SMALL IS BOUNTIFUL

Updated: Jul 16 2006, 05:30am hrs
New lease of life
The cinemas of India are exploring beyond box office and global acclaim
Somashukla Sinha Walunjkar & Suman Tarafdar
ART versus commercial. Cinematically, categorisation was simpler earlier in India. Of late, however, newer films, often defying either of these two, have emerged, and with the urban Indian in the mood to experiment, numerous cinemas are being made, even if most are still far from being financially viable.

Even exhibitors say that the audience seems to have accepted the new palette of cinema most of the small-budget, niche films offer occupancy around 45-50%, with ticket sales often picking up by word-of-mouth publicity. Homi Adajanias Being Cyrus got 50% of the total collections in the first weekend of release, while Aparna Sens 15 Park Avenue got 43% and Rajat Kapoors Mixed Doubles raked in 48%.

These films are made for a typical audience English-speaking, Indian, urban whos intelligent and follows international cinema, says Adajania. Says Taran Adarsh, trade analyst, The reasons for success could range from easy accessibility to films due to the multiplex culture to growing maturity in terms of accepting these films. Vishal Bharadwaj, who had to scout for funds earlier, claims to have 10 willing producers to finance anything I want to make. That he had a successful and critically acclaimed Maqbool under his belt helped him get buyers for Omkara.

But the eternal questions remain content, finance, distribution. What has changed within is the tone, the voice, the desire to experiment and find new layers and forms of storytelling. Corporate financers are emerging, multiplexes are willing to not just screen, but also market viable films. Maqbool or the forthcoming Yun Hota to Kya Hota have a market of their own. You cannot slot such films. While programming a film in our cinemas, we cannot label films small as you never know which film could become the next Page 3 or Iqbal or Being Cyrus, says Saurabh Verma of PVR Cinemas.

However, films are going beyond fiction. Animation and claymation films have established a foothold in India, and even Indian films are being made in the genre (Hanuman). Documentary and short films have got a new lease of life as well, though the festival is the real home of this genre. But with films like Fahrenheit 9/11 or nearer home Final Solution shaking up collective consciences, the demand is growing.

After the virtual disappearance of art in the late 1980s, usually blamed on television, there was a revival of sorts. Few films are being made in the tradition of masters like Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan or documentarist Sukhdev, barring imitations. But newer ground was broken, notably with Dev Benegals English, August (1993). Nagesh Kukunoor followed in 1998 with Hyderabad Blues, and found a responsive chord among urban audiences. My films are a translation of my dreams, says Kukunoor. They are not meant to lure audiences.

But lure they did, for since then there has been a steady increase in the number of filmmakers who have dared to make film after their heart. These films are made for a niche, affluent audience that wants to see quality cinema, says Ram Madhvani (Lets Talk, 2002). Mainstream directors are willing to move the other way too. Santosh Sivan (Asoka, 2001) made the small budget Navarasa in 2005. I enjoy all kinds of films, and as these are the times I live in and must record them the best I can.

Notably, last years biggest successes were not standard Bollywood fare, whether it was Black, Page 3 or Iqbal. Madhur Bhandarkars Page 3 (a Rs 5.75- crore film) grossed Rs 23 crore in India. Kukunoors low-budget Iqbal recovered its budget in five weeks. That might explain why big production houses in Mumbai like The Factory, Pritish Nandy Communications, iDream Productions, Metalight Productions, UTV, Sahara One, Percept Pictures and Planman are funding smaller films.

Even TV companies have paid big bucks to buy small screen rights. Sunil Muthreja, CEO of Channel Nine Entertainment, which produced and distributed American Desi, Wheres The Party Yaar and Freaky Chakra, for instance, claims to have recovered over 70% of his cost from overseas and satellite rights. Similarly, Percept reportedly sold the TV rights of Makdee to Zee and raked in 30% of the films costs from the deal.

Are multiplexes an answer to the exhibition conundrum While Verma would stress the point, filmmakers like Sujoy Ghosh (Jhankaar Beats and Home Delivery) are wistfully hopeful. Multiplexes have to earn as well, but increasing numbers should ease the problem, he says. Cinefan director Aruna Vasudev, however, says multiplexes are creating a social divide. Why should a ticket cost Rs 150 Earlier films catered to all audiences, but now the focus is on urban oriented films, something sociologists should study.

Another recent trend has been the NRIs jumping on to the cinema bandwagon. While Ismail Merchant and Madhur and Saeed Jaffrey made early inroads, films like Leela, American Desi, ABCD, and Flavours were made outside but have found Indian audiences too.

The last few decades have seen a substantial growth of Indians settling abroad. So there is a definite need for these films, says Anupam Mittal, producer of the made-in-US film Flavours. Along with names like Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and Meera Syal, the stereotypical image of Indian cinema is breaking abroad too.

As Indias cinephilia remains constant, there seems to be hope for not just gargantuan Bollywood but also the diverse range of emerging cinemas.

Confused direction
M Sarita Varma

The spring of alternate cinema in Malayal am is gone, but the genre still has the occasional cuckoo singing. A host of films like Adoor Gopalakrishnans Nizhalkuthu (Shadow-kill), Shyamaprasads Akale (Away), TV Chandrans Kadhavaseshan (He who survived the Tale), Murali Nairs Oru Patiyude Divasam (Day of a Dog) and R Saraths Sthiti (Existence) betray that the box-office, however powerful, is not always the king. Till a decade ago, film cooperative societies catapulated filmmaking to campuses. Today, Odeyssa Film Society and the charisma it flung to the making of alternate cinema are dead. Surviving cooperatives do not make films. NFDC and the state government have stepped back from film funding. The entry of cable TV has changed films too. Even the most entertaining of alternate cinema does not offer as much returns on investment as a hit, an occasional NRI like Aryadan Shoukat comes along, backing promising social themes. An eye on the festivals is all that keeps alive the aspirations of a new breed of directors. And therein lies hope.

Bangla films suffer losses
Pradip Biswas

There was a time when films made by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwik Ghatak and Tapan Sinha kept the Bengali film industry vibrant and made tidy profits for the producers. This is no longer true of current cropmakers. Off-beat filmmakers in Kolkata are obsessed with making big budget films, making it difficult to recover costs.

So you had ambitious films made by Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Gautam Ghose, Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen resulting in commercial fiascos. Two major Bengali films of Buddhadeb Dasgupta Swapna Niye and Kaalpurush managed to travel to minor international film festivals but are yet to be released in Bengal. Gautam Ghoses Yatra, starring Rekha and Nana Patekar, was rejected at the Cannes film festival in May 2006 and is yet to be released in theatres. Even Rituparno Ghoshs Chokher Bali, Andar Mahal and Dosor, made on extremely high budgets, were flops. Only Sandip Rays Nishijapan has made money. Given the dismal scenario, unless niche films get money-back, it will be difficult to sustain them.

Multiplexes roll, boutique films dont
The boom spells success for the biggies, but not for small films
Saibal Chatterjee

Mushrooming metropolitan multiplexes have significantly altered the viewing habits of Indian moviegoers. Thats good news. The bad news is that while Bollywood has of late been churning out a wider variety of films than ever before, that hasnt translated into an overall improvement in the quality of popular Hindi cinema. Bollywood films today look and sound infinitely better and are markedly technically snazzier, but superficial gloss sans genuine substance can only yield surface excellence without an inner soul.

This has happened despite the fact that the burgeoning multiplexes have made it possible for filmmakers of all hues to break into the mainstream marketplace. What the paying public gets to see is controlled by men who have a vested interest in not letting things change.

Size matters. When a Yash Chopra production or a Hrithik Roshan vehicle comes along, it floods the multiplex screens and blanks out the smaller releases, as Neal n Nikki did infamously late last year. Fortunately, the film that was in danger of suffering Prakash Jhas Apaharan struck back with a vengeance. Neal n Nikki was out of the picture by the end of the second week, while reality-inspired Ajay Devgan starrer Apharan held on to its slot.

