Writer-director ONIR and actor SANJAY SURI,who have launched a campaign called Save Indie Cinema,share their experiences of taking films to smaller towns as well as the challenges of finding support,censorship issues and reviving film societies across the country. Excerpts:
Why did you feel the strong need to start the Save Indie Cinema campaign? ONIR : Independent film-makers are often told there is no audience for our films because they (audience) opt for a big-budget film over our small-budget ones,with the same ticket price. Thats because people have stopped exposing themselves to art in films,music or dance. So we dont have exhibition space for such films any more.
In Kolkata,for instance,Nandan used to screen parallel and regional cinema through the year. We need such theatres,maybe equipped with a library and space for workshops,especially in cities such as Allahabad,Lucknow and Baroda.
We want to start with 60 cities where government properties,lying unused,can be made into screening spaces.
This will offer a separate distribution channel for independent film-makers and we wont have to compete with big films in multiplexes.
The other prominent issue is of satellite telecast.
Doordarshan used to have a Saturday slot for indie cinema but has now started airing blockbusters instead.
If national TV denies us that space,what is the point of giving the films a government award? We asked them to restart that slot and also increase the Rs 50,000 – Rs 1 lakh per screening payment to Rs 15 lakh,which they have.
Prasar Bharati has decided to acquire awardwinning films and air them on Doordarshan.
Have they decided a time slot?
ONIR: The slot will be 10 pm. But they are still trying to figure out the day. The telecast will start from June. All films that that have won national awards and all films screened in any of the 20 listed international and Indian film festivals will be telecast.
SANJAY: Documentary films will also be shown in this time slot. Onirs film I Am didnt air on satellite TV owing to censor trouble. Was that also a trigger for this campaign? SANJAY: The government doesnt do anything for us; our films go to Cannes,such as Miss Lovely,but dont release in India. So where do we go? The solution has to be public-private partnership. Defunct government structures such as radio stations and office buildings should be converted into screening spaces. We have asked for onethird of the Rs 300 crore set aside for restoration of old films to create such theatres. The government,to mark 100 years of Indian cinema,can name these Dada cinemas in honour of Dadasaheb Phalke.
We need to figure out the permissions and the running of it but at least they are open to it. The model is being implemented with Siri Fort auditorium in Delhi.
How do you deal with censorship issues?
ONIR: I wonder why people with no background in films decide the fate of film makers in India. During the re-censoring of I Am,one person said,The two guys are looking at each other; it will make everyone cringe,so delete that scene. Its fine for people to watch violence but any act of love is immediately censored.
They wanted 21 minutes of the film edited out. That fight cost us so much that by the time we got a U/A after 7. 5 minutes edited out,it was too late for satellite because the film had became old. Doordarshan airs only those films with U certification. So the countrys best films can never be seen on DD although other satellite channels screen U/A films.
We have suggested a 9 pm slot for U/A films and 11 pm for A films,but that is the next step. If a child is watching a film at 11 pm,it is a parenting issue.
Have you zeroed in on any spaces for the theatres?
ONIR: As theatres fall under state control,we have to approach each state government individually. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh has promised some places in Agra,Banaras,Lucknow and Allahabad. We have also started small film clubs through social networking. The idea is to get 200 people who will pay Rs 100 a month to watch four films every weekend,which will make the club self-sustained. The ministry has promised to provide the projector-DVD player setup. We have initiated it in Srinagar,Shillong,Port Blair and Shimla.
We are also trying to have workshops at these places because they have amazing stories that we dont have access to.
Through a tie-up,Alliance Francaise and Max Mueller will provide French and German films respectively.
An independent group of film-makers has agreed to share their films.
Given that the rich culture of film societies is almost dead today,do you think the model will work?
ONIR:The culture has been revived. We have travelled a lot to smaller cities and the response is always overwhelming. We had a full house for three days at free screenings of My Brother Nikhil in a run-down but huge theatre in Shillong. They are curious because films dont release there. Film-makers should go there and engage with the audience.