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IFFI 2017: Digital is undercutting the idea of iconism, says Shekhar Kapur

In a panel discussion, Kapur explained the existence of gatekeepers and how inertia was being sucked out of the system due to the digital space.

Shekhar Kapur (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Blessy Chettiar

Filmmaker Bharatbala Ganapathy moderated a panel discussion on ‘Digital space: The future ahead’ at the ongoing 48th edition of International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Panaji, Goa on Saturday, 25 November.

The panelists were a good mix of industry bigwigs — filmmaker Shekhar Kapur; Vijay Subramaniam, director content, Amazon Prime Video India; Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, Alt Digital, Balaji Telefilms Ltd; Sameer Nair, CEO, Applause Entertainment; Karan Anshuman, filmmaker and producer; and filmmaker Sudhir Mishra — who presented their points of view and later took questions from the audience.

Bharatbala Ganapathy, Nachiket Pantvaidya, Vijay Subramaniam, Shekhar Kapur, Sameer Nair, Sudhir Mishra, Karan Anshuman (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Speaking about the vision of the future and opportunities in the digital space, Kapur narrated an anecdote about a student asking how to become a director. “He was shooting me. I said ‘you have a smartphone, you have friends who are actors and you know how to edit using the simplest editing tools’. I told him he could be his own distributor, upload his film to YouTube, and become a filmmaker. The question is: do you want to be an iconic filmmaker? Or do you want to be a filmmaker?”

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Explaining the idea of gatekeepers in cinema, Kapur said OTT (over-the-top) mediums like Netflix and Amazon were the new gatekeepers.

“Before them there were the studios, then came the producers. We have to decide what cinema is. Digital is undercutting the idea of iconism. Inertia is being sucked out of the system. Major technological shift takes place every 350 days. Technology is moving so fast and effectively storytelling is a rebellious medium,” he said, giving the analogy of an ocean’s crest and trough.

“Organizations don’t sustain, because by the time they create an organization, technology changes. The future lies with individuality, democracy. It’s going to work towards a point where anyone of you who believe you can tell a story, you can tell a story. If you believe you can give that story to the world, you certainly can. You have the means, the technology. As more and more inertia is taken out of the system, the more we are handing power back to the public. The crowd will decide what’s good, what’s bad,” added the MIT scholar.

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Bala mentioned the experience of collective viewing when going to the cinema and sought to know if digital was indeed a threat to cinema. Nair said, “It has always been audiences who decide, historically. Finally, gatekeepers are driven by revenue, and unless audiences back them up, the gatekeeper changes.”

He added, “I’ve been in the digital space for quite some time now. I believe in it, and that the future is very bright, smart and happening. It’s a good space to be in. I don’t think Indian cinema has been taking care of itself unlike the West. I think Indian cinema is on a sort of slippery slope. What we are talking about today is not theatre screens, but mobile screens. There are about 900 million out there. They say life is going to be connected, good. That is also going to give way to a new gatekeeper, which is not exactly a box office or the same theatre experience. A whole of cinema is built on the experience of buying a ticket, watching a movie etc and that is also what delivers elastic profit. We do not have enough screens, nor windowing, screens are shutting down. There are a lot of problems here. This digital world is going to engulf it. I don’t know how it plays our for cinema the way we know it.”

Answering a question by Cinestaan.com, about making cinema exclusively for the digital format to do away with the constant tussle and problem of gatekeepers, Subramaniam said, “We are encouraging of the cinematic experience. We actually believe that a movie that is made deserves the time in theatres before it comes to us. I can’t give you any India examples because it’s really very early. If you look at the movies that Amazon studio has backed, example Manchester By The Sea. It did not only do the circuit, then came to us, but also went on to win awards.”

Kapur added that a gatekeeper always make plans on empirical data, and does not like rebellion. “The individual is rebellious. I am who I am because I rebelled against everything,” he said. He drew an analogy of eating 99.5% of your meals at home to stress his point. “The remaining 0.5% cinemas will still cater to you. Just the nature of it changes sometimes,” he said.

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Commenting on whether one needs to think differently for digital, filmmaker Mishra said that medium also dictates the message. “I wouldn’t make something like a film for a digital platform. The rules will change. If you stay independent in the head, you can make anything. Have 20 scripts and ideas and keep exploring. I think the digital space is wonderful because it allows you to take away that little cloud of censorship in your head. So you work freely.”

Mishra also highlighted that there was a lack of craft in the digital space and that writing in cinema was only on the page of the so-called writer.

Answering a question about original Indian content being exciting, Pantvaidya of ALT Digital said, “In India, there is a free internet push. Firstly, there’s a huge gap between the internet availability and content. Secondly, there’s nothing for the non-exotic viewer. Thirdly, there is a huge myth of millenials, who are basically young people who have a job and can buy things. Digital is the way you can get a home delivery of content.”

Adding to that, Subramaniam of Amazon Prime Video India said, “There is plenty to be told, in a way it’s day 1 for us. No two customers preferences are alike. People spend so much time online. Content needs to deserve that attention. We set ourselves a simple goal: cinematic TV. We are very serious about localisation of content. In fact, Inside Edge will soon be released in Tamil and Telugu. The idea is to be super local and reflect tastes of people.”

Anshuman, who made Inside Edge for Amazon Prime Video, made a bold statement saying he didn’t think it was a good time to be making a film.

Karan Anshuman (Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

“For me digital is about rebelling. I got caught up with failing economics of India cinema, there were a lot of external factors that go against cinema. Rebelling is just so liberating. You are not adhering to the 3-hour, two-act structure. The cloud of censorship that Sudhir Mishra mentioned is not there. Breaking rules is so much fun.”

The panelists agreed that the digital medium would grow and change the scenario further. It remains to be seen if this shift bodes well for cinema.

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