The film market serves as a platform to help young directors’ indie films get their due in the domestic and international film industry.
Being an outsider in the film industry is no fun. You go knocking on doors and wait for replies. But they are slow to arrive – especially for someone who wants to write and direct a film that doesn’t fit the industry’s definition of mainstream. If you don’t have a star attached to your project, they’re not going to make your film. If your script can’t accommodate a certain number of songs, they’re not going to make your film. If your story isn’t escapist enough, they’re not going to make your film. The mindset of Indian producers may have started to change in the last few years, but a decade ago, it was fairly inflexible, and so was the state of cinema in the country. On top of that, our films weren’t regulars at the international film festivals. Anurag Kashyap, who would later start his own production house, championing new filmmakers, struggled to find financiers for his own films back then. Path breaking indies were conspicuously absent. It was in this climate of ignorance and despair that Film Bazaar, a film market created and organised by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), first came into being, hoping to create waves in the placid waters of Indian cinema.
Ten years later, it’s achieved much more than that. From 2007, Film Bazaar’s first year, which saw around 350 delegates and 22 projects, to 2016 – which featured 1,100 delegates and 200 projects – South Asia’s biggest film market has had a long and successful journey. But numbers often show only one part of the picture; individual stories help complete it. For instance, in 2012, Chaitanya Tamhane went to Film Bazaar with his debut feature, the trilingual drama Court. Although Tamhane didn’t find buyers for Court at Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market, he found someone else: Paolo Bertolin, a programmer at the Venice International Film Festival. Tamhane and Bertolin had a small informal conversation and decided to keep in touch. Around 18 months later, Tamhane showed Bertolin the first cut of his film, who was impressed enough to recommend it to be screened at the festival. Court then went on to win the Orizzonti award at Venice, toured many film festivals around the world, won the National Film Award for Best Feature and found a theatrical release.
In the summer of 2014, another young filmmaker, Raam Reddy had finished the rough cut of his film and was looking for a producer to back it. Like Tamhane, he was an outsider, and so, clueless about the inscrutable ways of producing films. So Reddy got in touch with Tamhane; they met in Mumbai, and the latter suggested him to apply for Film Bazaar. Reddy did, and his debut feature, Thithi, got selected for Film Bazaar’s Work-in-Progress Lab, where a few mentors (film critics, film festival directors, script consultants, editors) give suggestions to directors and editors on how to shape their films. “Since I was completely new to this, I decided to follow the template of Court,” said Reddy at a Film Bazaar panel this year. And like Court, Thithi, too, benefitted from a stroke of good timing. One of the mentors at that year’s Work-in-Progress Lab was a producer, Sunmin Park, who liked the film enough to co-produce it. The next year, Thithi, again, much like Court, got selected for a prestigious film festival, Locarno, won an award (the Golden Leopard in the Filmmakers of the Present category), was shown at approximately two dozen film festivals around the world, and, nearly a year later, released in India.
Film Bazaar’s impact
Had it not been for Film Bazaar, it’s difficult to imagine where Court and Thithi might have landed (that is, if they would have landed anywhere at all). Over the last ten years, several Indian films, mostly by debutant directors, have benefitted greatly from Film Bazaar and have premiered at prestigious film festivals around the world – some have won awards, several have found a theatrical release. Another Film Bazaar initiative, the Screenwriters’ Lab – a four-month mentorship programme that helps screenwriters revise their scripts over multiple drafts – has contributed talented filmmakers to the industry: Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox), Kanu Behl (Titli), Ruchika Oberoi (Island City). And besides Thithi and Court, the Work-in-Progress Lab and Co-production Market have produced many notable films, the former responsible for Miss Lovely, Ship of Theseus, Killa, and the latter Liar’s Dice, Chauthi Koot, Qissa, among others. Some films such as Miss Lovely, Chauranga and Titli were part of both, Work-in-Progress Lab and Co-Production Market.
This edition of Film Bazaar, held from November 21-24, had six, seven and 18 projects in the Screenwriters’ Lab, Work-in-Progress and Co-Production Market respectively, including films from such countries as Bangladesh, Canada, China, Netherlands and Nepal. Besides, 202 films (164 feature-length, 38 shorts) were part of the Viewing Room, open to film festival programmers, sales agents and potential investors, who could choose which films to watch based on different criteria: duration, shorts, features, debuts, state of completion, language. Out of the 202 films in the Viewing Room this year, six of them have been made in rare languages: The Gold-Laden Sheep & The Sacred Mountain in Pahadi, The Bioscopewala in Dari, Sonar Baran Pakhi in Rajbangshi, Dongar Dei Paribi Naahin in Kui, Kho Ki Pa Lu in Chokri and River Song in Shertukpen.
But a film market functions very differently from a film festival, in that its success can’t be determined instantaneously since it takes time for projects to develop; it takes time to close deals. For example, Miss Lovely screened at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2012, but it was in the Co-Production Market in 2008. Island City released last month, but it was in the Screenwriters’ Lab four years ago. Killa was part of the 2012 Work-in-Progress Lab, but it found a theatrical release three years later. So the fate of the films at this year’s Film Bazaar will be clear only in the next few years, but one hopes to find new confident storytellers who will play a vital part in the slowly, but surely, evolving landscape of Indian cinema.