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Indie feature films go the crowdfunding way too

Detailed briefs and well-thought-out trailers help attracting interested investors.

more lifestyle Updated: Oct 14, 2017 20:40 IST
Dipanjan Sinha
A still from the movie Dharmik.
A still from the movie Dharmik.

In 2014, Kolkata actor/director Prasun Chatterjee was ready with his dream script. He’d woven a tale about the friendship between two boys in a village in West Bengal in the backdrop of the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. Chatterjee was aware that his film, without a song and dance sequence or stars, would be difficult to sell to producers. But he hoped to be able to convince at least someone. For three years, meetings went fruitless.

But in March this year, he abandoned the idea but not the film.

Chatterjee and a small crew travelled to the Indo-Bangladesh border in Murshidabad and shot the trailer for Dharmik, bearing the expenses from their own pockets. They put it up on the Kolkata-based crowdfunding platform Beeyodo, hoping to get potential viewers to contribute Rs 43 lakh to make the rest of the film.

“I am a great fan of Ritwik Ghatak and I believe strongly in the idea that he repeated often: It is a sin to lose faith in people,” says Chatterjee. “Now that there is a way to reach out to people directly with your idea, I decided to bypass the struggle with producers.”

The campaign started in July and so far, Dharmik has collected nearly Rs 30 lakh. The film will start shooting early November.

“Crowdfunding helped us in multiple ways,” the filmmaker says. “People helped us by transferring money, sharing the information with others and even contacting us and handing over money in cash personally. People transferred as much as Rs 60,000 online and as little as Rs 50.”

Like Chatterjee, Indian filmmakers with scripts that are unlikely to get traditional producers excited are increasingly going the crowdfunding route, says Priyanka Agarwal, CEO and co-founder, Wishberry, a crowdfunding platform.

Two feature films Rainbow Fields by Bidyut Kotoky and Out of Time by Arijit Lahiri are currently on Wishberry, hoping for funds from the general public.

Funding from fans

Approaching people to help make a film has a long history in India. Shyam Benegal made Manthan, a film inspired by the dairy revolution, using contributions from 5 lakh dairy farmers in 1975.

But with online crowdfunding, the numbers have increased manifold. Platforms like Ketto or Wishberry now see films looking for funding. Ketto’s last campaign, for the Hindi-English film Hindrapura directed by T Mohanraj, Jiya Rawat and Pratik Narayanan Kutty, ended on September 20 and raised Rs 61,000.

“Indians have become more e-payment friendly, accolade-winning filmmakers have inspired other filmmakers, big names like Illayaraja and Nandita Das have come on-board by campaigning for films like Punyakoti and the 2016 film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai?” Agarwal says. “Digital distribution platforms like Netflix and Amazon have helped in expanding monetising options. With every success story the cycle keeps rolling.”

Kenny Basumatary, director of popular Assamese films Local Kung Fu 1 and Local Kung Fu 2 put up Local Kung Fu 2 on Wishberry with a target of raising Rs 8 lakh last year. “The first edition of the movie was really cheap [Rs 50,000],” he says. “But after we made some money and grew a fan base we decided to make a bigger film.”

Crowdfunding, however, was not the obvious choice for National Award-winning director, Bidyut Kotoky, whose film Rainbow Fields is hoping to raise Rs 10 lakh on Wishberry.

“I felt a little awkward asking for money,” he admits. “A lot of directors do face this dilemma. But it is easier when the platform does it on your behalf. The detailed brief about the film and the reason for the campaign with the trailer is helpful,” he says.

What works

A well-thought-out pitch conveys sincerity and offers clarity to potential funders, says Viswa Ranjan Das, 59, who works for Reserve Bank of India in Kolkata. Das contributed Rs 10,000 towards Prasun Chatterjee’s project Dharmik online. “A friend sent me the project on Facebook and I found the idea and the trailer really impressive. These days we spend a few thousand rupees each time we go out to watch a film. Why can’t we contribute a little bit to support the kind of cinema we keep saying we want?” he says.

Kotoky says that putting out a film on a crowdsourcing platform also helps in getting the word out. “Big films have a huge publicity budget and they get a lot of media coverage too. In case of smaller independent films, there is no money left for publicity at all,” he adds.

Director of the film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Ata Hain (a remake of the Saeed Mirza classic), Soumitra Ranade had managed to raise more than Rs 40 lakh on a crowfunding campaign in 2015. He maintains that this method to raise money works best for independent projects. “People know that these films will not interest producers and they want to see them happen,” he says.

One difficult part of this process, according to Ranade, is that the filmmaker needs to constantly communicate with the audience. “You need post something on social media like some trivial about the film, the subject or the campaign every day, respond to all queries. This can be exhausting,” he warns.

T Mohanraj, co-director of Hindrapura, says that crowdsourcing is like a lifeline for newcomers. “No one even wants to listen to a newcomer’s script. An open platform is far more democratic and allows the audience to judge for themselves and pay for a project,” he says.

Mohanraj started working on Hindrapura with money contributed by the crew and actors who worked for free but after a point, he realised there is still 15 more days of shooting to be done when their budget ran out in July. By September, they managed to raise Rs 61,000.

“I would suggest anyone who wants to fund a film through a crowdfunding platform, to make a very good trailer. It is often the most crucial factor for someone contributing,” he says.