Cinema as an Art Form Will Survive: Dorothee Wenner

admin   November 26, 2018

We are living in times of dramatic changes – and I guess the only way to move forward is to analyze changes without fear, analyze regional and cultural specifics of filmmaking and audiences, says Dorothee Wenner, delegate and South Asia programmer to the Berlin International Film Festival

International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is marching towards 50th anniversary in 2019. What has been your experience at IFFI?

It is a highly important meeting point for international and Indian film professionals alike, and I really enjoyed the Goan flair whenever I attended in past years. However, the timing of IFFI is tough for us Berlinale programmers, as main selection screenings are ongoing at home and most of our research needs to be done before IFFI takes place – our deadline is October end.

For over a decade, year after year Berlinale has been on a discovery spree of Indian films and directors and you are part of discovering talent. Your views…

My Bombay-based colleague Meenakshi Shedde and I work nearly the entire year, trying to get an overview of what is under production. It is an extremely work-intense enterprise trying to get a picture of what is going on. In India, only very few official organizations exist which support our work in comparison to countries like Korea or Argentina. The effects can be frustrating, but also very rewarding, as I’m discovering every year a number of films by filmmakers I have never heard of; I see films about topics, areas I never knew they existed… The bottomline is that the tremendous passion for cinema and filmmaking in India is what drives me. To my knowledge, it is unsurpassed by any other region in the world.

Do you see visible changes in the independent Indian cinema? What are your views on new narratives among the current generation of filmmakers?

Yes, I do see changes. Presently, many more independent films deal with political and social changes ongoing in India; the remote areas are coming to the fore in terms of attention. Violence, the class divide and religious tensions are depicted in many more movies than a few years ago. Also, I noticed that the new generation seems to be more at ease, more daring in experimenting with new cinematographic languages and expressions.

There are 2,000 films that are produced in over 20 languages in seven film markets in India. What needs to be done to bring structural changes in the Indian cinema ecosystem to identify cinemas of India?

That is a big question and a proper answer would fill a book. To start with, I think cinemas in India should be supported by a cultural understanding and a force that allows looking at filmmaking not solely as a commercial business. There’s a need for non-commercially (or: not solely commercially oriented) niches to develop and prosper new ideas, formats and new audiences. Especially, the current distribution system is suffocating and would need structural support to become more diverse.

Do you think India needs to create institutions equivalent of what other countries have in film space? 

What I’m desperately waiting for are alliances of independent filmmakers which create official bodies strong and big enough to represent their impact and voice their demands in the larger field. If the new institutions would be modelled accordingly – yes, that could make a difference.

India has co-production treaties with 14 countries in audio visual space. This tool has been rarely used and less than 10 films have been co-produced in last one decade. How do we change this? Do you think the new generation of filmmakers can make use of this if the scope of co -production is expanded to news screens (mobile, OTT)?

Looking at the production realities of Indian filmmaking, it is the smaller and medium budget productions which are most likely to venture into successful international co-productions. And yes, I do think this model could have a very stimulating effect on the Indian industries overall. To get there, screenplay writing and project development would need to get more attention; more support. And often: simply more time.

With companies like Amazon, Netflix and Google driving cinemas across geographies, how do you see the future for cinemas?

I’m a cinephile and convinced that cinema as an art form will survive. Having said that, I’m very aware that we are living in times of dramatic changes – and I guess the only way to move forward is to analyze changes without fear, analyze regional and cultural specifics of filmmaking and audiences. It is a political, cultural and economic responsibility to keep local, regional cinematographic infrastructures intact – not only by protecting existing realities, also by being inventive in looking for new forms of collaboration, innovative financing, by experimenting with films’ exhibition and of course: new models of audience building. Amazon, Netflix and Google have become extremely powerful players, initially only due to their financial capacities – but it is not money alone which creates good cinema. Until very recently, I think a lot of people in the industry were in kind of a shell-shock by the pace the Silicon valley or digitization are transforming the industry – I’m not excluding myself. But over the past few months, I’m very pleased to see that the awareness to come to terms with the new realities, mainly by developing counter-strategies to the new capitalist super-powers has gained momentum. Not to be misunderstood: I’m full of admiration for some of the films, series of lately produced by Amazon, Google, Netflix. It’s just their tremendous strive for a total market domination which I detest – and which in my view needs to be tackled.

