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Govind Nihalani, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Avinash Das talk about film funding, compromises

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The filmmakers were part of a panel discussion held at the ongoing Habitat Film Festival in New Delhi.

Avnash Das, Buddhadev Dasgupta, Shubhra Gupta and Govind Nihalani at Habitat Film Festival

As part of the film events and discussions at the Habitat Film Festival (HFF), a panel discussion titled ‘Filmmaking Past & Present: Challenges of the Future’ was organised on 20 May.

Directors Govind Nihalani, Buddhadev Dasgupta and Avinash Das were the discussants and the session was moderated by film critic, Shubhra Gupta.

In the session, the panellists took up issues of funding for films and the negotiations that a filmmaker needs to make in order to get finances for their films.

Gupta began the session by asking Nihalani why he had not made a film in such a long time. He responded that even though the talent was available, the right circumstances had not yet come about for him to do so. Further, he talked about the compromises that filmmakers are asked to sometimes make for their work to be more acceptable. “What a filmmaker wants to make and what he is asked to make may be different things”.

Taking this forward, auteur Dasgupta, whose films find a dedicated following at film festivals across the world, said that although filmmakers are sometimes forced to compromise in their vision, he had never allowed producers to dominate his work.

Recounting an incident where Bappi Lahiri had asked him to make a film, Dasgupta says that he did not take the request seriously at first. But when the music director insisted, Dasgupta agreed but on the condition that Lahiri would not interfere in the film at all. He agreed and together they made Bengali film Lal Darja (1997). This held true for the producers of his latest film Tope/The Bait as well, which was screened at HFF.

Emphasising his autonomy as a filmmaker he said, “I want to continue in my own way without surrendering to the system and when I am unable to continue, I always have poetry”.

Discussing the issue of funding, the director of the critically acclaimed Anaarkali of Aarah, Avinash Das recounted his experience and said that while it had taken him some time to find the right producer; his film was made almost the way in which it was imagined. Being critical of his own work, Das said that although he would have ideally wanted his film to be more rustic and craggy, he had nonetheless been able to communicate his ideas.

Avinash Das at Habitat Film Festival

Nihalani recalled the New Wave cinema moment and its conscious breaking away from the popular, mainstream films, not only eschewing the choice of stars, music and dance, the normative happy ending, but also in its choice of working with small budgets. He added that at the time, actors and filmmakers felt that they were at the apex of a tidal wave of change in Indian cinema.

As he put it, “We felt that we could make the change happen and we felt confident that we knew cinema well enough to connect with the audience without using the mainstream elements, and our stories were chosen keeping in mind this mood."

Highlighting the role of National Film Development Corporation of India (NFDC) in financing and enabling the production of such films at the time, he discussed the change in the policies of NFDC which now comes on board only as a co-producer, asking filmmakers to partner with them.

Taking on the role played by the NFDC, Dasgupta said that the organisation had not done much in the last decade or so for young filmmakers, even at the level of co-productions. “NFDC has shut their doors to young filmmakers”, he said as he highlighted the need for young filmmakers to be allowed the space to express their ideas instead of bowing down to the directives of organisations.

Buddhadev Dasgupta at Habitat Film Festival

“The system finally decides how you should make your films. It is a very strange situation, especially for an independent filmmaker who wants to make a film only according to his ideas," he said.

Finally, Dasgupta also emphasised that while directors had to hold on to their vision, they also had the responsibility of recovering the money put in by producers in their film. “I cannot imagine myself just making films for film festivals," he said, as the films also need to et distributors at the film markets.

Talking about the business aspect of his own films he said, “Luckily, what my films earn internationally is enough to meet the needs of the producer."

The session ended with crowd-funding emerging as a possible avenue for young filmmakers who want to make films without compromising their vision.

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Habitat Film Festival 2017