Take the example of Paris-based filmmaker Pan Nalin. Blessed with unique imagination, visible in his debut feature, Samsara, which opened in some multiplexes alongside films like Krrish, Fanaa and Phir Hera Pheri.

Isnt that a happy augury Well, if one considers the time Samsara, a high-grade film, has taken to get here, it isnt. Nalins exquisitely crafted essay deserved to get here quicker. Completed in 2002, it has been released in 60 countries and has raked in over Rs 100 crore. It did not find takers in India until somebody realised that it might work in this part of the world as well. Sadly, Samsara hasnt drawn the crowds. Krrish has. Its business as usual.

A mature distribution-exhibition system should be able to embrace all sorts of cinema, which, alas, still isnt the case in India. At this moment, there are several quality films that arent considered commercially viable enough to be given a decent release.

Rahul Dholakias Parzania, the story of a Parsi boy who goes missing during the Gujarat communal riots, is stuck in the cans although a mainstream Mumbai production-distribution outfit has picked the film up for circulation. Parzania has enough thematic topicality to hasten its theatrical release. But it isnt entertaining enough for the masses. Ours is a market where numbers are paramount, quality and relevance are rarely a consideration. This year, the industry is still waiting for another Page 3.

Krrish has the potential of transforming the entertainment scene in this country. Bollywood does need films like these, films that can pull in the crowds on the strength of their high entertainment quotient. But the industry also needs films that keep pushing the creative envelope. Rang De Basanti and Fanaa have done that to a certain extent, but the low-budget, non-formula space lies vacant halfway through the year.

Niche films take centrestage
Commercial film-makers and production houses are also making off-beat films
Somashukla Sinha Walunjkar

Somashukla Sinha Walunjkar it was the biggest turnaround moment for small films in 2005. The first hit for the Hindi film industry last year was Madhur Bhandarkars off-beat Page 3, which grossed an estimated Rs 5-6 crore, while the so-called big budget, star-studded films couldnt make much of an impact. Six months later, Nagesh Kukunoors Iqbal recovered the production costs and was termed by trade analysts as a commission earner. In 2006, Homi Adajanias Being Cyrus and Rajat Kapoors Mixed Doubles made on shoe-string budgets earned double the production cost. Today, small budget films are jostling for multiplex space alongwith big ticket films.

Making big budget films involves a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money. The audience seems to understand smaller, realistic films better. Mukta Arts Iqbal was a success, also because we had done enough publicity about the film, confesses Subhash Ghai, known for his larger-than-life commercial films. In 2003, when Ghai made Joggers Park on a budget of Rs 2 crore, it did very good business and recovered costs. Pritish Nandy, who also produced mainstream Kaante, believes that being different pays: Chameli, Mumbai Matinee, Jhankar Beats, Shabd, Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi have all made their money. Today, one is never sure how a Sholay or a Mughal-e-Azam might fare. Our movies address the young, urban audience and speak a language most people can relate to. Off-beat films are no doubt the fastest growing segment, elaborates Nandy.

UTV, which released biggies like Lakshya and Swades earlier, had a 40-print release of Chandan Aroras Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh in 2005 and has a festival-trotting Blue Umbrella in 2006. There is also Metalight Productions which made its mark with Satta and is now shooting four low-budget films, each of which costs less than Rs 5 crore.

Ram Gopal Varmas The Factory has been the homeground for new talent and off-beat films: Shimit Amin (Ab Tak Chchappan), Chandan Arora (Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon), Jiji Philips (My Wifes Murder), Rohit Jugraj (James) met with mixed results at the ticket window. In 2006, Varma has Nishabd and Chakravorthys Darwaza Bandh Rakho among other releases.

As Varma chips in, I dont believe in off-beat or mainstream. Films can be either good or bad, a small budget film or a big budget film. I can only make small budget films because they appear more real to me. And I want more Friday releases from The Factory. Only a small film will be completed in a short span, be ready and perhaps recover some money as well.

