Indie Inc

When Marten Rabarts says that he hit the ground running,he means it literally.

Written by Dipti Nagpaul D'souza | Published: July 2, 2012 2:24 am

When Marten Rabarts says that he hit the ground running,he means it literally. Recently appointed as the head of the development division of National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC),he gave up his role as the artistic director at the acclaimed Binger Filmlab in Amsterdam and landed in Mumbai on the afternoon of June 20. Without waiting to settle into the time zone,Rabarts accepted an invitation for a party in honour of actor Isabelle Adjani,hosted by Preity Zinta. The film professional has since been putting in regular hours at work even as he looks for an apartment. “You cannot take on a project this big and work only nine-to-five,” he says with a laugh.

With a background in dance and theatre,Rabarts started his career in New York in the 1980s as an assistant director on the Oscar-winning short film Molly’s Pilgrim. He has since dabbled in all aspects of filmmaking,including production and sales. His most prominent role,however,has been a 12-year stint at Binger where he was instrumental in developing the Filmlab as Europe’s most acclaimed centre for development of independent films.

At NFDC,he has been brought in to take forward the plan to develop alternative cinema in India. Having revived their production division after a decade-long slump,the organisation — with films such as Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay on their resumé — is keen to,once more,be a part of the country’s alternative cinema.

NFDC’s managing director Nina Lath Gupta says that the organisation’s development initiatives have to adapt to the changing needs of the film industry. Rabarts was brought in to meet this target. “Script and human resource development are the critical areas that need attention. NFDC needed an international industry expert and thought leader with extensive experience in these areas,” says Lath Gupta.

On his part,Rabarts has been closely following the development of Indian cinema. “The change is phenomenal and the country is already well-populated with talent,” he says,“Four Indian films were showcased at the Cannes Film Festival this year and each had a distinct voice. Filmmakers are moving away from the classic style of storytelling,and breaking narratives down to reposition them. So,when NFDC offered me to be a party to this change,I jumped at the offer,” he adds.

While he views India’s population — “1.2 billion as opposed to 15 million of Holland” — as a challenge,the landscape of Indian cinema is not unfamiliar to Rabarts. As a result of a partnership between Binger and NFDC,he has been part of film bazaars and worked with Lath Gupta and a few Indian filmmakers including Vasan Bala,director of Peddlers.

At NFDC,Rabarts’ first step will be to hold discussions and brainstorming sessions with his team and a few prominent Indian indie filmmakers such as Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee on how a unique identity can be developed for Indian films. “It is also important to chalk out possibilities of international co-productions,distribution and marketing,and liaison at festivals,” he says.

On home ground,his department’s key role will be to hold workshops,scriptwriting labs and provide filmmakers with exposure to international talent from across the world.

Being a man of mixed ethnicity — Dutch and New Zealander — Rabarts is also sensitive to regional and minority voices. “While working in South Africa,I saw that the people did not even realise they have the right to artistic expressions. I would like to lend a voice to such minorities in India,especially since they can bring a unique vision and capture unexplored subculture,” he says.

While he will not be aiming for blockbuster hits,Rabarts is sure that the films he helps develop will resonate with the Indian audience. “I am not sitting in an ivory tower,waiting for that exceptionally beautiful piece of introspection to come along. If someone wants to make a film too close to his own heart,he may as well write a book,” he says,“we are looking at providing Indians with an alternative to the mainstream; we don’t wish to replace the latter. The idea is that viewers equally enjoy Avatar and an Anurag Kashyap film.”

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