When names like Onir, Anusha Rizvi, Aamir Bashir, Ashvin Kumar along with supporters like Ashutosh Gowariker, Aparna Sen, Zoya Akhtar and Shabana Azmi amounting to an astounding 62 filmmakers of the country take a stand, one better listen. Save Indie Cinema campaign spearheaded by Onir has been championing the rights for Independent cinema for a whole year.
Filmmaker Ashvin Kumar (Inshallah Football, Inshallah Kashmir) says, “We have independent films with thought-provoking content and we have their audience especially at the festivals that are being held throughout the country. Most are oversubscribed which says that many want to watch these kind of films. The problem is exactly in the middle. There is a bottleneck as these films don’t reach their audience because of a lack of appropriate screening spaces.”
In the wake of this argument, last month, the Indian government agreed to show these films on its national channel, Doordarshan (DD). The architect of the campaign, Onir informs, “Manish Tewari, The Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Minister, Tripurari Saran, Doordarshan Director General and Raghvendra Singh, Junior Secretary of I&B Ministry, recently announced that DD will have a separate slot called The Best of Indian Cinema where National Award-winning films and films that have been screened in 16 listed film festivals since 2000 will be screened.” Six weeks hence, the fate of screening of shorts, documentaries and ‘A’ certificate films has left these petitioners agitated.
After investigating platforms for independent cinema throughout the city irrespective of 106 standalone cinema halls and 20 multiplexes, the paucity of such venues becomes evident. Doubtfully, the city engineered by Hindi cinema, cannot make even these handful spaces available to independent filmmakers. Today, Mumbai manages weekly screenings at the Press Club, Films Division Hall, Ravindra Natya Mandir and Vikalp Theatre at Prithvi.
DADA comes into the picture
“The second part is to create small theatre spaces in all major cities in India and name it DADA cinemas after Dadasaheb Phalke. These will only screen indie films of all Indian languages with subtitles. It will also have a small library and cafeteria,” Onir delineates the coveted model. Kumar adds, “We want the government to consider a public private partnership that will also have alternative programming. This will include film appreciation classes; screening of a new filmmaker’s works; workshops on techniques of filmmaking along with a renowned filmmaker conducting a master class every month.”
Coming to the central question of space, Onir adds, “These could be new properties of existing one like the ones in Siri Fort (in Delhi). We have listed about 60 properties in 50 cities, to start with.” He recalls, “During the Tagore centenary, the government had made the visionary step of creating Rabindra Kendras / Sadan / Manchas in all state capitals to be a space for performing arts.” Both filmmakers draw attention to celebrations such as the National Awards’ ceremony and 100 years of Indian cinema festivities that hold no meaning when filmmakers like them have no place to present their art.
Recently, in the wake of such protests, the government announced that the Mahadev auditorium in Delhi would be modelled as an alternative cinema hub. Also, the Indian Documentary Producers Association (IDPA) declared that it will organise screenings of documentaries and short films every Sunday at the
PL Deshpande Mini Auditorium, Kala Academy, Prabhadevi to encourage these efforts.
Just not enough
Rather than being metropolitan-centric, Onir reveals that such films have a pan-Indian following: “Indie cinema has a growing audience, especially in the so-called B-Towns. But there is no avenue. Spaces can be built, like the original Nandan in Kolkata, it will find its audience or like Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre. Cities like Indore, Bhopal, Lucknow, Shimla, Hyderabad, Allahabad, Kanpur, Nagpur, Pune, Patna and Surat can follow this model; India is like a subcontinent.”
The ideal blueprint
1) Filmmakers should curate films and not some IAS officer.
2) These shows have to be ticketed; no reserved passes for government officials should be available, to discourage hoarding.
3)Indie filmmakers need to earn money out of these films. “We need them to address the fact that we need at least 50 theatres so that it becomes a revenue earning system,” says Onir.
4) There should be no entertainment tax at these venues and the pricing of the tickets should be approximately Rs 50 to Rs 75 to make it is accessible to all.
5) The Ministry along with Doordarshan should start working in a transparent fashion so that rather than running in the corridors of power, the filmmaker directly gets his money.
6) The revenue earned by these centres should not be siphoned off but ploughed back into the making of cinema.
Voices for save indie cinema campaign
Anusha Rizvi: There is no recognition, even among those who report on it, that India produces films in more than 25 languages. We are completely unaware of the masters who are producing film after film, to be eventually screened abroad, with no distribution support in India. Films are the biggest cultural export a country can have. Unfortunately, India with its diverse cinemas has chosen to represent herself with only Bollywood films.
Tamseel Hussain, Campaigner at change.org: Onir along with 14 filmmakers had started this petition in July 2012. Over 20,000 people and 62 filmmakers later joined his campaign change.org/saveindie. One of the petition signers who is a film student commented “…we as students make short films and expect some recognition of our work. This petition covers all the important points we expect as low-budget filmmakers and film students. This will give better exposure to Indie cinema.”