Not that all small films have earned enough. In 2005, there was a veritable deluge of small films Kannika Varmas Dansh, Bappaditya Roys Sau Jhooth Ek Sach, Ruchi Narains Kal, Deepak Balraj Vijs Mumbai Godfather or Jairaj Padmanabhans U Bomsi N Me to name some that sank without a trace. Assamese director Jahnu Baruas Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara garnered decent collections thanks to distributor Yashraj Films savvy marketing.

For now, small films are back in business. But it remains to be seen how profitable these films eventually end up as. Off-beat film-makers also use glam faces without success. For example, Shyam Benegals Dev (Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor) and Zubeida(Karishma Kapoor) and Govind Nihalnis Thakshak (Ajay Devgan-Tabu) earned awards and acclaim for Bollywood stars, says trade analyst Komal Nahta.

So you have Bipasha Basu adding glamour to Corporate while Big B adds his presence to Cheeni Kum and Nishabd, and Vishal Bhardwajs Omkara banks on Saif Ali, Ajay Devgan and Kareena Kapoor. So, as long as small films make their presence felt (at the box-office) and fetch global (and Indian) accolades, its a genre that will continue to makes its presence felt.

On the festival circuit
Suman Tarafdar

For long dismissed as the hideout for the weirdos, or worse, the perverts, film festivals in India, of late, are increasingly becoming a much-vaunted showcase for cinema, across mediums.

Film festivals offer alternates to cinema lovers who want to see films beyond what is offered in theatres, stresses Aruna Vasudev, founder director of Cinefan.

Opinion in the fraternity on whether festivals help is divided. Niche films have to scream their presence, so every little buzz helps, says filmmaker Siddharth Srinivasan, whose Amavas is slated for release later this year. Filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh (Jhankaar Beats) is not sure they do. A festival is good for a select audience, but I am not sure how much that helps, says Ghosh.

The argument continues. However, the number of festivals has increased this decade. From general ones to a wide range of thematic festivals, they bring people together, and are also emerging as alternate points of reference, say experts following the trend.

Distributors, Vasudev says, need to wake up to the fact that there is an audience that wants other films nationally and internationally, as festivals of Indian films are being shown across leading cities of the world. Festivals help in international distribution, being an excellent showcase, says Homi Adajania. The Directorate of Film Festivals has in recent years seen a sharp rise in the number of festivals, though it hesitates to put a number to it.

The number of festivals showcasing Indian films across the globe has also sharply increased. From Sydney to LA, not to mention the traditional hinterlands of Indian cinema like Africa and West Asia also are hosting Indian film fests with increasing regularity. Whether in India or abroad, the crowds may not compare in size to a box-office blockbuster, but festivals are getting their fans too.

A quick tour of some prominent film festivals in India:

IFFI

The International Film Festival of India, started in 1952, is the oldest in India. A traditional showcase for the best of art cinema, it is trying to attract greater mainstream attention of late. An annual festival, it showcases films from around the world, usually in November in Goa.

MIFF

The Mumbai International Film Festival for documentary, short and animation films, started in 1990 and is the best known in the category. Usually held in early February, the festival brings video retrospectives of eminent international and Indian documentary filmmakers and awards numerous prizes.

IFFK

The 10-year-old Kerala International Film Festival is arguably Asias best-managed film festival. About 7,500 delegates view around 125 films from around 60 countries at KIFF, which is held in the second week of December.

The Golden Elephant

The International Childrens Film Festival is organised by the Childrens Film Society of India and held in Hyderabad. Low key, it has been around for 50 years.

Cinefan

Though in just its eighth year, Cinefan has grown to be Delhis premiere film festival. Primarily a showcase for Asian cinema, with about 120 films, international delegates and many film-related events as well, the festival has become an important one in Indias cinema calendar.

PIFF

Home of the FTII, Pune has recently acquired its own film festival too in the shape of the Pune International Film Festival. Attracting the considerable audience that hungers for quality cinema in the city, this competitive festival is next scheduled for the third week of January 2007.

