Independent Cinema in India

Beyond Bollywood

Dossier

May 8, 2017

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Cinema in India has come to be synonymous with Bollywood, yet, independent cinema that is highly expressive is challenging the narratives despite being plagued with challenges.

Beyond the mainstream, artists are working hard to make cinema with substance, depth and relevance. Funding remains a major issue as do platforms and distribution, but cinema from the underbellies of India is making waves. With movies finding more representation and opportunities in festivals across the globe and with the advent of the web as a platform, cinema without big banners, big names and big budget has the potential to make a big impact.

Escaping Categorisation

The Indian indie cinema scene, or indie filmmaker circuit, as Q would have it, constitutes a diverse spectrum of cinema which is not necessarily free from storylines and ‘formulas’ that are markers of the mainstream of Bollywood. As widely understood, indie films are typically the low budget, sans a star-studded cast or distribution and buzz.

Q, or Qaushiq Mukherjee, known for his evocative, colourful and aesthetic movies, has found them travelling offshore for festivals. With movies such as Gandu and Brahman Naman, he is among the new breed of filmmakers who choose expressions over stars to define films. Speaking on the diversity of the industry, Q says, “These are a bunch of disparate, driven, solo, enthused, intelligent people. Their cinematic energies are very different, as are their modes of operation and their countenance.”

Pan Nalin, an award winning filmmaker, who has carved a niche for himself with movies such as Samsara and, more recently, Angry Indian Goddesses, keeps an open mind. “In India, we call everything without a star an ‘indie’ movie. That’s wrong. We also have our own share of ‘fake indie’ movies, which are often backed by studios or stars. I am far more excited about ‘Indian’ cinema than ‘indie’ cinema,” he says.

Rajat Kapoor, a recognised name in parallel and alternative cinema, and someone who has dabbled in film production, acting, theatre and direction, shared his views on cinema that is beyond the big banners. Somewhat echoing Nalin’s understanding of the confused categorisation of ‘independent cinema’, Kapoor elaborates, “More often than not, these films follow the same syntax of a mindless mainstream film – only they do it on a smaller scale, with new faces or lesser known actors. And, as a result, a few good films that do try to find a unique vision are lost in this clutter.” He highlights that even as the numbers of independent movies grow, audiences for them don’t.

Fundamentals of Funding

In India and the rest of the world, funding remains a common issue for indie cinema and the problem doesn’t stop there. In a domino effect, cinema without a star cast to boast of or backing of big production houses, also run into problems of finding distributors and ultimately reaching an audience.

There is no doubt that not every filmmaker looks to reach massive numbers and audiences, but to go beyond festival screening and reach out to niches can also be a tall task sometimes.

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