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Few takers for high-grade films

Pan Nalin's film doesn't have the usual Hindi film masala. Will it work? Saibal Chatterjee analyses.

india Updated: Jun 28, 2006 11:46 IST

Paris-based Indian filmmaker Pan Nalin is a man blessed with a unique imagination and an understated style entirely his own. That is clearly visible in his debut feature, Samsara, now playing in a handful of Indian multiplexes alongside films like Krrish, Fanaa and Phir Hera Pheri. Isn’t that good news? Well, if one considers the time Samsara has taken to get here, it isn’t. Nalin’s exquisitely crafted film certainly deserved better.

Completed way back in 2002, the Indo-German co-production has been released in nearly 60 countries and has raked in over Rs 100 crores. It did not, however, find takers in India all these years until somebody realised that it might work in this part of the world as well. After all, it is a film about a Buddhist monk in quest of spiritual enlightenment shot entirely in Ladakh by a largely Indian crew.

But will Samsara  draw crowds? It has no songs, no stars, and none of ingredients that make a box office success in India. What it does have in abundance is style, visual panache, narrative depth and loads of sensuality. But that, as we all know, may not be enough.

The Samsara  story revolves around the young protagonist who gives into love and carnal desire in order to know exactly what he is enjoined to renounce as a monk. That is obviously not what you could call an average storyline by Indian mainstream standards.

Samsara's story revolves around the young protagonist who gives into love and carnal desire in order to know exactly what he is enjoined to renounce as a monk.

A mature distribution-exhibition system should be able to embrace all sorts of cinema, which, alas, still isn’t an undisputed fact in India.


isn’t the first offbeat Indian-made film to take four years to make it to the theatres. Nor will it be the last.

At this very moment, there are several quality films that deserve to see the light of day but aren’t considered commercially viable enough to be given a decent release.

Rahul Dholakia’s 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 reportedly picked the film up for circulation.

The production was wrapped well over two years ago. Parzania  surely has enough thematic topicality for somebody out there to feel the need to hasten its theatrical release. The trouble is that it isn’t entertaining enough for the masses. Ours is a market where numbers are paramount, quality and relevance are rarely a consideration.  

Yet another film that audiences around the country deserve to see is Vishal Bhardwaj’s The Blue Umbrella, the screen adaptation of a Ruskin Bond story. While we await the arrival of Omkara, Bhardwaj’s biggest film to date, that little gem of a cinematic essay has been all but forgotten despite the fact that a company as prominent as UTV is behind The Blue Umbrella.

Anurag Kashyap’s directorial debut, Paanch, has been lying in the cans for several years now although Boney Kapoor has the distribution rights of the shockingly dark film. Kashyap’s second film, Black Friday, too, is caught in a legal wrangle and hasn’t been commercially released yet.

Jahnu Barua’s almost complete Butterfly Chase, which deals with the issue of terrorism in the director’s signature low-key style, is stuck in the pipeline for reasons not yet fully known.

It is the same story in the case of each of the above films: they aren’t quite the kind of products that the market is comfortable with. But isn’t the market supposed to have grown to a point where all sorts of cinema have a fair chance of reaching the audience? Sadly, there is a huge chasm between mere growth and real maturity.