In India, for many, movies mean commercial Bollywood flicks. But there are some people who are constantly toiling to bring different subjects and storylines to the fore.
While independent films often struggle with unavailability of adequate funds, lack of celebrity names and hurdles in getting a wide release, there are a few who have been lucky.
With Qissa — a film that did festival rounds, but was in the cans for three years — finally released in theatres last week, and many more are looking at hitting the screen this year, we speak to actors and film-makers on what is finally working for them.
This year, films such as Court, Liar’s Dice, Killa, Margarita With A Straw, Coffee Bloom, Dhanak and Dozakh, among others, will be releasing. While some of these films are in English, others are in Hindi and Marathi.
Over the last few years, indie films seem to be gaining a foothold in larger markets. As per Shiladitya Bora, an independent distributor, who will lend his support to Court, the indie film industry is currently in its best phase. "Five years ago, it was difficult for indie films to even get a release. But times have changed. We have started finding a balance between celebrity-driven and content-driven cinema. The industry and the audience have started recognising the fact that there is space for all kinds," he says, adding that a film getting a wide or limited release depends on factors such as the subject, target audience, funds available for marketing and publicity, clout of the distributor and performance of similar films in the past, among others.
Word of mouth
While certain indie films are now being backed by bigger studios, which are ready to shell out money for their publicity, several industry folks feel that in the case of such films, word-of-mouth is the key. There have been examples in the past where this publicity strategy has done the trick for small-budget films. Gujarati film, Bey Yaar (2014), played in only four screens in Mumbai in its first week, but by its 12th week, it was running in 48 screens. The film recently crossed its 25th week and is still going strong. Similarly, Sulemani Keeda (2014) had a three-week theatrical run.
Shailaditya reasons, "Big films are backed by marketing machinery worth crores of rupees and are mostly celebrity-driven rather than content-driven. So, even mediocre big films make tons of money at the box office in the first weekend itself. In comparison, an indie film mostly thrives on word-of-mouth publicity. So it has to be exceptionally good to stand a chance at the box office."
On the other hand, Chaitanya Tamhane, director of Court, says that sometimes the scope of the film increases even after the release. "It gets a little difficult to get a wide release for an independent film in India. But I think a limited release with focused marketing may not be such a bad thing for smaller films. That way, the audience can be built over the weeks. I would prefer to have 20 screens that have 100 per cent occupancy than 200 screens with 10 per cent occupancy," he says.
Tillotama Shome, who plays the lead in Qissa, is in agreement with Chaitanya and says that over the weekend, the number of screens for the film has increased. She says, "The film had just one show at a suburban multiplex, but because it ran full house over the weekend, it has three shows now. Perhaps this will encourage distributors to give a dignified release to many such films."
Meanwhile, the rise of multiplexes has started facilitating the commercial-scale release of what would earlier be referred to as parallel or niche cinema, says Ajit Andhare, the COO of the studio that has backed Margarita With A Straw. "The segment of the audience that is looking for fresh and new film genres is growing in India. However, the ability to identify this content and make a tailored marketing and release plan continues to be the main challenge when it comes to ensuring commercial success (for these niche films)," he adds.
At the same time, industry members are of the opinion that it should not be the responsibility of only multiplexes to back such films. Theatres across the country should run small-budget films. Manish Mundra, who has previously backed Ankhon Dekhi (2014) and is also backing Dhanak, says, "The key for any film to succeed is to have screen space and show timings. In my view, there is a need to increase the number of screens across Indian towns and cities."