As Deepa Mehta’s film adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s award-winning book, Midnight’s Children, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, the news was that distributors in 40 countries bought rights to the film. That list however, didn’t include a single Indian distributor.
The perception was that distributors here might be scared since the film references former prime minister Indira Gandhi and the Emergency. Deepa was quoted saying that it would be a “pity” if the film didn’t release here due to “insecure politicians.” However, while some Indian distributors and trade analysts feel that the film’s political references and the fatwas on Rushdie could be responsible, most say that, for them, it’s purely a business decision.
Trade analyst Vinod Mirani says, “Although everyone involved with the film is Indian, it’s been made with an international perspective. India is a small market in that sense. It has nothing to do with Rushdie or the book that created the controversy.”
Producer-distributor Sunil Bohra, however, feels that the chances of protests do influence decisions: “The Rushdie issue is one of the reasons why people are scared of it. Risking business is one thing, but if the threat is bigger, then people think twice. However, if the film becomes big internationally, then they will buy it. Personally, I would buy it.”
Film distributor Akshaye Rathi, however, reckons that controversy can be good or bad: “It works like a double-edged sword. It can generate buzz, but there are also occasions when it affects a film’s release. Not only does the book have controversial content, but Rushdie is also attached with a fair share of controversies.”
Trade analyst Komal Nahta also reckons it’s a business decision for distributors: “Getting cinemas for non-commercial cinema is difficult. Rahul Bose (he is part of the cast) is associated with middle-of-the-road kind of cinema. Also, no one wants any political or non-political outfits creating problems.”
“It’s a demand-and-supply game. When a buyer sees that his money won’t be recovered, he will not buy it. It’s business for them, and a businessman doesn’t care for political infringements. If I’m approached, I will also see whether it’s a profitable deal.”
-Subhash Ghai, Mukta Arts
“International films have less mass appeal. Print and marketing costs go around Rs 5-R7 crore, over acquisition cost. So distributors are sceptical. The Namesake and Slumdog Millionaire also made little money.”
-Murli Chatwani, head of distribution, Dar Media
“In India, any kind of content can work. There is a system of evaluating a film. If we see there is potential — in any film that comes to us — we never say ‘no’ without a discussion.”
-Rudrarup Datta, head of marketing, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures