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What indie cinema can learn from Satyamev Jayate

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HARD SELL: Indie films need marketing muscle more than others. (Below) A still from 'Supermen of Malegaon'

Some weeks, the Bollywood movie lover has no choice but to sit it out and bemoan the unexciting fare being dished out by the industry. Last week was one of them. If you checked the newspaper listings it looked like you had two options. You could go to the theatre and watch Kyaa Super Kool Hai Hum or sit at home and watch reruns of Mr. India and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. The choice was obvious. Reruns, of course.

But lost in the ads for Kyaa Super Kool Hai Hum and Mere Dost Picture Abhi Baaki Hai was a film that didn't have any butt cracks, double entendres or even a lip sync song for that matter. Harud (meaning autumn in Kashmiri) is a quiet film that released without any noise. Thanks to an initiative set up by PVR, called PVR Director's Rare, films like Harud, Supermen of Malegaon, Good Night Good Morning now show on screens. Earlier they were either pirated through torrents or festival copies were shared furtively, so this is a distinct silver lining to the gloom and doom of Bollywood's safe sequels, unfunny comedies and plastic erotica.

With the launch of PVR Director's Rare banner, it looks like independent cinema is finally coming of age in the country. So what's wrong with the alternative cinema growth story? Only that they come and go with minimal buzz. And that they are usually marketed as charity cases when they deserve much better.

Let me explain. When we say niche films in Bollywood, the names that come to mind are Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee. But it's a misnomer because while their films are off-mainstream in sensibility, all films they made in the last five years have been backed by a leading studio. Dibaker's LSD had Ekta Kapoor's marketing acumen backing it. And Kashyap's DEV. D and Gangs of Wasseypur were backed by UTV and Viacom.

The real independent films are films like Good Night Good Morning, Untitled Karthik Krishnan Project, Kshay, Supermen of Malegaon, which are not funded by studios. They are, in a sense, the real underdogs of the movie industry and need the marketing muscle more than anybody. Because let's face it, Ek Tha Tiger could not advertise for the next two weeks, and one would still end up buying a ticket for it in black on the weekend it releases.

Why then do we know so little about these films? Most obviously because they have wafer-thin marketing budgets and rely largely on word of mouth. But a slow building movie is a luxury that no theatre can afford in times when a film makes 80 per cent of its money in the opening weekend.

It's also because indie cinema seems to suffer from a major inferiority complex. We hear about how the makers of these films quit their lucrative jobs, scrounged for funding and overcame daunting obstacles. All of which may be true, but none of it is a good reason to drive interest in a film.

No one watched The Blair Witch Project because it was made on a minuscule budget of $18, 000. They watched it because it scared the living daylights out of them. A film made against great odds still needs to compete on content. A film cannot be pitched like an Anna Hazare movement and say "Support it because it is the right thing to do".

Aamir Khan, despite his superstar status, has clearly cracked this marketing code. In an interview to New York Times, the actor referred to his film Taare Zameen Par and said: "If I tell you I am making a film on dyslexia, how many people are going to walk into the theater? No one will walk in: 'Oh, come let's watch a movie about dyslexia. ' So, I have to tell you it's a film about childhood and children. "

After the release of Taare Zameen Par, awareness about dyslexia in the country soared. Khan also applied this to his TV show Satyamev Jayate. In the first episode on female foeticide, Khan in interviews spoke about how he started the show by talking about mothers because he felt that complex issues also needed storytelling and narrative.

Maybe independent filmmakers in the country should realise that if one doesn't have star power, which is a sort of automatic engine that propels a film's top-of-the-mind recall, then story is their next best option. And if their films already have a strong one, why not talk about that?

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