November 24 2014
Our London-based man on the spot (Goa to be precise) rubs shoulders with some greats from Indian cinema and learns an important lesson from global smash ‘3 Idiots’ director Vidhu Vinod Chopra…
BY Chris Hainsworth, independent film producer, managing director of AV Pictures and business manager of the London Indian Film Festival
FILM BAZAAR* is a hectic four-day market.
Following Thursday’s opening night cocktails, Film Bazaar begins in earnest on the Friday morning (November 21). It’s then a fast paced event with much to keep an eye on, so people prioritise accordingly.
For me, the first two days of the four-day long Film Bazaar are focused on script-stage projects selected in the co-production market.
The days feel like some kind of endurance event, often pushing through fourteen half-hour pitch meetings.
A sociable breakfast, lunch and evening cocktail session provide a structure to the day, some breathing room, and an easy environment to catch up with friends from the industry.
There’s also the all-important chance to connect filmmakers with people who might be interested in their projects and be able to help.
Breakfast is by far the best meal here, if I’m lucky, being whisked through every South Indian kitchen favourite by author, writer and noted chef and critic Naman Ramachandran.
Lunches are more about the hustle-fest than the food, with star-struck filmmakers struggling to break into the inner circle, pouncing on exhausted festival programmers, oblivious to the subtle etiquettes, hierarchies and strategies of the international film business.
As hungry guests play human dodgem cars around the buffet, in their urgent quest for that gulab jamun energy boost, nerves get frazzled, so the best advice is not to ‘pitch’, but to arrive early and grab one of the larger, quieter tables outside and just enjoy the food and good company.
The chances are, the person sitting next to you will be able to help, and if you let them have the ‘light bulb’ moment themselves, they might just do so.
To catch one of the grandees or legends of the Indian cinema scene, evening cocktails are the likeliest setting. Be prepared and don’t be star-struck.
You might catch directors Shyam Benegal, (a career spanning more than 40 years with many national awards), Ketan Mehta (another multi-award winner best known for “Mirch Masala” from 1987) or Ramesh Sippy (the director responsible for what many believe is the greatest Indian film ever made, “Sholay”), standing casually side-by-side with the new generation filmmakers such as Dibaker Banerjee (“Love Sex aur Dhoka” from 2010), and a host of other upcoming talents.
Each social event is sponsored by a different international partner country, or Indian regional agency, vying for the attention of location scouts and line producers, to persuade them to bring their productions (and budgets) to town.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has adopted a different strategy, announcing a significant tax rebate for films which shoot more than 50 per cent of their budget in the region.
Director Pushpendra Singh, whose debut film “Lajwanti” (‘The Honour Keeper‘) premiered in the Berlin Film Festival’s Forum section, is planning to shoot his second film, “Ashwatthama” (‘The Horse Voiced‘) in the region.
The story gently weaves elements of the mythical tragic hero ‘Ashwatthama’ into the journey of a young boy ‘Ishwaku’, whose mother is killed by bandits, and is sent to his maternal village situated in the visually spectacular Chambal ruins, and where his family is going through changes of fortune with the old feudal system disintegrating.
Participating in the co-production market is an immense privilege, which basically involves sitting at a table and being narrated stories, diving deep into Indian culture and mythology, stretching one’s visual palette of India to encompass dramatic new landscapes.
It also means being thoroughly tossed around in the waves of myriad discourses of contemporary Indian society and the changes it is going through.
Most project meetings involve me meeting a director and producer team.
The best pitches are ones where each person delivers with clarity a project’s creative or business elements, and where each person can seamlessly pick up, mid-way through their partners’ sentence.
Less fun – I occasionally get caught between a team who are visibly getting cross with each other – more often than not, it’s a husband and wife team!
Often one individual serves too many functions, and this is a recipe for disaster, due to the psychological strain of sustaining an artistic endeavour, while facing brutal criticisms and shouldering immense financial responsibility.
The Indian multi-hyphenates (director-screenwriter-producer) I’ve met seem to deal with this and retain their sanity to a larger degree than some of the UK talent I’ve worked with.
Creative casting is one way for projects to stand out.
Nicholas Kharkongor’s project “Mantra”, a film which is set for a Delhi shoot in January 2015, includes one of the independent scene’s best known and most committed actors, Kalki Koechlin, star of “Margharita with a Straw”, one of stand out films of the 2014 BFI London Film Festival.
As with many projects here, Khargonkor says that his film shows a “a society in flux…a nation of people desperately trying to find their footing, stuck between a globalised world and a history of traditionalism”.
The difference with Mantra is that its stories span the years, 2003 to the present, so illustrate the years of transition, during which beloved Indian brands such as Mister Chipps were subsumed by multinationals.
Also set to go on floors as they say here is “Saat” (‘Seven‘) the debut film from Ashish Bende, who cut his teeth as associate director on films including “Harischandrachi Dream Factory”, “Shala”, and current hit “Elizabeth Ekadashi”.
“Saat” stands out in this year’s selection as a period epic, retelling of the 1674 betrayal of the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji, by his key lieutenant Prataprao Gujar.
As the market builds to its peak, the hot ticket is an invite to the party of a certain Delhi-raised film producer whose birthday often falls during Film Bazaar.
The sight of a pool full of drenched fully clothed film executives dancing wildly to Bollywood dance tracks is a pretty unique festival experience (ed – pictures??? 😉 ).
A more sober highlight so far of the ‘Knowledge Series’ of seminars was writer-director Sudhir Mishra (“Dharavi”, and “Khamosh”, amongst other classics) in conversation with “3 Idiots” director Vidhu Vinod Chopra (main picture above).
By way of an introduction, Mishra surprised the audience by playing in its entirety Chopra’s 1978 documentary, “An Encounter With Faces”.
By way of a show of hands, only three people out of 500 had seen this before.
The journey of this filmmaker from a village in Kashmir, to his position now at the top of the Indian industry, was fascinating.
The two old friends spoke of their early formative filmmaking years, seeking out Indian influences such as Guru Dutt to complement those of the auteurs of world cinema such as Robert Bresson.
Chopra neatly summed up the challenge of independent filmmaking by quoting an early mentor: “The bad films make money, and the good films make no money” and adding that his lifetime struggle, has been to make films which do both”.
*Film Bazaar represents the industry or the market at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), where filmmakers aim to connect with potential partners in terms of finance and production. Read Chris Hainsworth’s first dispatch here
Film Bazaar ends today (November 24) and the International Film of Festival of India (IFFI) continues until November 30.