Independent filmmaking is finding its niche and is steadily gaining a dedicated audience amid Indian cinegoers
There is a visible change in the viewing pattern of audiences and that is they are appreciating quality content now more than ever. There is also a section of the Indian film industry that is benefiting most out of it -- the independent filmmakers.
These are directors who are involved in making films that have new stories to tell, that maybe daring and are outside the mainstream Bollywood system. They have an original voice, content and are away from the pressures of the conventional studio model.
All these factors, that make them stand out, are also reasons for their never ending struggle.
From budget constraints, to distribution challenges, to getting support from studios and producers to competing with big budget Bollywood ventures for screen space and promotions, indie cinema is evolving despite the many hurdles.
Independent filmmaking is finding its niche and is steadily gaining a dedicated audience amid Indian cinegoers. There are plenty of examples to validate this. Lipstick Under my Burkha, Newton, Court and Masaan, among others, showed that films can be both critically acclaimed and be well received by audiences which means strong box office numbers.
At present, Indian cinema is in the transition phase and is creating a new kind of audience. While there is a majority that opts for conventional Bollywood projects, a big chunk of the audience is shifting their focus to content-driven films.
On the other hand, Ivan Ayr, director of film SONI and the winner of the Oxfam Award on Gender Equality 2018 told Moneycontrol, "There has always been an audience for the kind of cinema which we are seeing a resurgence of. Had it not been the case, we would not have names like Ray, Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen to look up to."
"There will of course be people that look at films as a sort of an escape from the travails of reality, but then there are those who look at cinema and art to get a better understanding of the demons of our social reality, and if nothing else, then simply to enrich themselves with the knowledge about the world they live in," Ayr said.
"With each new generation, there's a shift in cultural expectations and norms, and perhaps that influences the arts as well," Ayr added.
Along with the rising audience interest in such offerings, it is also technology that is bringing about the necessary change for indie films.
Online video platforms, especially Netflix and Amazon Prime, have been game changers in the distribution space for films. Small-size films that lack the budget to opt for theatrical release, now have a new medium to reach to the audience.
Such movies are being less reliant on theatrical revenues with digital contributing around 70 to 80 percent of overall collections.
Ayr’s SONI is likely to release on Netflix early next year. The film captures the lives of two policewomen who deal with growing violent crimes against women.
"Over the span of a month, I travelled to various police stations and check-posts across Delhi and interviewed policemen and policewomen of different ranks. I was amazed how much I was drawing from this knowledge during the course of my second draft. It not only brought to the page elements of realism and accuracy around Police protocol, but profoundly transformed the story," Ayr said.
The ultimate goal for any filmmaker is to cater to the masses. And this aim is also bringing about a change in the way independent filmmakers tell their stories. They now invest time in ensuring that along with a strong subject, the film is entertaining enough for cinephiles to stay glued to their seats.
While many in the industry feel that it is a great time for independent filmmakers to make films, there is still a section that believes that not much has changed for them.
Vinay Pathak, known for his roles in popular films such as Bheja Fry and Khosla ka Ghosla said in an interview to news agency IANS that while people talk about the blurring of lines between independent and mainstream cinema, the struggling phase of the latter continues.
National Award winning director Onir in an interview to IANS said that the nature of struggle has changed for small budget movies, but the challenges have not vanished completely.
Ayr explains that it is not a matter of small films or big films."The struggle for a filmmaker is that the control is often in the hands of people who think they know the "tastes" of the audiences better than the audiences themselves," he said.