofty values. It stands as a good reminder that real simple intellect and an understanding of people can build a large business empire without venture funding. And I think that’s what Pralhad teaches us in today’s time. I hope young entrepreneurs and businessmen/women feel inspired and enjoy this film and I hope the entire advertising industry and fraternity also enjoy this film and is interested to drive clients to tell stories in longer formats than we did before
Harshil Karia is the founder of Schbang, an independent marketing solutions agency. Views expressed are personal.