Indie Zone

Independent cinema is coming into its own but it’s too early to celebrate,says Shahid director.

Written by Debesh Banerjee | Published: December 27, 2013 4:46 am

I made independent films much before they became fashionable and remotely feasible. Let me also clarify that I am personally against this branding of films and filmmakers as mainstream and independent. I am a filmmaker. Period. My job is to make films. And I love my job. For me,independent is a spirit,and not yet a refined business model.

Also,let me clarify that it is too early to celebrate. The game has just begun. Change is around the corner. It is still not here. I would throw in a word of caution here. We should not jump at the success of Shahid,Ship of Theseus (SOT) and The Lunchbox. Not yet.

The exuberance and excitement around gems of the ’70s and ’80s such as Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala,Shyam Benegal’s Manthan,Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya and Kundan Shah’s Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro died when a lot of trash was passed off as “parallel” or “art”. Parallel soon turned into a movement that created poor clones of celebrated works. It became almost formulaic. Which is why I recommend caution,while being optimistic. The focus has to be on content,passion and fearless spirit. There is no place for conservatism in this climate.

This year was iconic in that respect,as what won over the audience was presentation and content of independent films. For me,Anand Gandhi emerged as the voice of this nascent movement. He is fearless,subversive and a unique story teller. I hope he continues with more striking work in the years to come.

In order to sustain this emergence of independent cinema,we need to come up with stories from the heart and stories that reflect a deeper collective consciousness. We must throw caution to the winds and exercise our creative freedom through our films. We are,by nature,complacent creatures and we seek comfort in the “formulisation” of content. Any attempt to do so will lead to an eventual decline and finally the demise of independent cinema.

The creative challenges are great and it is very encouraging to have big studios,such as Disney,coming forward to give our films a respectable outlet. It is a step in the right direction. But I feel independent content must be created without studios at the helm while making the film. We will need to find more avenues for funding and completing our films before we take them for distribution or acquisition to the studios. My belief is that studios with their rigid corporate structures and creative mandates are not equipped for producing such films. The way forward in the short term is to produce content independently and then seek partnerships with studios for promotion and distribution. I say this from my experience with Shahid — the independent producer and studio have to share the risk. At some stage,corporate culture will seep into the independent space. My contention is that it should be nearer to the completion of the film than during development. The two entities have yet to understand each other better and until then,they must cooperate with an understanding of the other’s strengths and weaknesses. But we are making a beginning in this area as Citylights,my next film (produced by Fox Star Studios and Vishesh Films) is being made with the same fearless spirit of Shahid. Both of us are learning in the process,and this cooperation should open doors for more audacious content from studios in the future.

2013 could also prove to be a game changer if we learn from our experiences with festivals,sales agents and studios. Most of us were basically wide-eyed greenhorns at international festivals,trying to find our feet in a vastly competitive and mostly alien space. The Lunchbox was an exception and there is much to learn from its success. We also need to learn from the release strategies adopted by Disney for SOT,The Lunchbox and Shahid. Rational publicity outlays,limited release and focus on sustained runs might be the way forward.

Honestly,I don’t see this as a movement. I see this as a system arising from creative bankruptcy inflicted by self-styled blockbusters and an unwieldy star system. I see the success of our films as the rebellion of a section of the audience that craves for greater intellectual,emotional and ideological stimulation than what is supplied to them in the name of “mainstream cinema”.

On a personal note,2013 has been a year of redemption for me. I have finally exorcised the demons of my past by making Shahid. I made some terrible films and succumbed to a system that thrives on mediocrity. My producers Anurag Kashyap,Sunil Bohra and Siddharth Roy Kapur have played important roles in this self-styled resurrection. Kashyap was my voice of conscience when I faltered in the past and he backed my conviction with his belief. Bohra invested in my madness and trusted a failed man,while Kapur is truly a CEO with a heart and I will always remain grateful for the passion that Disney UTV poured into acquiring and releasing my film. I discovered a young team that matched my passion and selflessly strove to make the film. It is in these young men and women that the future of our cinema rests. The onus is on us to take that leap of faith.

­—As told to Debesh Banerjee

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