Films, irrespective of the place they were produced, became piece of art and commodity in commerce simultaneously, and the former quality is now gradually taking a back seat, while later one is fast developing in a demand governed market.
It is a universally accepted fact that India is the world's largest producer of films; the number of Indian feature films produced in 2009, in 24 languages is 1,288, with the Hindi language film industry of Mumbai — obnoxiously known as Bollywood — being the largest and the most popular branch of Indian cinema. And these 1,288 feature films including 235 Hindi films, 218 Telugu films, 190 Tamil films, 177 Kannada films, 99 Marathi films, 94 Malayalam films and 84 Bengali films, among others, formed a part of last year’s altogether 2,961 productions on celluloid.
The provision of 100% foreign direct investment has made the Indian film market attractive for foreign film companies and studios such as 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros. A number of prominent Indian enterprises such as Zee, UTV, Suresh Productions, Adlabs and Sun Network's Sun Pictures have also jumped on the bandwagon and started producing and distributing films. Furthermore, tax incentives to multiplexes have aided the multiplex boom in India. And finally, by 2003 as many as 30 film production companies had been listed in the National Stock Exchange of India, making the commercial presence of this medium felt in the business world.
The annual International Film Festival of India returns to Goa on November 22, 2010 and with it will return the Film Bazaar, which is a film market held over 4 days as organized by the National Film Development Corporation, popularly known as NFDC. The Film Bazaar is a South Asian sales and distribution platform that aims to facilitate greater collaborations between the Indian and the international film fraternity in the realms of distribution and production. Selected Indian feature film projects looking for international co-producers also find an opportunity to pitch themselves to potential global partners through one-to-one meetings. Few other activities include workshops for further development as well as improvement of screenplays and for films that are at a rough cut stage with a view to improve their potential for the international market, the promotion of films from the official selection of Indian Panorama section of the IFFI, stalls, and finally, discussions and presentations in the NFDC Knowledge Series.
Last year, the Film Bazaar at the IFFI 2009 witnessed selected filmmakers provided with a platform in the Co-production Market for pitching their films not only to potential producers and funding partners but also to prospective distributors and agents. Among these films, which participated in this section were Santosh Sivan’s Ceylon, Ketan Mehta’s Inside Out,, K. N. T. Sastry’s The Virgin Goddess and Onir’s I Am… series.
The Screenwriters’ Lab at the 2009 Film Bazaar, on the other hand had filmmakers seeking feedback and advice from international mentors in order to maximise the global potential of their films. It was from this process that the NFDC financed first-ever Konkani film, Paltadcho Munis (The Man beyond the Bridge) directed by Goan filmmaker, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar, benefited. Shetgaonkar avers that the success of the Film Bazaar should be judged by how many films eventually end up being produced under its aegis. “At the end of the day, that is what matters, and not how many delegates visit or how many companies participate,” he emphasises.
Nina Lath Gupta, Managing Director of NFDC maintains that the Screenwriters’ Lab at the Film Bazaar 2009 had selected six screenplays out of the total 92 applications and the selected screenwriters discussed their scripts with experts, before films were made on them. Around 200 delegates including 75 to 80 foreign delegates had visited the Film Bazaar last year.
A year earlier, Film Bazaar 2008 had highlighted the partnership with European Producers’ Club, which brought a spate of films that had an India connect and looked out for finance and other partnerships in India like West is West, the sequel to successful movie, East is East, The Monsoon Shootout by Amit Kumar, and Night in Bombay by Mahesh Mathai.
Interestingly, the NFDC has now partnered with Moscow Co-production Forum, and under this alliance, each partner organization will select one project to take part in the Moscow Co Production Forum at the Film Bazaar 2010. As usual, there will be a Business Lounge too open throughout the day for the meetings, video screenings and so on, in order to enhance collaborations in the field of co-production and distribution.
Movies, which over the years have become more than a source of entertainment, will find perfect setting at the Film Bazaar of the International Film Festival of India, for expanding their financial prospects in the international market. That however, is no guarantee for the quality of the films. One can only hope that art and commerce goes hand in hand, at the Film Bazaar and the dream merchants become as zealous in the excellence of their productions as in the drawing up of their budgets.
Film Co-productions and India
The history of film co-productions in India dates back to several decades, if not to the era when this medium was born. It is often quoted that Pardesi (1957), an Indo-Soviet production jointly directed by Khwaja Ahmad Abbas and Vasili Pronin was the first of such international collaborations.
Since the Nehruvian era, the erstwhile USSR had been a close associate of India in various fields and filmmaking was no exception. Though Mother India (1957) and Mera Naam Joker (1970) were not full-fledged co-productions with the Soviet Union, they had borrowed technology and Russian circus artists from the Soviet Union, respectively. Subsequently, producer F. C. Mehra produced films like Alibaba aur 40 Chor (1980) and Sohni Mahiwal (1984) with that country. Shashi Kapoor’s Ajooba (1991) made in collaboration with the Gorky Studios, Moscow was the last of such joint efforts, before the Soviet Union disintegrated in the year of this film’s release.
The first Indo-American film co-production was Dev Anand’s Guide, which was a bi-lingual movie. A 120-minute U. S. version of this film was made with additional directing and writing. It was produced and directed by the American director, Tad Danielewski. One of the latest films produced in collaboration with Uncle Sam was Marigold (2007) starring Salman Khan.
