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Power player on Indian ‘indies’: Guneet Monga

Power player on Indian ‘indies’: Guneet Monga

July 14 2014

By Suman Bhuchar

As the London Indian Film Festival is in full flow and aims to showcase a range of Indian independent films, it is important to reflect on why such festivals matter to Indian filmmakers.

The London Indian Film Festival is conducting special ‘Guru Lounges’ where British filmmakers and Indian ones (from the festival) can exchange advice and ideas and there are special sessions for those who might want to shoot in India. The industry sessions started today (July 14) and there is a high-powered panel discussion on Wednesday. Check website link below for details.

There is, perhaps, no one better to discuss the state of independent Indian cinema than Guneet Monga, CEO of Sikhya Entertainment, a production company based in Mumbai – and by any reckoning, Monga is one of the most powerful women on the Indian indie cinema circuit.

I have being seeing her at Cannes for the last three years tirelessly promoting and showing her films, meeting buyers, sales agents, and finally this year at Cannes 2014, I was able to catch up with her.

Monga is acting as the international sales consultant for the film, Titli, by Kanu Behl which was screened as part of this year’s Festival in the Un Certain Regard section. She is also co-producing an Indian version of the French film, The Intouchables with Karan Johar’s company, Dharma Productions.

Question (Q): Can you tell me a bit about your background?

Guneet Monga (GM): I was born and brought up in Delhi, the only child of my parents, who come from a humble family. I studied mass communication at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, but I was constantly working. I worked as an assistant editor, and an administrative officer on foreign language films. To film in India you need to get permission from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which is based in Delhi and so I dealt with a lot of applications there. I used to handle all those logistics and then I raised some money from a couple of my neighbours and then moved to Bombay (Mumbai) to make my first film, called “Say Salaam India” (2007).

Q: As a filmmaker who comes to the Cannes Film Festival, what do you do? You go round to many different festivals and markets and raise money?

GM: Yes, I meet the producers there and see how funds are raised around the world, and those producers tap into their markets and they raise the money.

Q: How much interest is there? You’ve been involved with director Anurag Kashyap’s productions and movies like “Gangs of Wasseypur”, “Peddlers” and “Monsoon Shootout”, to name a few?

GM: There is a lot of interest, you need to find the people who love cinema and who love foreign language cinema and who will fight for Indian films like we do because there is not a market already there. I mean if we say ‘Indian films’ nobody knows what they will get out of it; if you see a Korean film, an Iranian film you know what to expect, there is a history to that cinema, even though there is a history to our cinema, since the post Raj Kapoor and Satyajit Ray days, we stopped travelling. We became really big inside India and we became Bollywood during the 1990s and 2000s and everything alternate that was happening kept falling between the cracks. It did not travel.

Q: But what I want to know is that in the 21st century with the kind of movies that are coming out from India – let’s say the ‘independent film’ do you think those films travel, I mean we have talked about “The Lunchbox”* phenomenon earlier on, what about something like “Gangs of Wasseypur”? Are you looking at foreign markets as a potential audience?

GM:Absolutely, absolutely!

Q: Aren’t you happy that India is such a big market?

GM: Not at all, in fact the whole idea is that the Indian market does not accept our film in the position it is right now. We, particularly, who have made a career out of our films being chosen internationally and then coming back to India. Our entire career has been dependent on that.

Q: Okay, so explain that, are you saying there is a lot of kudos if your film is selected for a festival?

GM: Absolutely.

Q: Even though it might not do business or pick up a deal?

GM: I mean business is another thing. There is a lot of business that happens in India and what is good is that we are film fanatics; we love the business, but it is what you put out and how you put out – the means of how you put out is not fully developed, they are only developed for a big Bollywood film, they are not developed for an independent film, and that is the challenge. Nothing else is a challenge, everything else is pretty smooth, and I want to acknowledge that and say that we are blessed being in India; we can co-exist with the big Bollywood films and we can make our films, we can find money to make our films, somehow there is money there, there is an audience there, it is the link that is missing. How do you get this cinema out to them?

Q: Where are the women film-makers in independent Indian cinema?

GM: There are a few, there are a couple of them whose films I am producing.

Q: I have heard names like, Zoya Akhtar and Anupama Chandra.

GM: Kiran Rao, Aparna Sen, they are doing some very good work. There are two new people – I am making their films – Aarti Kadav and Anubhuti Kashyap (Anurag’s sister), so it’s all happening.

Q: So what is your typical day like?

GM: Madness! It is very unstructured, too many meetings and then the whole office to handle.

Q: In India or here (in Cannes)?

GM: Everywhere, I am always ‘hyper scheduled’.

Q: How do you cope then?

GM: I struggle through it, and make it somehow happen.

Q: You must travel a lot?

GM: Yes, I travel a lot, I have lots of meetings and I am pretty overcommitted but things ease down. A typical day starts sharp at seven am because I have to take my dog, Shiffo for a walk and then I come back and sleep again, and I reach office by 10.30 (My office is five minutes from my house) and then the day doesn’t end till like 2am.

Q: So, the reason why you think it’s important to go to these international festivals is really the kudos to help with the promotion and marketing of the films back in India?

GM: It’s also to meet film-makers from around the world, to have a world perspective otherwise you keep staying insular. We need to have a world view on things and where the market is, what the trends are; what the world is doing, talking, and how the deals are done – it’s fascinating.

Q: And what do you do in Cannes?

GM: Meetings, we’ve taken an apartment right behind the Grand Hotel usually we book an apartment and there are a lot of us in the room.

Q: What’s your favourite place to eat in Cannes?

GM: It was Le Riad this Moroccan restaurant, which has shut down and now I still have to find my favourite place.

Picture: Guneet Monga (right) in Cannes this year (courtesy of Amit Roy)

www.londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk continues until July 17.
Guru Lounge details here

* ‘The Lunchbox‘ was first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2013 and then screened at the London Film Festival in November 2013, before going on general release in the UK in April and earlier in the US. It enjoyed global success, raising a reported $15 million through box office sales.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture