The indie struggle

Despite being critically acclaimed, the recently released Ankhon Dekhi garnered less than a crore in its opening weekend. With studios unwilling to lend support and exhibitors hesitant to give such films prime shows, independent film-makers continue to struggle with the up-hill task of showcasing their work. This, despite the success of films like The Lunchbox and B.A. Pass

Mumbai | Updated: March 28, 2014 4:31:55 pm

Ritesh Batra Ritesh Batra

A few weeks ago an unlikely thing happened. The Lunchbox, an independent film made by Ritesh Batra who raised half of the total budget of Rs.9 crore from producers in India and the rest from producers in France and Germany, earned Rs.100 crore worldwide. A figure that is generally associated with mainstream films with big stars, the good news was a cause of celebration for independent producers. But looking at the flip side, this is one of the ‘rarest of rare cases’. Makers of indie films still struggle to raise funds to make their films, in fact, they may need double or even four times the amount for marketing them and have to jostle for prime shows. A recent example is that of Rajat Kapoor’s Ankhon Dehkhi that released last week. Despite getting rave reviews, the film did not get a decent opening and only earned less than a crore in its opening weekend. The film made on a budget of four and a half crore and an equal amount spent on marketing, needs to make at least about Rs.12 crore at the box-office to break even. Presently, the film has, on an average two shows at plexes.
Independent film-makers still face several road blocks. Kapoor had to struggle for a year and a half before he found a producer for his venture. The film has Sanjay Mishra as Bauji, an elderly man who refuses to believe anything till he sees it happening with his own eyes. Though Kapoor was a relieved man that the film got a decent theatrical release with 240 prints and went on to be critically appreciated as well, he was a bit unhappy with the treatment meted out to his film by exhibitors. “Indie films are not allotted good shows in theatres. It was only in Mumbai that we got some evening shows, but in cities likes like Delhi and North India we only got morning shows. How will the film get good collections? Still, I am not complaining, because till 15 years ago, films made by independent producers did not even get a theatrical release,” states Kapoor. Almost a decade ago, he had made Raghu Romeo on a budget of Rs.80 lakhs raising funds by contributions through friends.
Tarun Madan Chopra, producer-director of W, a film based on rape, that released a fortnight ago, agrees. “I was shocked when my film was given a 9.45 am show in a mall, which opened much later. It was also given a show at a prime screen where the tickets cost Rs.450. A producer is helpless as he comes to know about the screenings two-three days before the release of his film.”
According to producer Sunil Bohra who has produced the upcoming Mastram, a film based on the life of a pornographic writer, however, raising funds is not the biggest roadblock as such films are made with low budgets. Mastaram was made on a budget of one and a half crore, but for getting the film the required visibility, Bohra has set aside an astronomical marketing budget of Rs.8 crore plus!
“Funds for making a film, and I would say even distributing, are not such big problems as distributors are willing to release such films on a commission basis. It’s the print and advertising costs which are the biggest roadblocks faced by independent producers. One of the main platforms for film promotion is TV, and the cost is too high for such low -budget films,” states Bohra.
Where Bohra is concerned, however, even though the marketing cost of Mastram is stupendous, the raunchy subject has made it what he calls, a ‘hot’ property. “The price, I am being offered for it is equivalent to what would be paid for a film with a big star!” he says.
Indie films generally centre around subjects that are unfamiliar, tend to be provocative and challenge the conventional mindset, about what a hero of a film should be like. Besides, they do not boast of extravagant settings or big actors. This is one of the main reasons why big studios tend to shy away from releasing them. The Irrfan starrer, The Lunchbox, was however an exception. “At the scripting stage, the studios are just not interested in your film, but might agree to see it after a film is complete. I went around with my film to all the studios but the question always asked was ‘who’ is in the film. Obviously my ‘who’, Sanjay Mishra, did not interest them,” says Kapoor.
Ajay Bahl who made the erotic Shilpa Shukla starrer, B.A. Pass, raised Rs. 2 crore by selling a family property and spent another Rs.crore on marketing. He also did the rounds of studios, but they found the content too risqué. “In a screening for one of the big companies, two of the female executives walked out halfway because they found the content very disturbing. Actually, studios are not at fault because our audience does lean towards light, feel-good films,” says Bahl who found a distributor in Bharat Shah. The film earned a nett collection of Rs.15 crore, and is still running in Rajasthan, with the satellite rights yet to be sold by the producers. Understandably, erotica that works in favour of these films.
Bahl, shares Bohra’s views, that getting a distributor may not be difficult, but marketing proves to be a stumbling block. “The film needs to be promoted across all media platforms, which requires serious money. You can make a film in Rs.50 lakhs, but it could require four times that amount for advertising and print costs for good visibility.” Chopra, an ad and television film director who pumped in Rs. 2.5 crore to make W and another one and a half to get a digital theatrical release and also market it, says that raising funds for an independent project is not difficult, it’s ‘impossible’. “The producer has to do everything himself. We did the rounds of 10 studios after making the film, but the sad part was that no one was willing to even watch the film! Eventually, we released W on our own. But with no buzz about the film, the collections were dismal and it ran for only a week in Mumbai,” says a disheartened Chopra.
The answer to these roadblocks, according to Batra is a ‘focused support’ from different government film bodies that could give a push to indie films. “These bodies are there to help. If such bodies focussed only on funding and allotting dedicated screens, it would make things easy for indie film-makers. If my film had not been backed by Karan Johar and marketed by Guneet Monga, it would never have got the exposure it got in India. Of course, it got exposure in international markets and the Cannes Film Festival, but these festivals do not help a film run in India. No one will watch a film here because it was screened at Cannes,” states Batra, whose own film won a standing ovation at Cannes Festival last year.
Agrees Janaki Viswanathan whose production, the Anshuman Jha starrer, Yeh Hai Bakrapur about a family based in rural India and their goat named Shah Rukh, is up for release. The producer-director who made the National Award winning Tamil film Kutty, raised about four crore for her film through banks, friends and contacts says, “Yeh Hai… was lauded at the Goteborg Film Festival in Sweden, and I made my international contacts there, but the buzz in India started when it was premiered at the MAMI festival this year.”
The producer who is in the process of collaborating with a distributor, however, loves the freedom associated with indie films while telling unique stories. “The best thing about being an independent producer is, that you have the creative freedom of scripting, execution and telling a story which soon becomes a mission. There is a feeling of great contentment after making a film on your own which is made without the influence of a studio,” states Vishwanathan. Guneet Monga of Sikhya Entertainment, who has supported films like Peddlers and The Lunchbox, sums up by saying, “The audience wants to see films with good content. But, more money and faith needs to be put for such films to reach a wider audience. The industry is opening up to independent producers, but we have a long way to go.”

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