The early 1980s witnessed the National Film Development Corporation getting involved in the international co-production of feature films such as Gandhi (1982) and Salaam Bombay! (1988), while the Post-Liberalisation era saw growth of countless crossover films made by the likes of Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Gurinder Chadha, due to the demand for themes closer to Indian reality.
The Merchant Ivory Productions, a film company founded in 1961 by Indian producer, Ismail Merchant and American director, James Ivory will always have a unique place in the annals of world film history. The company was an Indo-American venture in the true sense of the term. The company initially produced English language films in India such as The Householder (1963) and The Guru (1969) aimed at the international market, but ended up making many films set in England and America in the later years including The Remains of the Day (1993) and The White Countess (2005).
Incidentally, the celebrated filmmaker, Satyajit Ray wrote a script for a film in 1967, to be called ‘The Alien’, based on his short story - ‘Bankubabur Bandhu’ (Banku Babu's Friend). ‘The Alien’ had Columbia Pictures as producer for this planned Indo-American co-production, with Peter Sellers and Marlon Brando as the leading actors. Unfortunately, the project was shelved for reasons more than one. Besides ‘The Alien’, two other unrealized projects Ray intended to direct were theatrical adaptations of the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata, and E. M. Forster's 1924 novel, ‘A Passage to India’.
The triumph of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, which cornered eight Academy Awards and took in more than 250 million dollars globally, provided Hindi cinema a new cachet. The Hollywood studios were enamoured with the Indian movie market. ‘Saawariya’ (2007) had Columbia Tristar contributing 10 million dollars towards its production, while ‘Chandni Chowk to China’ (2009) saw Warner Bros pouring in an estimated 12 million dollars. ‘Roadside Romeo’ (2008), a computer animated film witnessed Walt Disney Pictures making available funds of around 7 million dollars, and the American entertainment company returned to India this year to produce a feature film, ‘Do Dooni Chaar’.
‘Saas Bahu Aur Sensex’, a 2008 film was presented by Warner Bros and now, one of Hollywood's best production houses, Twentieth Century Fox, through its Indian outlet, Fox Star Studios, has signed on Tamil writer and director, A R Murugadoss to produce Tamil films. Fox Star Studios, a pan-Asian joint venture between Twentieth Century Fox and Star had also signed a deal with actor/ producer, Shah Rukh Khan and film director, Karan Johar to finance and distribute ‘My Name is Khan’ (2010).
NFDC - Missing the box-office bus
The National Film Development Corporation, which started out as the Film Finance Corporation in the sanguine 1970s, to infuse new blood and fresh breath into Indian cinema, got organised in 1980 to develop quality cinema. It came out with a spate of interesting films like ‘Gandhi’ (1982), ‘Jaane Bhi DoYaaro’ (1983), ‘Party’ (1984), ‘Mirch Masala’ (1985), ‘Salaam Bombay!’ (1988) and ‘Rudali’ (1983), besides many others.
Unfortunately, NFDC’s slow but inexorable slide towards oblivion begun in 1990s. One of the many reasons was lack of money in its coffers. The advent of satellite television in the country was another reason, which had satellite television channels attracting the best of talents and reducing the NFDC to a supplier of movies to Doordarshan. Then there was the issue of commercial viability, especially as filmmaking is an expensive proposition, and often f The National Film Development Corporation, which started out as the Film Finance Corporation in the sanguine 1970s, to infuse new blood and fresh breath into Indian cinema, got organised in 1980 to develop quality cinema. It came out with a spate of interesting films like ‘Gandhi’ (1982), ‘Jaane Bhi DoYaaro’ (1983), ‘Party’ (1984), ‘Mirch Masala’ (1985), ‘Salaam Bombay!’ (1988) and ‘Rudali’ (1983), besides many others.
Unfortunately, NFDC’s slow but inexorable slide towards oblivion begun in 1990s. One of the many reasons was lack of money in its coffers. The advent of satellite television in the country was another reason, which had satellite television channels attracting the best of talents and reducing the NFDC to a supplier of movies to Doordarshan. Then there was the issue of commercial viability, especially as filmmaking is an expensive proposition, and often financial factors came in the way of meaningful cinema.inancial factors came in the way of meaningful cinema.
The government started feeling that it was wrong on its part to sink the taxpayers' money into the NFDC. The need for a different business plan for NFDC was felt. But for an organization with too many financial problems and too many employees, it was easier said than done. Soon the NFDC was facing losses to the tune of Rs 6.5 crore.
The economic reforms too were cruel on the NFDC. In order to make the NFDC commercially independent in the early 1980s, the government charged a fee for the import and export of all films into and out of India. Globalization eliminated this income source. In 1993-94, the satellite television arrived and the NFDC found a new source of income marketing time for Doordarshan. But this was stopped in 2003 as the NFDC felt that the minimum guarantee it was paying Doordarshan was higher than what it was making by marketing commercial time.
Now, the NFDC in its revived form is set to receive Rs 30 crore from the government over a five-year period, the process having already begun in 2009. The Corporation will be getting around Rs 6 crore a year, which will hopefully result in production of good films. Will the first signs of that happening be visible at this year’s Film Bazaar? We don’t have too long a wait to find out.
Ramnath N Pai Raikar