This is crucial time for Indian filmmakers and producers planning to attend Berlinale and European Film Market. Please give few dos and don’ts on preparing for Berlinale?

Berlinale is not a last-minute-destination: usually it works much better if you make your schedule in advance.  Define what you want to achieve at the festival and make a strategy accordingly before you leave. Team up with colleagues, friends who’ve been to Berlinale before. Book your accommodation now. Bring warm clothes and shoes; go to the gym to be fit once you arrive. If you don’t have a next project to take care of: Berlinale is a perfect destination for film buffs eager to see as many films as your body/brain allows in 10 days – it can be totally rewarding and time of your life!


Greatest Strength of Indian Films in Emotions: Avtar Panesar

admin   August 7, 2018

Bollywood is a genre in itself, which tells global stories but in its own unique way, says Avtar Panesar, VP-International Operations, YRF.

Elaborating on the strength of Indian cinema, he observes that “the unique thing about India or Indian films is that by and large we tell human stories and very emotional stories”. “Of course our emotions are over the top but we as people are loud and over the top, we don’t know how to whisper. We tend to speak loudly, that’s the case when we make movies too. Our strength is emotions and that’s what connects our audiences to our films,” he adds.

Speaking on the potential of Bollywood to make it big globally, he says that India’s cultural diversity allows us to tell “so many stories” to the world. “The exciting thing is that not all these can be made in to big event films, and so it gives us opportunities to tell all kinds of stories at all levels.”

However, Panesar admits that although Indian films have now certainly made a place for themselves on the global stage “we still have a long way to go for us to start doing major business globally, beyond the diaspora”.

He also feels that the valuation of Indian Rupee against the US Dollar is one of the hurdles that limit the revenue generation by India to less than 2% of the global entertainment pie despite producing the largest number of films in the world. “We must also look at the admissions in India, which are just phenomenal and will continue to grow as more and more cinemas reach the rural areas. Also, it must be remembered that cinema is still one of the cheapest form of entertainment in India and the poor cannot afford to pay $8–12 for a ticket, and it needs to remain in the reach of the common man,” says Panesar.

On how film festivals like Berlinale, Toronto have been playing a key role in spearheading Indian cinema, he says, “I have screened Veer Zaara at Berlin which was classic Bollywood and I have also premiered Kabul Express at Toronto which was anything but Bollywood, so they take films on merit and these platforms have been a great way to showcase our cinema to the world.”

Panesar feels duty bound to connect with South Asian diaspora through Indian films. “The biggest high for me is that we are spreading Indian culture and language to kids who may never have been to India yet and may not speak the language properly, but are connected with their ancestral motherland through cinema.”

“It’s a great feeling to be at the other end of the world and see your posters being displayed alongside all the mainstream or local films and have families come to see your films as they have been doing for generations,” he says.

(Based on an earlier interview with Avtar Panesar with Pickle Magazine)


Are Multiplexes Temples of Cinema or Churches of Ads and Snacks?: Pierre Assouline

admin   May 6, 2018

The crucial concern for independent films’ access to the big screen – Pierre Assouline

Popcorn, samosas, nachos, Pepsi, chai, Nescafé… Welcome to the ongoing celebration of the first Indian Cinema Century at your neighborhood  multiplex! Exhibitors have an increasing tendency to forget all they owe to Cinema. As exhibitors are regarding audiences as mere ad, food and drink consumers, the onscreen ad sessions sneakily increase in length both ahead of the movie and at intermission. As for the food & beverages offer, it has turned so large and overpriced that it now builds up to above a quarter of multiplexes total revenues. Foreign and Indian films under 100 minutes are getting an intermission cut only for the obvious sake of imposing more ads and increasing drinks and snacks sales. To the contrary of mainstream Indian films, which are written and produced integrating the intermission concept, those shorter films are not conceived to be interrupted. The artificial intermission forced on those films is a violation of their integrity.

