Magazine article Screen International

Indian Audiences Catch Indie Fever

Magazine article Screen International

Indian Audiences Catch Indie Fever

Article excerpt

The local box-office success of a number of non-mainstream Indian films has prompted financiers to take note. Now the challenge is to win over distributors.

As the fifth edition of India's projects market, Film Bazaar (November 24-27), gets underway this month, the country's indie film-makers will have much to feel confident about.

The trend of smaller films making waves at the local box office continued throughout 2011 with hits such as Delhi Belly, Tanu Weds Manu and No One Killed Jessica. Delhi Belly was a particular surprise, raking in $4.5m on its opening weekend in India, and out-grossing Salman Khan vehicle Ready in the US. Though distributed by Indian studios, these were unconventional pictures without major stars.

India's non-mainstream films are also drawing greater interest from international sales agents and film festivals. Ribhu Dasgupta's Michael, produced by Anurag Kashyap Films, premiered at Toronto and was picked up for international sales by Fortissimo Films. Punjabi-language drama, Alms Of The Blind Horse, premiered in Venice's Orizzonti section, while Mangesh Hadawale's Watch Indian Circus, an uplifting drama with a social message, scooped the audience award at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea.

The success of some of these films is making investors in the region sit up and take notice. In the past, star vehicles have soaked up nearly all the finance available for Indian films, but it is now becoming easier to raise finance for smaller stories without major stars.

'Marketing your film is much more stressful than making it'Anurag Kashyap, writer-director-producer

"The success of Delhi Belly sent shock waves through the system," says director Aditya Bhattacharya, who is shooting the privately financed cop thriller BMW: Bombay's Most Wanted in Mumbai. "I've always believed the Indian audience is ahead of the curve -- it's the [mainstream] industry that's lagging behind."

For the first time in decades, there is also public money available for production -- India's National Film Development Corp (NFDC) is in the process of co-financing or fully financing a slate of around 20 films in 11 Indian languages.

"We like to support new talent and promote regional cinema, so we look at projects in various languages," explains NFDC managing director Nina Lath Gupta. NFDC productions include Alms Of The Blind Horse -- one of the first Punjabi-language films to screen at a major festival -- and Punjabi drama Qissa, a co-production with Germany's Heimat film and other European partners. The government film body is also co-producing Qaushiq Mukherjee's Bengali-language Tasher Desh with Anurag Kashyap Films and Belgian producer Entre Chien et Loup.

The result of this increase in private and public investment is a wave of films outside the usual Bollywood formula, ranging from traditional arthouse to youth-oriented, gross-out comedies such as Delhi Belly.

Somewhere in between are films such as Watch Indian Circus, described by producer Chirag Shah as "thought-provoking, commercially viable cinema". The film deals with the issue of poverty in an uplifting manner, which makes it palatable to Indian audiences, but also has a world cinema sensibility that could help it to travel.

India is also seeing an increase in moody urban-crime thrillers, such as Bhattacharya's BMW and Amit Kumar's The Monsoon Shootout, also in production. …

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