New Delhi: It has been a big year for small budget, independent as well as regional films, with stories rooted in Indian culture but with universal appeal, going on a global trail. The growing understanding of Indian cinema beyond Bollywood has been the game-changer, say industry experts, adding that the road ahead will only get "better" with time.
"Powerful" content stirred up with Indian "flavours" can pave a path to success, but the idea should be to indulge in "global cinematic language", believe film experts like Taran Adarsh and Anupama Chopra.
"At international film fests, names of stars don't really matter as much as powerful content. It has to have a lot of Indian flavour to make a mark," Adarsh told IANS.
And so, independent cinema fom the country grabbed the spotlight at places like Busan, Rome, Cannes, Toronto, Venice and Warsaw.
"Titli", "Dhanak", "Parched", "Masaan", "Angry Indian Goddesses", "Zubaan" and "Island City" are some of the films that made a mark at foreign shores. While Neeraj Ghaywan's "Masaan" bagged two awards at the Cannes gala, Mozez Singh was feted for his musical drama "Zubaan" at the Busan fest.
It was double whammy for Nagesh Kukunoor's "Dhanak", a story about an eight-year-old visually challenged boy's journey to find light, as it won at the Berlin International Film Festival and Warsaw.
"Margarita With A Straw", starring Kalki Koechlin in a strong role, was honoured at a film fest in US; while Pan Nalin's "Angry Indian Goddesses" was rewarded in Rome.
The success story got a regional twist with Assamese film "Kothanodi" getting screened in Busan; Punjabi film "Chauthi Koot", Tamil dramas "Kaaka Muttai" and "Visaranai" also finding a spot.
Guneet Monga, who produced "Zubaan", mentions it is important to have universal appeal for international presence. Seconding Monga, Tenzing Sonam of Dharamshala International Film Festival, said it's all about "good independent films, and not about selling India".
The growing visibility of Indian films on foreign platforms, however, can be credited to constant engagement with international film festival organisers, said Chopra, the festival director of the widely followed Mumbai Film Festival.
"Indian films have been going abroad regularly and programmers have understood that Indian cinema is not only Bollywood," she said, adding that "young filmmakers want to speak in a global cinematic language".
Paolo Bertolin, the Southeast and Asia Pacific selector for the Venice International Film Festival, has also taken notice of the change.
"Indian films are gaining back the attention which they had somehow lost at the international scene," Bertolin told IANS.
Bollywood also gleamed at the foreign film fest with Salman Khan-starrer "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" and "Baahubali" with its stunning visuals making an impact abroad.
Other Hindi films to find presence were "Talvar", "Aligarh", "Om Shanti Om" and "Gaur Hari Dastan". And not to forget, actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan sharing the first glimpse of her action-packed comeback with "Jazbaa" in Cannes.
Adarsh said the entry of commercial films into global fests is a "positive sign", but Chopra mentions that the Bollywood affair dates back to Shah Rukh Khan's "Devdas" era.
All said an done, there is also a business spin to international film fests.
"People think a film festival is just a place to go and get acclaim. But it also means market because a lot of films get sold," Ghaywan told IANS, and pointed out how the foreign stamp translates to good promotion.
"Had the film not gone to Cannes at all, I would have had to spend three or four times more amount to create buzz," Ghaywan added.
What remains a problem is distribution.
Chopra questioned: "How do you distribute these movies with the budget of Rs.5 crore or so for marketing when the entire cost of the film is Rs.6 crore".
But this year turned out to be a ray of hope with the release of "Masaan", "Titli", "Gaur Hari Dastaan" and "Angry Indian Goddesses".
In a nutshell:
- Overall, Independent cinema broke the clutter and made an impact abroad.
- It's not Indian stories which rule globally, but good stories and performances, captivating plot with Indian flavour, and told in a universal language that take films on a foreign tour.
- New generation of filmmakers don't aspire to narrate traditional Bollywood stories. They want to talk to global audience.
- Bollywood finding way into foreign film fests like "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" and "Baahubali" a positive sign.
- Distribution for such films in India still remains a problem.
(Sugandha Rawal can be contacted at email@example.com. This is a part of a series of articles from IANS that look back at the year that was for a variety of subjects, running up to the New Year)