I am very conflicted about this diktat. Any external imposition is always a slippery slope. In a perfect world, the product would find its own market and audience without legislation.
This imposition is problematic and I hope it doesn’t polarise the industry and breed ill will between Hindi filmmakers and Marathi filmmakers. We are in the same business and the industry should not be divided on the lines of language.
However, it is also true that smaller budget films and regional films simply don’t get the shows and support that they need from the distributors and exhibitors. What would be ideal is if the rule were self-imposed — if multiplex owners could take the long view and schedule regional films and independent films and documentaries and help nurture these audiences.
This is what we had hoped would happen when the multiplexes first began to open.
I remember the sense of exhilaration then. Here was a distribution format that gave film-makers the option to make more personalised cinema, instead of always looking for broad appeal.
Multiplexes did help to create a new wave of cinema, but it wasn’t quite the tsunami we had imagined. Smaller films — in terms of budgets and stars — were always sidelined for the tent-pole titles.
We do need to remember that this is a business, and given a chance, the multiplex owner would schedule seven shows of Fast & Furious 7. After all, they also have to sell popcorn and cola and pay for their massive overheads.
Marathi cinema has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years and outstanding films like Fandry (Nagraj Manjule; 2013) are being produced.
Eventually, if we have to impose rules, independent cinema, children’s cinema and documentaries should also get adequate support. In a country as diverse, complex and evolving as ours, I would think the art of documentary-making, for instance, would be encouraged with a passion. Instead, it is still hard to find a space to screen or watch one.
In the West, there are actually standalone ‘indie theatre halls’ that screen art house cinema only.
There are just a handful of comparable spaces in the city — including the NFDC’s upcoming FilmBay, set to open in Bandra later this year — and that is hardly adequate for a city as large and populous as Mumbai, home to approximately 20 million people.
I have two children and there are very few Indian films for children that I can take them to, so we end up watching the usual Hollywood fare — which is very sad, because this means we aren’t nurturing our own stories and culture for our own children.
So yes, we must have support for movies that don’t fit the mainstream bill. But is imposing a screening slot the right answer? I am not so sure.
I hope we can soon get more clarity on the long-term objectives of the state culture ministry.
(Anupama Chopra is a film critic and writer)