Exhibitors -the final players in the complex process of bringing an idea to the screen- are also forgetful of the power of Cinema when they only offer a lifeless, frozen digital flag to our eyes as we stand up for the National Anthem. I would like to remind these exhibitors that their business is about Cinema. Cinema is the art of creating chemistry between Image and Sound in such a way as to touch the heart and the intelligence of the audience. Please only offer us a soulful cinematic National Anthem as India is neither a brand nor a logo. India is an amazing 1.3 billion souls longing for genuine emotions.

As the price of admissions increases, so does the amount of advertising imposed upon the Cinema patrons, unlike your smartphone apps which come for free if you accept advertising. Are exhibitors who are responsible for force-feeding their clients with ads ready to offer them free seats?

Exhibitors, especially multiplex chains, have always benefited from the powerful attraction of Cinema to rake in revenue from ad space, overpriced beverages and snack sales. None of those significant profits made possible only by the power of Cinema goes back to Cinema. On April 4th, the Bombay High Court recommended curbing “exorbitant” food and beverages prices in multiplexes. However, that regulation would be unenforceable.
Better opt for a salutary levy designed to ease funding for distribution of new and daring productions.

Independent filmmakers have always struggled to find a theatrical release. The number of filmmakers has grown significantly with the decrease of the cost of making films. Competition for getting screen time at the theaters has now turned ruthless.

Astonishingly, the films from all regions holding potential to move Indian Cinema forward and onto the International Scene are the ones lacking aggressive exposure. These films are often overshadowed by the sterile marketing loudness of some Bollywood films. To date, no proper National Cinema Institution is there for giving them a voice.

Mainstream star-driven films are saturating the market with a number of screens per single release now higher than ever. That inflation of screens makes no economic sense because it results in a mediocre ratio of admissions per screen. The only purpose is to crush competition and diversity. Such monopolizing of the market should be regulated.

Though video streaming platforms offer a great opportunity for independent Cinema to be seen (200+ million Indian digital video viewers currently, and growing), it cannot be a satisfying answer to a filmmaker who claims his vision to share his work on the big screen as well. To address the urgent need to fund and promote distribution of independent films in India on a proper scale, a workable strategy can be an Indian version of a French model. In France, each admission to a theater carries a levy on top of government taxes. This levy amount goes to the National Center of Cinema for redistribution to exclusively French film production and distribution.

Today, Hollywood Studios’ strategy of simulating interest in producing Indian films when actually focusing on expanding their US home production market-share on the Indian territory is bearing fruits: American blockbusters are reaching an unprecedented high at the Indian box-office. Indian cinema is not benefitting from that imported growth in what will soon cease to be the least-penetrated market in the world. On the contrary, American films take screens away from an Indian Cinema already suffering from screen-scarcity. A special levy such as the French one, applied to all admissions including Hollywood but exclusively allocated to Indian cinema production and distribution, is a way to reverse or at least to arrest that negative trend.

In order for that special cinema levy to not adversely affect the number of admissions by inflating movie ticket prices, it could be partially or entirely funded from the entertainment tax (now GST), which in Indian states is high. A spin-off from this approach might be to change the way Cinema is considered tax-wise. Marathi films were tax-exempted in a pre-GST Maharashtra. Similarly, independent films in general, because of their Cultural Dimension, should not fully bear the unfair burden of entertainment tax.

Spotlighting the Cultural Dimension is essential in that Culture needs support. Entertainment does not.

