As Bollywood continues to dominate the film industry in India, independent film-makers feel they need the government’s support to come at par with Bollywood, or at least survive. As a plea to save this parallel cinema, 39 independent film-makers in India, with over 29 of them being National Award winners, have joined hands for a campaign called Save Indie Cinema. With the objective of rescuing this dying institution, the petition includes over 11 suggestions for the Indian government to provide effective policies to encourage these film-makers.
“It’s a big question mark for most indie film-makers as they are not given their due — it’s becoming difficult for us to function,” says Anirban Dhar known more popularly as Onir. “My last film was crowd-funded with many investors helping out, but how are you going to survive in the long term?” Onir is responsible for making the film My Brother Nikhil and the film series I Am, for which he received the National Award for best film and best lyrics. He is known for tackling unexplored and rather taboo themes such as same-sex relationships and child abuse.
Onir is one of the most vocal film-makers who have spoken up against the dominance of consumerist Bollywood culture. “The whole mall culture, which is a result of globalisation, has made film-viewing seem like shopping,” he continues. “Film-goers go to cinemas with a completely different frame of mind now.” He feels majority of the films produced in mainstream cinema promote a regressive attitude and lifestyle.
Following the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting’s announcement that the government will invest INR6 billion in the preservation of Indian heritage, the film-makers decided to go forward with the Save Indie Cinema petition. Onir feels that at least one third of this amount needs to be invested in independent cinema in order to provide a self-sustaining atmosphere for aesthetic and high-quality films along with the setting up of cinemas dedicated solely for this purpose. The US and UK are clear examples of this where chains of theatres are devoted to independent films.
Apart from the lack of government support, independent film-makers are currently facing numerous other issues as well. “Everything has become Bollywood driven,” says Onir, adding that indie film-makers are being forced to compete with mainstream Bollywood; at multiplexes, screens are normally taken over by Bollywood films. “Indie films are usually given afternoon hours and not aired during peak time. And these days, that is being fought over by biggies such as Chakravyuh and Son of Sardaar,” he adds.
Satellite channels, on the other hand, undervalue and tend to disregard these National Award winning films. “For an indie film to be aired on TV, it needs to be supported by a celebrity,” Onir says, adding that censorship is an additional limitation. He feels when it comes to censorship, large studio owners and Bollywood film-makers are given more leverage as compared to indie film-makers; they are also given preferred time slots. “The money we are offered is as good as [what we would get for] not screening the film,” he says. “On one hand we are given National Awards and on the other hand we are not even allowed to air our films on TV.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of bureaucrats are star-struck by Bollywood celebrities and as a result, they are more lenient towards them,” he adds, explicitly talking about the numerous scenes being cut off from their films while Bollywood films are barely censored. “Bollywood caters to a more concerted Non Resident Indian [NRI] market which is consumer and money-driven.” If this parallel cinema is to survive further, he strongly believes that it needs patronage and government support.
Onir is hopeful that the Save Indie Cinema campaign will be effective and thus he is busy organising a delegation of film-makers to discuss this with the country’s ministers who are responsible for setting the film industry’s budget. He feels that through this movement, they will be able to reinvigorate a diverse and multi-lingual film culture.
Currently, Onir is working on his latest project, which is an Indo-French co-production called Shab. Not giving away too many details, he says that it is about a call girl and a male escort falling in love.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2012.
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