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The brave, new underworld
The well-oiled indie film machine of Mumbai, led by the irrepressible Anurag Kashyap, dominated the scene at Cannes.
Asudden storm blew a huge sun shield off the building showering its metal parts like shrapnel on the queue for the premiere of Ugly, Anurag Kashyap's new film at the Cannes Film Festival. Screened at the the Directors' Fortnight, a parallel event, the storm seemed like a metaphor for the kind of impact Kashyap's films leave on the audience with their dark themes, violence and profanity.
For film festivals in the West, overfed on a diet of Bollywood glamour, these realistic movies come as a whiff of fresh air. At all major festivals abroad, the well-oiled indie filmmaking machine of Mumbai now dominates the screening space, the talkathons and the sales events. This machine, interestingly, is run clinically by smart young lawyers and chartered accountants.
For the second successive year, the Cannes festival had more than one indie film from Mumbai, the biggest beneficiary being Anurag Kashyap Films Private Ltd. Almost the entire Indian package presented this year on the Croisette, the festival venue, came from the Kashyap stable.
Both the official selections - Monsoon Shootout and Bombay Talkies - are either co-produced or directed by Kashyap. He is also the co-producer of the other two Indian films - Ugly and The Lunchbox - shown at The Critic's Week and The Director's Fortnight.
The festival began this year from where it had left off in 2012 when it showed both parts of Kashyap's The Gangs of Wasseypur along with Peddlers. The two films also travelled to other festivals like the Toronto International Film Festival last year while Kashyap sat on the jury of the Sundance Film Festival in the United States earlier this year. When the Cannes lineup was announced last month, the joke doing the rounds of the Indian film industry circles was that if Anurag Kashyap were a bit older than his 40 years, he would have made the Cannes Classics section for restored films as well.
A culture of talent, technology, money and marketing drives the indie film industry of Mumbai. The excellence of its executives is measured, not by the film's footage but the number of flying miles earned. "When you travel around the world today, you see a lot of funding options, " says Guneet Monga, the producer from Kashyap's production company. "We operate it like a business after a revenue plan is made for a film. " Monga spends most of the year crisscrossing continents to create business deals abroad in the form of co-productions. For example, Monga got money in the form of equity and subsidy from France and the domestic National Film Development Corporation for making The Lunchbox. The film tells the story of a soon-to-retire insurance officer's accidental romance with a housewife, the result of a wrongly delivered dabba. For Monsoon Shootout, one-third of the budget came from FranceTV, a leading audio-visual company in France besides equity from the Netherlands and India. While Monga notches up flying miles, lawyers and finance specialists in her Mumbai pore over acres of email attachments to firm up co-production agreements. "We in India think all these funding arrangements are a big deal, but it is standard operating procedure abroad, " she says. Monga also insists that Anurag Kashyap Films is not one person and that he doesn't take credit for all the success that comes along. "Anurag Kashyap is our script doctor and mentor, but each film has an independent journey, " she explains.
The essence of indie enterprise also often dictates the method of filmmaking. "I didn't want to show the script to anyone after I decided to make the film, "said Kashyap at the premiere of his new directorial venture, Ugly, which is about a kidnapping gone haywire. Lacking in cinematic artistry, Ugly continues with the craft of mechanically directed violent scenes that dominate Kashyap's previous films.
Vivek Rangachari of Dar Motion Pictures, which co-produced the film that is set to release in two months, accepts that he didn't insist on seeing the script first: "We didn't ask for the script of the film and made an exception in this case, " he says.
Rangachari recalls a one-liner from Kashyap that made him bend the most important rule of the game - never fund a film without seeing the script: "He said, just trust me on this film. " The last time a production company made such an exception, the result was not encouraging. This was in 2009, when Reliance Big Entertainment funded films by four of the biggest filmmakers of the country - MS Sathyu (Ijjodu), Buddhadeb Dasgupta (Janala), Shaji N Karun (Kutty Srank) and Rituparno Ghosh (Shob Charitro Kalponik) - without seeing the scripts. All of them tanked.
FANS AND FANTASY
"The exaggerated attention to films like The Gangs of Wasseypur intended to support a supposedly alternative Indian cinema relies more on a western film festival programmer's fancied vision than on the current reality of Indian filmmaking, " says Jean-Michel Frodon, former editor-in-chief of Cahier du Cinema, an influential French film magazine.
Agrees independent filmmaker Manjeet Singh, whose new movie project exploring naxalism is part of the L'Atelier section of the Cannes festival for emerging filmmakers to gain access to international financing. "The indie filmmakers of Mumbai are not pushing the envelope. They are making films for an existing urban market. For the Indian urban middle class, anything that disturbs them or challenges their thinking is welcome, " says Singh, whose first film Mumbai Cha Raja (Mumbai's King), the story of the city through the eyes of its slum children, is yet to find a distributor.
Dibakar Banerjee, another indie filmmaker who shared the Cannes stage with Kashyap for co-directing Bombay Talkies, believes the quality of Indian independent filmmaking has to improve. "This is just a beginning. We need more alternative vision, more regional vision and authentic stories, " says Banerjee.
Kashyap, however, remains optimistic. He says: "The fact that we are here in Cannes in big numbers means we must be doing something right. "
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