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Most people don’t watch artistic cinema because it is not reaching them, says Sanal Kumar Sasidharan 


Speaking at a panel discussion at the ongoing Kazhcha-Niv Indie Film Festival, filmmakers debate over the blurring of the lines between mainstream and independent cinema.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The second day of the Kazhcha-Niv Indie Film Festival (KIFF) witnessed an impassioned discussion by filmmakers wherein they engaged with the difference between mainstream, commercial cinema and artistic cinema and the terrain that these films should or should not stay within. In a session provocatively titled ‘Indie Cinema: Ideological conflicts and the Enmity, Drawing the Lines’, filmmakers Prathap Joseph, Santosh Babusenan, Sajin Baabu and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan put forth their opinions.  

As explained by the moderator Anil S at the outset, the main debate was whether or not art should venture into the mainstream and bridge the divide by using certain assistance from commercial cinema. The topic was especially pertinent as Sanal Kumar’s latest film Chola (2019) was released on 6 December across Kerala in 145 theatres, which is an astounding feat for any independent film.

The film stars two popular stars from mainstream Malayalam cinema, Joju George and Nimisha. Of course, Chola is banking upon the stardom of the cast to a great extent to draw audiences into the theatres but this strategy has sparked off a debate wherein some filmmakers feel that independent, art cinema should not resort to using the stardom of mainstream stars for marketing purposes. 

Conveying these sentiments, Prathap said, “One is an independent filmmaker because no one restricts you in making your film. The moment you are being promoted by a commercial actor, there are restrictions, so why do it?” He offered the example of Sanal Kumar’s earlier film Ozhivudivasathe Kali (2015) where the poster of the film had the name of the actor Aashiq Abu written in a bigger font than the name of the director. “Is this the way we should promote an independent movie?” he asked. 

Sanal Kumar responded saying, “For me, there is no problem in using commercial value additions. The fact is that there are many world class Malayalam actors in commercial cinema, but not so in independent cinema.”

Filmmakers Santhosh Babusenan, Prathap Joseph, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, Sajin Baabu, and moderator Anil S 

About his earlier film he said, “If I am using the name of Aashiq Abu, what is the problem? It is because of him that people were in theatres. The only important thing is what content you are giving. The main thing is whether or not I am being truthful to my art.”

He also highlighted the problems of exhibition faced by him and said, “There is no forum where I can show my film post S Durga (2017). I know that if there were some stars in the film, it would have been popular." He added that most people don’t watch artistic cinema because it is not reaching them and emphasised the need to market art cinema through innovative ways.

Filmmaker Santosh Babusenan emphasised the role of the audience in the divide between commercial and artistic cinema. He said, “Mainstream films have a different audience from artistic cinema. If you have a popular actor in an artistic movie and release it, it won’t really help you because the audience is different and the movie will still flop because the audience remains the same.” 

He added that independent filmmaking cannot be prescriptive saying, “How you market an independent film is your business. But the fundamental distinction is the viewer. There are far greater number of people who watch mainstream films.”

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Kazhcha Indie Film Festival