Film Producer and entrepreneur Ashi Dua, whose bio on Instagram reads 'Wake up & make it happen' did make it happen and is now living her dream. Producer of popular films like Lust Stories, Ghost Stories, Bombay Talkies and KaalaKaandi, came to Mumbai from Bareilly with Bollywood dreams to make it big. In an exclusive interview with India TV, she reminisces as if it were only yesterday that she landed on the shores of Mumbai.
Ashi's maiden venture, Bombay Talkies, brought together four famous Bollywood directors to tell four individual stories of different flavours. Years later, she sort of pulled off an encore of her debut with critically acclaimed Lust Stories, which was a runaway success.
How was it making your debut with Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar at 24?
Making my debut with Karan Johar, Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar & Dibakar was actually quite phenomenal, it was quite unimaginable that I was able to convince four hugely talented and successful filmmakers to come together and do one film. So, of course, at that point, I didn't realise what I had been able to pull off, but I do realize it and I'm extremely grateful for it.
How difficult was it for a Bareilly girl to adjust to mega city Mumbai?
Well, it was as difficult for anybody from outside of Bombay who comes to Bombay, Bombay is not the easiest city when you first come in, but once you come in and you adapt, it's the kind of city that you never want to leave because it is one of those places where dreams actually come through if you work hard and it was difficult in the beginning, but Bombay's home now and I'm very happy that I made the move and I had supportive parents who let me come here and carve out what I wanted to do.
What's the story behind Flying Unicorn? And yes, curious about the name too.
Story behind Flying Unicorn is of course the name. I was very young when we kept the company and you know, the idea was that it's unicorn is magical and it's imaginary and it doesn't really exist. So, it was about stories or things that we were going to do that haven't really existed or don't exist, but we'll pull off. And I was interning at a company when I decided to quit and start my own company. I didn't know what I'm going to do in that company, but I just wanted to start and here we are today and I'm very proud of it.
What was your big break?
First big break was a show that I did for Zoom tv back then called Director's Cut, where we got about 45 to 50 filmmakers and some talented, successful filmmakers to come under one roof and talk about films and ideas. And it was called Director's Cut on Zoom. I think that that was one of the first things we did. And we were, we had, we didn't know any of the directors and we were able to pull it off. And I would say that would be a first break.
Your success is inspiring, any initial day's struggle story you want to share?
Thank you for saying my success is inspiring but I don’t think I have reached that place, yet I have a long way to go. There have been so many struggle stories, there have been moments where you felt like you’ve pulled off something and it just crumbles down with one phone call someone saying can’t do this or sorry, I’m backing out. There have been multiple stories where we were doing a show with Sony called WAVE; women empowerment concert and one of our actors from the main show, and his manager called and said he won’t be able to come and the entire show was dependent on that.. so that moment it felt like everything was going to crumble and we are going to fall apart. But somehow these are the moments when you really remember and put it back together and fix the pieces and later these are the episodes that give you strength, so there are many stories like these. I've struggled to make a film with Irrfan Khan which was very close to my heart and fell through, so yes you have such moments for sure.
How did filmmaking happen?
Filmmaking happened courtesy Anurag Kashyap, he was making a film called Dev-D and he asked me to come and work in the production for that film. I had no idea what, how production works, what happens, all of the process. But I knew that Anurag was a really cool filmmaker and he was making a very cool film. So, I went and worked on it and that was the start of something else where I was like, oh my God, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
I have read somewhere that idea for Bombay Talkies came to you on a flight. How did you execute such a huge concept? Challenges? Tell us everything.
Yes, so I was coming back from New York, and I read something in a magazine in the flight that 2013 is going to be 100 years of Indian cinema, 100 years before that is when the first film was made. And I was just like, it's so fascinating that we are alive in this moment where the cinema is finishing its 100 years and I was like we must do something around that. And the first idea was like let's do an event, then it was like let's do a documentary. And then it was like why not do a film which celebrates the feeling of cinema. And that's when Bombay talkies came together. Um of course there were challenges about how I am going to get these directors who're gonna fund this idea. People at that point didn't understand the concept of anthology and short films. So, all of that was challenging and it took a very, very long time to put it together. But it did happen and I'm very grateful to everybody who supported us on this journey, the four directors Viacom meeting or Vikram Malhotra, all the people that came together to make this happen. And it ended up premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and then the rest of it, you know.
What are your future projects?
I am in the middle of developing a couple of film scripts and doing a few shows on Netflix and Amazon as of now, I won’t be able to reveal much till we have more details. But yes, the work is on, this pandemic gave us a lot of time to do some good development work and we've been on it.