I do not know what Independent Cinema in India is at this juncture. So often, studio backed non-star films are termed as independent. For me the minute a film falls under the purview of the studios, it’s not independent. I think we are going through the most difficult phase because of the multiplexes in the malls, studio power and a culture that only celebrates the box office.
I remember as a child going with my parents to see a Shyam Benegal film and a Ketan Mehta film along with the Dewaar and Don. I developed a love for good cinema because I was exposed to it as a kid. Today suddenly the definition of Cinema has become “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment” and sadly cinema as a vision for a better world, Cinema as something that intellectually stimulates us and makes us strive for a better world and better self is forgotten. Cinema more than anything is a form of ART and that has been pushed to the background. Along with the Pop Corn and Games in the Mall it has become just another pastime.
But this is not happening in isolation. Recently I heard a Bollywood choreographer proudly say, ‘If you train in Bharatnatyam you cannot earn a living, you need to know western forms.’ What a shame! It’s good to assimilate , but not to discard what’s beautiful in us.
With the advent of studios, the only thing that matters seems to be the star system…. be it in terms of actors or “star directors”. The content takes a back stage. Not only do they not support indie cinema, they make it increasingly difficult for them to find space in the theaters during release. The challenge for indie cinema is not only how to make your films but also how to release. Release costs have sky rocketed and some major publications in the country have become advertorials meaning that only moneyed producers/studios can get their news featured as you have to pay huge amount of money to be there.
Secondly the ticket pricing defies all reason. Why should a 3 crore film and a 150 crore film be priced at the same cost? I think for small budget Indie films if the ticket were priced at Rs.50 at regular show timings, there would be many more people watching these films. India unlike Europe does not have a chain of theaters that only screens Indie films. Cinema in Europe is considered as a form of art and gets huge state support. And here we have huge entertainment taxes that hurt the indie cinema more than any other cinema.
Having said all this, I feel that whenever there is pressure, good cinema is born. And today because of the Digital revolution there is a new spurt of indie cinema in India. But we still need to figure out distribution. Because I as a film maker find it hard to accept that our films will not find its way into the theater and will only be seen as downloads…. ultimately the big screen experience cannot be replaced by a mobile.