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One thought making a good film was enough, but it’s not: Saurav Rai on hurdles faced by filmmakers

At a panel discussion at the Kazhcha-Niv Indie Film Festival, filmmakers lamented the state of premier festivals in the country, where space for independent filmmakers seems to be shrinking.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

A panel discussion on ‘Aesthetic Drift in Festival Platforms and Challenges for Indie Films' at the third Kazhcha-Niv Indie Film Festival in Trivandrum saw filmmakers express concern at the growing commercialization of film festivals in the country and the increasing difficulty of finding an audience for their works.

Art critic, curator and writer Johny ML, who moderated the session, kicked off the discussion by pointing out the considerable change in festivals over the years. Earlier, festivals showed films that were, typically, not quite understood by the majority of the audience. Now, populist aesthetics are increasingly creeping into festivals.

Filmmaker Prateek Vats, whose Eeb Allay Ooo! is part of the lineup at the Kazhcha event, recounted how the big question that was being talked about at the Pingyao International Film Festival [in China] was the fact that the Hollywood film Joker (2019) won the Best Film award at Venice.

“While the win was shocking for everyone, nobody wanted to openly critique it,” he said, adding that if films become simpler [to understand] then a larger number of people come to watch but, as a consequence, the festival space is taken away from independent filmmakers.

Talking about the current situation of festivals in India, Vats said, “IFFK [the International Film Festival of Kerala, which takes place at the same time as Kazhcha] was the benchmark festival when we were students, followed by IFFI [the International Film Festival of India] and KIFF [Kolkata International Film Festival], but all of them have dropped so much.

"There is a big need for independent films to become sustainable," he added.

Critic Johny ML with the panellists. Photo: Kazhcha Film Forum

Filmmaker Saurav Rai, whose Nimtoh is also being screened at the Kazhcha festival, seconded these thoughts and recounted his own experience. Rai said, “When films are being entered at festivals, they are hardly watched. If you are attached to certain sales agents, only then does the film get watched. Coming from a film school background, one thought making a good film was enough, but it’s not."

Riddhi Majumder, director of Pariah, agreed: “Festivals are not growing at the rate at which films and filmmakers are." Majumder added that while one makes a film, one needs to learn how to package it. He admitted, "I am yet to learn how to package my film."

Creative producer and magazine editor Sanjay Wadhwa pointed out that in the present scenario, it is the intent that matters. “If independent films are born with the idea that the film should be popular, it defies the idea of those films,” Wadhwa said.

The panellists also contemplated the current scenario where digital platforms have opened new avenues for distribution but only for certain kinds of films. Niche films are routinely ignored by these platforms which function like any other corporation. Rai added, “For independent filmmakers, film festivals are the only route. That ecosystem is very muddled and in troubled times.”

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival