Why are regional films overlooked at film fests?

Figure this: in February this year, Berlin Film Festival screened Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che. In summer, four films from India -- The Lunchbox, Bombay Talkies, Monsoon Shootout and Ugly -- were shown at Cannes. A repeat of the trend in 2012. At Venice, the number of feature films from the country dropped to one in the form of Richie Mehta’s Siddharth.

The Lunchbox travelled across the globe before earning itself a commercial release

Later, Barfi!, Kai Po Che, Lootera, Monsoon Shootout and Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani were showcased at Helsinki. At Toronto Film Festival, The Lunchbox, Qissa, Shuddh Desi Romance and Siddharth squared off the Indian contingent. The Lunchbox was the sole desi contender in the competition category at London Film Festival. Last month, around 13 Indian films were chosen for at the Busan Film Festival but the list was heavily dominated by Bollywood fare.

The selection of the Gujarati film The Good Road as India’s official entry for Oscars recently created a controversy of sorts

If one pauses to notice, the number of regional feature films that’d represent the country at international platforms has dropped significantly over the years. This change is ironical for two reasons. There has been a steady opinion doing the rounds that Indian cinema is improving by leaps and bounds and Indian cinema here refers to regional films as much as the ones that come out of Hindi film industry. Secondly, for good or for worse, Indian cinema has generally been identified abroad by the likes of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Mrinal Sen. Curiously enough, the legion of veteran filmmakers from Bollywood rarely made the elite cut.

Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Thesus was a rare case as it became the most successful independent film made in English by an Indian

So what’s really happening with all the “brilliantly made” non-Hindi films? How come they don’t travel far, metamorphically speaking?

Greener pastures ahead
For some reason, regional cinema seems to have been relegated. What once used to be the bastion has moved to the fringes. The influx of regional talent to cities has contributed immensely to this disparity. As a result, arthouse films -- the kind of films usually preferred by international films fests -- are rarely made. And the regional filmmakers, on looking back retrospectively, realise the ‘mistakes’ committed by their predecessors. No wonder they only see a win-win situation when it comes to backing. However, when such filmmakers approach a production house, they are often asked to make their films in Hindi for commercial reasons.

Patrons and patronage
The names behind a film matter a lot. There’s a reason why Anurag Kashyap has become the poster boy of a different kind of cinema. Thanks to his undeniable passion for promoting unknown talents, young directors benefit. Having said that, his association with regional cinema has been minimal so far. On the contrary, his name was imprinted on all the four films that were screened at French Riviera in May. Perhaps what regional cinema is in dire need of is a figure like Kashyap who has a voice to reckon with and a presenter like Karan Johar or Kiran Rao to make sure the film fests-bound project s land home safely.

Open to debate
When Gyan Correa’s The Good Road was selected as India’s official entry to Oscars, many in the industry were riled. To them, the decision came across as blindly following the ‘supporting regional cinema at all cost’ adage. After all, history favours Hindi movies as far as the Academy is concerned even though the international film festivals have earlier known to attract the vernacular ones. As of now, the question is less about who is better and more about who goes where. And the fact remains that less and less regional films manage to cross the border as their Bollywood contemporaries are making the most of the available infrastructure.  

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