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Exciting, but challenging time to be content creator, discuss Dinesh Vijan, Nandita Das, Vikramaditya Motwane

The Jagran Cinema  Summit panel discussed the issues plaguing Indian cinema, the challenge of the digital platform, and the future.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Shriram Iyengar

One of the last sessions of the day at the Jagran Cinema Summit on Friday was a panel discussion on 'Would Cinema Survive?' hosted by Mayank Shekhar.

The panel, which consisted of Vijay Singh, CEO, Star Fox India, Tanveer Bookwala, digital head, founder, Ding; directors Nandita Das, Vikramaditya Motwane and Dinesh Vijan and actor Vivaan Shah discussed on the issues plaguing Indian cinema, the challenge of the digital platform, and the future.

Answering a question by host Mayank Shekhar about infrastructure, Devang Sampat, director, Cinepolis, said that India still lacked the number of theatres to compete with a market like China. "There is a huge demand (among audiences for screens), but we are not able to fill that supply," he said. Sampat maintained that while there were 11,000 screens in India, China holds about 50,000 screens to meet its cinema requirements.

Despite the lack of infrastructure, the rise of the digital medium and its competition was a key issue in the discussion. While Vijay Singh, CEO, Star Fox India maintained that it is an 'exciting time' to be a content creator, he added, "The rules of the game are changing, and they will change dramatically."

Host Mayank Shekhar with Vijay Singh CEO, Star Fox India. Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Director Vikramaditya Motwane, who is riding high on the success of Sacred Games (2018) series, said, "Yes, it is a great time for content creators, but we have to do it responsibly. Going ahead there will be so many avenues, and we can't just mess it up."

Motwane, whose Bhavesh Joshi Superhero (2018) was released earlier this year, revealed that while the film posted dismal returns at the box office, it has picked up since its release on the Netflix platform. "Watching a film on the big screen is good, but as a director, the key is getting my film to be watched by a larger audience. Period."

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Motwane added that this year has been one of 'learning' for him, "My audience is not in the theatres. It is probably online, and that's where they want to watch my movies. We are seeing this massive divide when the multiplexes came in of a white-collar/blue-collar audience. I think we are going to start seeing that again."

Disagreeing with Motwane's idea that only big 'event' films will have the say in theatres, Manto director Nandita Das said the theatrical system-distribution system is what 'kills' a filmmaker. She said, "Everyone thinks they have the 'formula'. Economics has always interfered with art. Finally, what's going to make money is what is picked."

Das admitted, "There is so much of pre-conceived notions and you are fighting that. They have labelled your film a certain way. I have had that label as an actor, and now as a filmmaker [sic]."

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Nandita Das and Vikramaditya Motwane 

Stree producer Dinesh Vijan though had a different idea. Suggesting that the only alternative for a filmmaker to avoid being caged by the system is to go independent. Giving the example of Maddock Films' recent Rs100-crore hit, Stree, Vijan said, "You have to do it yourself, and at least, digital is helping me do that. It was important to understand what the country wants, even as a revenue model."

While Vijan said that he had never really faced interference with studios he had worked with in the past, his decision to go independent with Stree was its lack of 'reference point'. "We had no option but to do it ourselves."

Elaborating on the point, he said, "The only way to do it is to put your own money, and make it your way and go the whole hog. So, if you lose, you lose a lot, but if you make money, it gives you the freedom."

Vijan also added that the risk of the digital content overtaking cinema lay in the future. He said, "The reach of Amazon, Netflix is limited to three million viewers. The threat is not right now, but in the future." According to him, the real problem is that Indian filmmakers are making 'bad content'. He said, "I think we are mistaking content for social issues. Do you not like watching a good comedy or a thriller? If we make films that entertain, we can go as edgy as possible."

The opinion was seconded by Tanveer Bookwala, digital producer and founder of Ding, who agreed that it will take some time for the audience on the digital platform to evolve. "We are something, I'd like to call, platform agnostic...We have gone straight from TV shows to digital medium. One doesn't watch a show because of the platform it is on." He added: "There is no defining platform yet. There is content out there which has something for everyone."

While it was far from a unanimous panel, the discussion on the issues took an interesting turn with Vijan talking about the extensive marketing undertaken for their recent hit, Stree. In comparison, Nandita Das shared the challenges in making Manto, and being labelled as a 'festival film'.

The Jagran Film Festival will be held from 27 to 30 September in Mumbai.