Can't run kitchen with indie films: Sarthak Dasgupta (Interview)

What it comes down to is commerce. Independent films like "The Lunchbox" and "Ship Of Theseus" managed eyeballs with the strong backing of Bollywood bigwigs, but India's "censorship and distribution system" continue to be "teethin

Sunday, October 13, 2013 | 7:22:05 AM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Interview with director Sarthak Dasgupta

What it comes down to is commerce. Independent films like "The Lunchbox" and "Ship Of Theseus" managed eyeballs with the strong backing of Bollywood bigwigs, but India's "censorship and distribution system" continue to be "teething pains" for most indie filmmakers, who can't keep their kitchens running solely via moviemaking, says director Sarthak Dasgupta.

"Times are indeed getting better for smaller independent films in this country. Technology has no doubt brought down the costs and overheads, but the distribution of such films remains challenging. One cannot still make a career out of making independent films and hope to run the kitchen.

"On one side, while the risks of not getting a good distribution always loom over an independent film, on the other side, if it ever gets a good release, the cream is always taken away by the people who get in last and recover first. The project still remains risky to the initial guy who put in the first dollars," Dasgupta, who debuted with "The Great Indian Butterfly", told IANS in an email interview.

This is one situation that will have to change before it can be said "the time has arrived" for indies, the 42-year-old noted, adding: "These are the teething pains of any evolution."

"At the end of the day, if the independent films can connect with their audience, evolution will make way for the movement to survive. And it has! 'The Great Indian Butterfly' in 2003 versus the 'Ship of Theseus' in 2013 is a big jump in a positive direction," Dasgupta added.

Does that have much to do with the fact that bigwigs like Anurag Kashyap, Kiran Rao and Karan Johar are backing independent projects?

"This is a commercial field. The commerce allows it today to push films such as 'The Lunchbox' and 'Ship of Theseus' with the association of names like Kiran, Karan or Anurag. If these work on a more regular basis, it will be a welcome trend. If they don't, even the big names will not lend their names. However, it indeed is somewhere helping to create a base of audiences for such films," Dasgupta said.

"The Great Indian Butterfly" was shot in 2003 but released in 2010. He deems it "lucky" that it got released. His latest project "Cutthroat", about the futility of the rat race around MBA education, is being made under crowdfunding, which globally is believed to have spiralled into a $5 billion industry in five years. The concept has made a start in India with films like "I Am" and "Peddlers".

"Cutthroat" is registered on Indian crowdfunding platform "Catapooolt", which has helped it raise over Rs. 800,000 within three months. The budget for his film is Rs.10 lakh.

How does crowdfunding work?

"The project to be funded is loaded on the crowdfunding platform by the owner. He has to then market the project strongly to his friends, associations and communities to develop an emotional connect and raise funds," explained Dasgupta, who considers it much more than just a fundraising exercise.

"Crowdfunding is not just about raising money. It is also about marketing to the right audience and gaining traction even before a project is started. The crowd which funds the project also gets involved in the project due to an emotional connect. Suggestions, help and support in various forms accrue due to this connect," said the Mumbai-based filmmaker, who found his co-writer on 'Cutthroat' after he started marketing the project on Catapooolt.

For Dasgupta, crowdfunding has been a "life-changing experience" and he fully supports its use by fellow indie filmmakers, who he says "are daily innovating their ways of making films, be it funding, be it technicalities, and be it the language they are choosing to tell their tales in".

"However, the bottleneck is the censorship issue and the distribution system, which again will change inevitably. One has to just be positive, be aware and keep experimenting and keep pushing the envelope.The question is what is your risk appetite?"

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