What happens to Bollywood films touring the festival circuit?

Several Indian films bag honours at prestigious international film festivals, but do these accolades translate into tangible returns for the makers?

Cannes Film Festival is slated to commence from May 14 onwards and as has been the case over the past few years, the presence of Indian films — even if not Bollywood — will be duly noted this time too. Last year, Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox won the Grand Rail d'Or before winning rave reviews in other film festivals and releasing in India. In fact, it went on to become the highest grossing foreign language film in the US in 2014. Here was a rather rare case of an Indian film not only earning recognition on an international platform but also successfully translating it into commercial gains. 

Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Manya Gupta and Geetanjali Thapa in Liar’s Dice. Directed by Geetu Mohandas, it had its world premiere at the 2013 Mumbai Film Festival and has been touring the festival circuit ever since.

This begs the question: What happens to the majority of films from India that do the rounds of film festivals? Do the filmmakers earn much in the long run?

Not really, says Vikramjit Roy, general manager, National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC). He says, “A film like The Lunchbox created a new benchmark because it had the potential to engage audiences at film festivals. But in the international market, a film’s success depends entirely on its quality. If a film has universal charm, then it’s going to get eyeballs even in non-NRI areas. What else can explain The Lunchbox’s screening and subsequent popularity in so many countries?”

Peddlers premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2012. The unreleased crime thriller has been active on the festival front though

It’s worth noting that The Lunchbox released in India much after its festival run. Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus and Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely too tasted fame in the festival circuit before winning favour among the masses. Vasan Bala’s Peddlers, however, hasn’t been so fortunate. After premiering at Cannes in 2012, the crime thriller is yet to release in India.

Reach over profit?
On being asked whether the festival circuit helped him financially, Bala shrugs saying that it’s a matter of perception more than statistics. “A film sent to a film festival may or may not make considerable amount of profit but the primary idea is to seek an audience. If my country doesn’t want my film, I’ll search for eyeballs somewhere else. And all this while, I can’t keep looking at the accounts. I will keep moving ahead.”

Ahluwalia takes a more holistic approach though. “You don’t send a movie to a film festival with the sole objective of reaping profits. Sometimes, it’s solely about prestige.”

Ship of Theseus not only benefited from festival circuit but also from healthy box-office collections 

Win-win for everyone
However, that is not to say that producers don’t seek a proper Friday release. In fact, thanks to increasing awareness about film festivals, these challenges are being met head on by filmmakers.

For instance, Ship of Theseus, which recently won the National Award for Best Feature Film, began its journey at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012. Gandhi is grateful to the festival machinery as it helped him build the momentum. But he points out that there’s much more to overseas screenings than instant commercial advantage. “Film festivals give us access to international markets. The idea is to make audiences watch a different kind of cinema. A film festival also lends a film much needed visibility that might just help in making more money,” says the 33-year-old filmmaker.

The Lunchbox recently completed its ninth weekend in the USA, having grossed $2,713,093 from 165 theaters

Meenakshi Shedde, film critic and film festival curator, states that film festivals are all about the profit. “Sadly, in our country, we think every festival-hopping film is non-commercial. This mentality is the reason why we are left behind in the global markets, especially in the non-diaspora countries. All over the world, film fests help increase box returns.

After all, film festivals are meant to benefit both sides — the festival organisers as well as the filmmakers,” she says.

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