Moving Beyond Masala Flicks, It’s Time For Indies To Steal The Show

Posted on August 4, 2014 in Culture-Vulture

By Vasudha Kapoor:

‘Who is the star-cast?’, ‘Who is the director?’, ‘Who is doing the item-number?’ – these are a few of the questions that many of us frequently ask whenever a new movie comes into the market. But how many of us, going beyond these materialistic details, go to the theaters and buy the ticket because the story asked us to? I know, not many. Why do movies like ‘Heropanti’, ‘Yariyaan’ and ‘R Rajkumar’, despite of lack of any sensible storyline, score more on popularity ratings and the movies like I.D.’ (directed by Kalam KM),Peddlers (directed by Vasan Bala) and Ship of Theseus (directed by Anand Gandhi). Even after having a realistic and artistic approach, the latter reside in those dark corners of a room where light seldom enters. Let’s find out why.

The Lunchbox

But before that, let’s stop for a while and think. What is the first word that strikes your mind whenever the words ‘India’ and ‘film-making’ come in a line? Doubtlessly, it’s ‘Bollywood’. But, in contrast to the popular opinion, Bollywood is not the only film-making sector in India. A major part of the films produced each year are a result of independent film making. The independent filmmaking (indies), also known as parallel cinema, is known for its serious content, realism and naturalism. Initiating with a keen eye on socio-political issues of the time and rejection of dance-and-song numbers with films like Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957), Satyajit Ray’s Abhijan (1962) and Mani Kaul’s Uski Roti (1971), the decline and resurgence have shifted the themes to slow, subtle romance like Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Lunch Box’ or the heartwarming story of two adolescents growing up on the streets in ‘Mumbai Cha Raja’ (2012). But one thing that has remained constant throughout the life of the independent filmmaking is low budget, no star cast film stifled with passion, perseverance and love. (Early years, Growth and Resurgence)

“Independent filmmaking is about independent thought and independent money,” Manjeet Singh, the director of Mumbai Cha Raja, succinctly puts it.

“Indian independent cinema is a reaction and a pretty intense one to the Bollywood masala films, so, it thrives on its non confirmation of that style,” says Ajay Bahl, the director of amazingly successful independent film BA Pass. “The definition of independent films is very different in India vis-a-vis abroad. Here we finally need a big studio or a corporate to come in if we want a release,” adds Nittin Kakkar, the director of national award-winning Filmistan.

With the release of three path-breaking and trend-setting movies like Lunchbox, B.A. Pass and Ship of Thesues, the year 2013 becomes a landmark in the history of independent filmmaking. What outshined these low budget movies from the star-studded ones was the ‘out of the box’ approach, extreme realism and simplicity.

But what happens to the remaining independent films that are never seen or heard of?

One of the major hurdles in the growth of the parallel filmmaking is its distribution which, in India, happens only with the help of established studios. So, an independent film is made with the money from independent resources. Ajay Bahl borrowed money from his family for B.A. Pass. Udaan (2010) and Shahid (2013) were both independent ventures picked up for distribution by mainstream companies. (Independent Films demystified)

Undoubtedly, the popularity of big stars fills theaters and sells the tickets but adds to the cost and at times even compromises with the creativity. Aparna Malladi, an LA-based independent filmmaker who was in India looking for funding for her film The Anushree Experiment, was advised to take a known star if she ever wanted to make her film. It is not that the independent films don’t aim at making money. They do, but not at the cost of integrity of their art form. Often, in the parallel filmmaking world, the star is not a person but the script.

Apart from all these obstacles, the purest part of the Indian film industry continues to invade the souls and capture the hearts.  The script of Udaan continues to provide meaning to life and the beauty of rightly placed co-incidents due to mis-delivered Lunch Boxes encloses the innocence of love. The respect for the craft, originality and simplicity is the food for our film industry. So, we must remember “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted.” The big and the small budget films together make up the film industry, so unless the small is not cherished, nothing will last for long.