Independent cinema deserves dignity: Onir
Filmmaker Onir on the juxtaposition between Indian cinema's centennial celebration and the dismal state of indie films
Independent cinema is thriving across the globe, except, of course, in our country. When you travel to Europe, you notice institutions being built specifically to support indie filmmakers.
They do it not because it’s mandatory, but because they acknowledge the fact that cinema is an art form -- not just a commercial outlet. In India, we have no such avenue. At best, indie films are confined to film festivals with limited screenings. We, therefore, have to ask: Will independent cinema fade away like several other art forms gradually are? When will the government wake up to our realities and lend a helping hand?
Yes, we are celebrating the completion of Indian cinema’s 100 years and it’s a huge milestone for us as a nation. But, at the same time, we have to realise the need to change certain things, starting with our mindset towards non-mainstream cinema. After all, these are the kind of films that dare to ask the difficult questions and make society look at itself with a broader perspective. Being an independent filmmaker, I genuinely feel that independent cinema deserves dignity.
When you make a film, the least you can expect is a proper release. Thanks to our complex business structure and money-centric policies, however, indie efforts are neglected even though there is an audience out there. How else can one explain Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus not being released yet? It was one of the best -- if not the best--Indian film of 2012. Similarly, of the three Indian feature films that went to Cannes last year, only Gangs of Wasseypur managed to get a release. The other two -- Peddlers and Miss Lovely -- are yet to witness the darkness of a cinema hall. Don’t you think that’s sad?
Also, Indian cinema has been grossly insensitive towards homosexuals. More often than not, homosexual characters are portrayed as caricatures and in the end, mockery is what’s presented to the audience. In the early days, homosexuality was considered a taboo although there were effeminate characters on screen. Over the past few years, although gay roles are seemingly common in terms of number, none of the films manage to break the proverbial ground. And this is the case with religious and racial identities too. A stereotyped image is set in stone and nobody cares to go beyond it.
In my opinion, this is an institutional problem, not a financial one. Take Prithvi Theatre, for instance. Despite the financial crunch, it has grown over the years to epitomise theatre in Mumbai. Can’t we have a similar platform for independent films as well? Come to think of it, even Dadasaheb Phalke was an independent filmmaker…we are primarily celebrating our first independent film today.
-- As told to Shakti Shetty