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What makes Guneet Monga the most successful indie producer at 29?

> Nandita Dutta takes us into the world of the most sought after Independent producer of Mumbai, Guneet Monga
By Nandita Dutta • Published on May 11, 2013

Guneet MongaNext week, Guneet Monga heads to Cannes with an impressive lineup as a producer: Monsoon Shootout in official selection and Dabba (The Lunchbox) in International Critics’ Week.

She featured in The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 12 outstanding International women achievers in the field of entertainment a few months ago. They called her India’s go-to producer for edgy young filmmakers. The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) conferred on her their annual Industry Leadership award.

Though her success may sound astounding, few will believe that this young woman-full of enthusiasm-travelled to her first international film festival in Venice in 2010 with some 200 posters and 20,000 handouts of That Girl in Yellow Boots. She thought she could paste posters of her film everywhere-like the festivals she had attended in school and college-and grab attention of the audience. She got a database of buyers and distributors at the Venice film market and sat shooting them emails to meet her. Frustrated that no one was coming up to her and buying her film; she walked up to the then director of the Venice Film Festival, Marco Mueller, and asked him how she could get across to the buyers. Give yourself some time, Mueller replied.

Nevertheless, Monga blackmailed her team of 27 people to pin That Girl in Yellow Boots posters on their back and walk around. She even put posters in local bakeries. Though she could not make any sales at the festival, there are two qualities that she amply demonstrated: energy and enthusiasm.

Monga blackmailed her team of 27 people to pin That Girl in Yellow Boots posters on their back and walk around. She even put posters in local bakeries. Though she could not make any sales at the festival, there are two qualities that she amply demonstrated: energy and enthusiasm.

These two qualities, coupled with a quick learning curve, meant that just two years later, at the 2012 edition of the Venice film festival, she was invited on a panel on micro and low budget films. She had arrived.

“I have been asking a lot of questions on how things happen. Anurag also said to me in Venice that I need to give myself time. He said: the first year you will find out who are the people to meet. Second year you will get to meet them. Third year when they will see you again and they know that you mean business, then they might show the money,” she says.

Monga has emerged as a pillar of strength for low-budget independent filmmakers in India who want to tell unconventional stories. For Vasan Bala’s Peddlers-that premiered at Cannes Critics’ Week last year-she raised 10 million rupees on Facebook. When Amit Kumar was looking for funds to complete Monsoon Shootout, she pitched in. She attempted an Indo-French-German co-production with Ritesh Batra’s Dabba. She has worked with international directors like Michael Winterbottom and Danis Tanovic.

She describes her modus operandi after she takes on a project: “I figure out what should be the budget of the film and accordingly what cast does the director want. Then we start the process of approaching the cast and in parallel figuring out how the money can be raised. If the money needs to be raised from a studio…or if it’s an extremely edgy new-age film, we hope we will make it and then take it to a festival that will help us sell it,” she reveals.

She admits making ‘lots of mistakes’ during her initial films like That Girl in Yellow Boots, Shaitan, Michael and figuring things out along the way. “Now I know the best way to do things. Because of the volume of films that we have done and the time span, there has been a lot of growth by learning from our previous projects.”

In her desperation to reach out to the international community of buyers, distributors and sales agents, Monga initially spent days and nights devouring market guides. “Those fat books with one little photo of every person… they were my Bibles,” she says.

She started attending international film festivals, big and small. She was present for breakfast meetings as well as cocktail parties at night. Whenever she went to a film festival, she made it a point to meet distributors who have offices in that city. She also attended producer workshops like the TAP (Trans Atlantic Partners) training programme and the IFP Lab.

The strong bias against Bollywood was one of the challenges that she had to navigate in her early days. “It’s been a very different, isolating process. Some people gave appointments, some people did not. The first thing is that you are judged as Bollywood and written off. And then you tell them please come and see Peddlers or That Girl in Yellow Boots or Udaan. That was our first level of battle.”

The first thing is that you are judged as Bollywood and written off. And then you tell them please come and see Peddlers or That Girl in Yellow Boots or Udaan. That was our first level of battle.”

Paris based international sales and acquisitions company Elle Driver took on two of her films that screened at Cannes last year: Gangs of Wasseypur and Peddlers. Two other biggies Fortissimo and Match Factory acquired Monsoon Shootout and Dabba respectively. “All these are the names that I had only heard about 2-3 years ago,” Monga quips.

There is a well-thought out strategy and hard work behind this success. She starts to travel a month before any big festival. She recently travelled to Paris to meet all the big distributors. Around the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, she spent 3 weeks in LA meeting all the studio heads. “All those things have helped gain the momentum that you see today. I meet people and create a relationship. Not that they are acquiring any of my films, but at least they will come see it. It takes one year to clinch a deal.”

She adds that NFDC Film Bazaar in Goa and Film Mart at the Mumbai film festival are two markets that Indian producers should value and attend.

Monga chooses her projects purely on instinct. For her, it’s the people who matter more than the projects. “Of course there is a script and I read it, but for me the details of the script are secondary. The first thing is who is the person I am partnering with, and if we will last.”

She claims to give complete freedom to the directors to make the film they want while she likes to take a free hand on the deal, finding the money, selling the film and putting it out.

A self confessed lover of Bollywood films, Monga completed her graduation in mass communication and joined her best friend’s mother as a production intern in Delhi. She moved to Mumbai in late 2006 and convinced her neighbour in Delhi to give her money to make Say Salaam India: Let’s Bring the Cup Home.  She worked as a producer in several films like Dasvidaniya, Rang Rasiya and Once upon a Time in Mumbai before Anurag Kashyap asked her to collaborate on That Girl in Yellow Boots.

“I joined Anurag’s office. All I have to bring to a project is a lot of enthusiasm and energy. So of course I came with all of that and everybody in his office was asking, who is this Punjabi blood?”

Until two years ago, Monga used to be on the floor and execute everything herself. Now she has a full-fledged team that looks after the execution. “Now most of my job is the thinking process. What can we do? Who should I call? Who can we collaborate with?” She works in her office till 2-3 am in the morning, goes home, thinks on what needs to be done the following day, sends out messages on her Blackberry and goes to sleep. Her phone starts ringing at 9 am in the morning again. On an average, she gets around 400 emails in a day.

“I can go on even with 2 hours of sleep. My projects are on my mind even when I am sleeping. But I have to admit that we have overworked” she says.

“This year I am only focusing on releasing the films and doing just one new film. I think emotionally everyone very close to me has made his first film. Before this there was a proving-a-point kind of rebel attitude. Now the films have got acceptance, they have done well. So there is emotional stability.”

“This year I am only focusing on releasing the films and doing just one new film. I think emotionally everyone very close to me has made his first film. Before this there was a proving-a-point kind of rebel attitude. Now the films have got acceptance, they have done well. So there is emotional stability.”

Stress seems to have taken its toll on her but even that has been used to her advantage. “My hair turned gray and I chose to maintain that. That helps me break the ice as I appear to be in late thirties. I got into that zone where I was really tired of being judged as too young.”

Monga was 24 when she worked on That Girl in Yellow Boots and the Indian film industry thought she was too young to be taken seriously as a producer. This agitated her as she found it difficult to enter the network.

But she maintains that what has built her as a producer is the unconditional faith that Anurag Kashyap, Vasan Bala and Shlok Sharma have in her.

“It’s really Vasan and Shlok who have stood by me; I know that I have these two magnificent directors at home who are my bouncing boards. Anurag has taken the space of a father figure and a mentor. I adore him.”

So, is she a producer by chance; has she ever considered taking any other role?

“I have always wanted to choreograph; I have been hounding my directors to let me do the costumes. I love colors. But I have always been an organiser of sorts. I have been putting things together, then seeing where we can go with it,” the producer in her reflects.

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10 Responses to “What makes Guneet Monga the most successful indie producer at 29?”

  1. Pooja Das Sarkar says:

    Very inspiring story – a small step for independent cinema, a giant leap for Indian cinema! Keep 'em coming!

  2. Bela Kochhar Gupta says:

    Brilliant!

  3. Raj Kumar says:

    inspiration! inspiration….inspiration…

  4. Kapil Chawla says:

    I m proud that I have study same college of Ms Guneet Monga.

  5. Runjiv J Kapur says:

    Kudos to the energy. Way to go. May the force be with you Monga.

  6. Chandni Jain says:

    Very Inspirational!

  7. Vinod Pande says:

    Awesome. Some hope for Indie cinema.

  8. Jyoti Nisha says:

    :) She was at it and that's what it takes. Bravo!

  9. Guneet Monga has become such a big producer now that I wonder if you can call her independent any more. I believe she has also bagged some 6 projects from NFDC. Surely that's NOT independent my any standards.

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