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The power of the crowd

Every afternoon, Santu, 14, a Dalit boy, climbs a Jamun tree in his village and waits for the zamindar’s teenage daughter to pass by on her scooter. One day, Santu, who does menial jobs on a pig farm, asks his elder brother to write a love letter to her on his behalf. What follows are events over six days that highlight rural India’s entrenched social fault lines.
Hindustan Times | By Radhika Raj, Mumbai
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2012 01:35 AM IST

Every afternoon, Santu, 14, a Dalit boy, climbs a Jamun tree in his village and waits for the zamindar’s teenage daughter to pass by on her scooter. One day, Santu, who does menial jobs on a pig farm, asks his elder brother to write a love letter to her on his behalf. What follows are events over six days that highlight rural India’s entrenched social fault lines.

“I can’t see myself selling this script to a mainstream production house,” says Onir, a Mumbai-based director who is turning this story into a film called Chauranga. “So I decided to turn to the crowd for funds.”

The “crowd” consists of those who he hopes will respond to his request to contribute money for producing this film. He will route his request through the Indian arm of US-based, which raises money for independent films. The Indian website,, launches in end-March with Chauranga as its lead project. Onir plans to raise money for another film, Coach Kameena, by posting a request on, an online gifting site that will launch a crowdfunding section in mid-March. Coach Kameena is about a boy in Punjab who wants to make a career in sports even though his relatives think he should stick to academics.

These are examples of crowdfunding, when people use the internet to reach out directly to the world to fund their projects, cutting out the middleman. A vibrant practice in the West, it is now gaining popularity in India. It is part of a larger phenomenon called crowdsourcing, which is sourcing anything, including tasks and talent from anyone plugged into the internet. Wikipedia is among the most successful examples. Onir himself has already raised money via crowdfunding. He collected about Rs 1 crore from 400-odd people who saw his request on Facebook and Twitter for funding I Am, which released last April. All contributors, whose donations ranged from Rs 1,000 to Rs 1 lakh, featured as co-producers in the film’s credits, which ran for more than five minutes.

For the past two years, organisers of Thespo, one of Mumbai’s most popular youth theatre festivals, have been collecting funds from the public through a Facebook page, Friends of Thespo, when they found no companies to sponsor the festival’s 2010 edition, which was then in its twelfth year.

Still, the system has no in-built checks for accountability or transparency, so those who donate do so entirely on trust and in the end have no claim over any profits the projects might earn. “In India, crowdfunding is still in a nascent stage,” says Rajiv Dingra, CEO of Wat Consults, a Mumbai-based social media agency.

“So the donors are usually friends of the person or those who know the person through some network. Only a small percentage of donors are actually strangers. But this could rapidly change because often each donation is small. Like in many other fields, the internet has been the key propeller of crowdfunding, by enabling people to tap a huge base of potential funders. “People like being a part of something big,” says Dingra. “Also, in India people used to be apprehensive about spending money online, but this is slowly changing.” Online spending in India is likely to rise to Rs 7,000 crore by 2015 from Rs 2,000 crore in 2012, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.

Crowdfunding began in the West four years ago during the economic downturn when filmmakers, artists, musicians, innovators, started looking for solutions on the Internet after their traditional patrons deserted them.

US-based, one of the most popular crowdfunding websites born out of this need, went online in 2009 and has successfully funded more than 15,000 projects, including comic books, video games, cookbooks and independent films. It helped people raise $100 million in donations in 2011, up from $28 million in 2010, according statistics on Kickstarter’s blog. Seventeen Kickstarter-funded films made it to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Utah, US, this year.

“The model needs patience,” says Sanjay Suri, who co-produces Onir’s films. “But if done right, anyone who does not get mainstream support can turn to social media. It’s the future of everything independent.”

The number game

What is crowdfunding?
For years, Indians have supported charities. But for the past three years, crowdfunding or raising funds from the public with the help of social media has become
increasingly popular. Those using crowdfunding appeal to millions plugged into the internet and very often, the money supports for-profit, creative projects.
Until now, in India, artists have appealed for funds through social networking sites or websites. The two Indian websites that will be launched this month, and, will be the first websites that will focus solely on crowdfunding.

