(This piece appeared in Indian Express Play on Friday, 27th December)
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 still around the corner. It is still not there. Hence, I would throw in a word of caution here. We should not jump at the success of Shahid, Ship of Thesus and The Lunchbox. Not yet.
The exuberance and excitement around gems of the 70s-80s such as Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala, Shyam Benegal’s Manthan, Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya, 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 almost became 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 was 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, 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 ‘formulization’ of content. Any attempt to do so will lead to an eventual decline and finally demise of independent cinema. The creative challenges are great and it is very encouraging to have big studios like 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 current 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 the studio have to share risk. At some stage it is imperative that the careful corporate culture will seep into the independent space. My contention is that it should be nearer to 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 others 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 fearless spirit of Shahid. Both of us are learning in the process and hopefully this cooperation will 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. There is also much to learn from the release strategies adopted by Disney for SOT, Lunchbox and Shahid. Rational publicity outlays, limited release and focus on sustained runs might be the way forward. Time will tell.
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 audiences that crave 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, Sunil and Sid have played important roles in this self styled resurrection. Anurag Kashyap was my voice of conscience when I faltered in the past. He backed my conviction with his belief. Sunil Bohra invested in my madness and trusted a failed man. Siddharth Roy Kapur is truly a CEO with heart and I will always remain grateful for the passion that Disney UTV poured into acquiring and releasing my film. The road was tenuous at times but eventually it was very satisfying. 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.