Vikalp

Emerging from a protest against MIFF in 2004, Films For Freedom, India is an action platform of over 300 Indian documentary filmmakers demanding greater artistic freedom.

Kolkata Film Festival

Kolkata Film Festival is an annual international film festival usually held in the second-third week of November, it is a non-competitive festival held in Nandan and other theatres in the city.

Bring Your Own Film Festival

Innovative, the Bring Your Own Film Festival (BYOFF) is an annual event held in February at Puri. A festival that prides itself on its informality, it is not just a platform for filmmakers but also from other creative fields. Held in February, a great platform for budding filmmakers to showcase their work.

Open Frame

Another festival of reality and documentary films, Public Service Broadcast Trust, produces 52 documentary films a year by independent filmmakers. The festival is held usually in mid-September in Delhi, started five years ago, showcases a number of thought provoking films from around the world.

PATHBREAKERS

Anurag Kashyap
Life hasnt been a cakewalk for this screenplay-dialogue writer and film-maker from Varanasi. A graduate from Delhis Hans Raj College, Kashyap stirred controversies galore with his Paanch and Black Friday, which was halted at the censors. He has now moved back to writing hard-hitting dialogues for Mani Ratnam and is also directing a film.
Homi Adajania
After assisting director Mahesh Mathai in Bhopal Express, Adajania, a former ad film-maker, shot to fame this year with his directorial debut Being Cyrus.
A political science graduate from St Xaviers College, Mumbai, Adajania admires Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar. Up next: a period film set in 1908, based on a true story.
Kay Kay Menon
Menons (a some-time theatre actor) climb up the Bollywood ladder has been somewhat arduous. Menons focus is more on the substance in his roles rather than on the zeroes in his cheque. The Kerala-born MBA has played pivotal roles in Paanch and Black Friday. Menon made waves with Sarkar and his recent film Corporate.
Konkona Sen Sharma
Daughter of director Aparna Sen, Konkona made her debut as a child artist in Indira. It was only after Mr & Mrs Iyer and a National Award that she received critical acclaim. Konkonas performance in Page 3, 15 Park Avenue and Dosor have been much talked about. Konkona is looking forward to Vishal BharadwajsOmkara.
Madhur Bhandarkar
Bhandarkar began his career by assisting Ram Gopal Varma. After five years, he broke free and directed his first film, Trishakti (1999), which bombed at the box office. After the arthouse Chandni Bar, lifes never been the same for him. He moved on to make Satta, Page3 and Corporate and is adding finishing touches to Traffic Signal.
Rahul Bose
Rahul Bose, 36, is the new face of Bollywood. A former advertising account manager, Bose stars opposite Glenn Close in Merchant-Ivorys Heights. He is also moving on to produce and direct an all-American cast in his follow-up to Everybody Says Im Fine. And his Hollywood tryst will begin with The Whisperers later this year.
Shiney Ahuja
He has literally muscled his way into the league of performers with Gangster. Shiney Ahuja, who won the most popular film awards for his debut film Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi last year, is on a roll. Ahuja reveals that he doesnt mind auditioning for roles. After playing a cameo in Fanaa, Ahuja will next be seen in a Sudhir Mishra film besides a host of mainstream films.
Rituparna Sengupta
Rituparna Sengupta is a leading star of the Kolkata film industry. A graduate from Lady Brabourne College, she made her debut with Shesh Chithi (1992). A National Award winner, she has received critical acclaim for her performances in Dahan (1997), Paromitar Ek Din (2000), Mondo Meyer Upakhyan (2002) and Main, Meri Patni Aur Woh (2005).
Rajat Kapoor
Life has been a series of accidents for this Delhi-based actor. After many successful stage productions with his group Chingari, he specialised in film direction from FTII. Kapoor juggles a successful career in acting (Monsoon Wedding, Dil Chahta Hai, Tum, Mudda, Page 3, Corporate, Yun Hota To Kya Hota) as well as direction (Raghu Romeo and Mixed Doubles).