What is the financial model?
US-based crowdfunding website allows people to upload a summary of their projects for a fixed number of days and target sum. If they meet the goal, and only if they do, will keep between 15% to 20% of the money and pass on the rest to those pitching the projects. The donors do not share in any profits. and plan to follow a similar model.

Will the model take off in India?
Experts are divided. Mumbai-based social media expert Moksh Juneja says that such models will take off as internet penetration increases. But Sanjeev Aggarwal, senior managing director of Delhi-based venture capitalist firm Helion Advisors, says that in India, unlike in the West, the masses are still not open to the idea of donating to a creative cause. “The projects that have taken off appeal to a niche audience,” he says. “The average Indian will still support a charitable cause over an artistic project.”

‘We collected Rs 1 lakh in two days’

A music video featuring Demonic Resurrection, a Mumbai-based metal band

The project went online on the band’s website and on its Facebook page in December 2011.

The band collected Rs 1.15 lakh in a week.

Sahil Makhija, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, aka The Demonstealer, decided to approach his fans for funds to shoot the band’s first music video. “Very few people invest in rock music in India so we decided to give crowdfunding a shot,” he says.

On February 15, the band uploaded the appeal for funds on the band’s website, on, a webzine for the Indian rock scene and on their Facebook page.

The band received pledges for Rs 1 lakh within two days.

Funders got some perks. A fan who donated at least Rs 250 were promised an exclusive premier two weeks before the video’s release and donors who pledged Rs 4,000 or more were promised a free guitar lesson from one of the band members.

The band wants to finish shooting the video by the end of September.

‘People helped rebuild what the cyclone destroyed’

Adishakti, a theatre community in Puducherry

Buildings on its three-acre campus were damaged during Cyclone Thane in December 2011. An appeal went up on Facebook on January 1 this year for funds to rebuild the structures.

Adishakti has collected Rs 2 lakh of the R10 lakh it needs.

Adishakti, a theatre collective that began in 1981, is a cultural hub in Puducherry. The lush green three-acre campus has hosted research scholars and artists in its humble guesthouses, staged national and international plays in its auditorium and nurtured art and culture. On December 30, Cyclone Thane hit Tamil Nadu killing more than 20 people and destroying buildings.

The auditorium’s roof collapsed, the guestrooms were severely damaged as was the watchman’s room. A week after the cyclone, Veenapani Chawla, the group’s founder and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner, uploaded an appeal for funds on Facebook. Within days, money started coming in and by the end of two months, Chawla had collected Rs 2 lakh, enough to rebuild the theatre’s roof.

“It is a slow process but thanks to social networking, people from the US to Kolkata contributed,” she says. “But not everybody who promises pays up.” Adishakti is now collecting money through the same model to build a corpus.

‘It’s a waiting game’

Sunrise, an independent film by Partho Sen-gupta

The project went online on, an international crowdfunding website, in January 2011.

Sen-gupta collected $71,550 (about Rs 8,62,000)

In 2010, independent filmmaker Partho Sen-gupta, who shuttles between London and Mumbai, was turned down by producers he approached to fund Sunrise, a thriller with child trafficking as the theme, because the topic was too controversial.

Sen-gupta decided that to try crowdfunding. He shot a trailer and uploaded this with a short summary on, a US-based crowdfunding website that allows people to upload projects from across the world. However, it only allows the project to stay online for 100 days. Sen-gupta then started aggressively talking about the film on Twitter and Facebook. “Crowdfunding is a 24x7 job,” says Sen-gupta. “I tweeted about the film every hour for those 100 days. It’s also a waiting game. Sometimes nobody pays up, then you send out emails again and tweet.”

After the 100 days were up, Sen-gupta had collected $20,000. Then he moved the campaign to the film’s website, where funds kept pouring in. “The best part is that the 156 donors will also talk about the film to people they know. They have now become the promoters of my film,” says Sen-gupta. He has collected $71,550, a fourth of the budget and plans to start shooting the film in three months.

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