Pierre Assouline can be reached in Cannes:
+33 (0)613215900 pierre@westeastfilms.com


50 FILMS That Changed Bollywood — As Shubhra saw it…

admin   February 14, 2018

In ‘50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995– 2015’, Shubhra Gupta throws light on movies that redefined things in Hindi cinema. From DDLJ and Rangeela to Satya and Dev D to Queen and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, she offers a fascinating glimpse into how these films spoke to their viewers and how the viewers reacted to them.  Shubhra Gupta, as film critic with The Indian Express, has been reviewing movies for more than two decades. She is witness to many changes in the industry and experienced the transition first-hand

Every week you have been religiously watching two to three new Hindi movies for over two decades. How tough is to reduce list to “50 Films That Changed Bollywood”?

It seemed like a near impossible task when I sat down to it, because I’ve lost count of the number of films I’ve watched over these decades.

To prune thousands of films over twenty years wasn’t so hard because obviously there is much more dross as compared to the gold.

To get it down from 100 to 50 was extremely difficult, because there were many worthy films which we could have included if the number was doubled.

But I had to stick to the mandated number, sigh.

The add on ‘Game Changer’ section in your book after every review is commendable and has effectively captured the mind of the filmmaker as well as the viewers. What makes a film into the game changer listing?

When a film becomes so influential that its impact is felt over the years, or is instrumental in changing the narrative of not just future movies, but the film industry (after DDLJ, for example, it was impossible to make romances any other way), it becomes iconic. Or it could be a film which catches the zeitgeist just by virtue of coming out at the time it did, perfectly reflecting its times.

Those are the films which I’ve chosen : They are all game changers in their own way.

Bollywood is viewed in various shades across the world and it has become a phenomenon. Bollywood is not Indian cinema — What is Bollywood to you?

Post 1995, Hindi cinema morphed into the creature that is Bollywood today, reaching out not just to those who live in the country and its faithful fans, but to movie-goers around the world.

These movies made primarily in Mumbai ( formerly Bombay) speak to many more people globally. Some of them have broken out of the strictly NRI ( non-resident Indians) audiences which used to be their target : with the success of a film like `The Lunchbox’, for example, the idea of Bollywood has taken a giant global leap– that it is not only song-and-danceand- drama, that it can tell universal tales with economy.

As a passionate film reviewer how do you view yourselves… as a fan of Bollywood or a critic?

I think someone who has been a film critic for a reasonable length of time– and I have done this for over twenty years consistently without a break– has to really love what they do. I’m not sure if I’d call myself a fan, because that word connotes a non-critical view. I try and watch as many films as I possibly can, and appreciate all good cinema, whether it is Bollywood, Hollywood or from any other part of the world.

The difference is, Bollywood is mine!

In the changing face of Bollywood, which period saw rapid changes (1995-2005 or 2005 to 2015)?

I think the last twenty years have seen rapid changes through the country, some of which have been reflected  in meaningful mainstream Bollywood cinema. Sometimes we can understand change better if it is shown through the prism of popular culture, and certainly cinema is a great tool in this respect.

The changes have been even more fast-paced in the last five years, with story-telling, styles, and treatment shifting according to audience preference.

And this is a young, impatient audience, with so many demands on their time and attention. If you don’t grab them fast, they are gone.And they stay gone.

Bollywood, like all other art forms, is trying to stay relevant to this growing younger audience across India and the world.

Your list ends in 2015. What would have been your pick (or picks) for 2016?

I have mentioned several movies that came out in 2016 through the course of the book, because the book came out almost at the end of last year . I’ll let them come as a surprise for readers!

Why do film critics appreciate artistic films more than mainstream commercial films? This is common across the world?

Hmm, I’m not sure if that can be an acrossthe- board assessment of what film critics do. As ‘critics’ we are geared to watch and appreciate all kinds of cinema, and we train ourselves to do much of the heavy-lifting a really ‘different’ film demands, which will not serve you its wares in easy-to-digest morsels.

But that’s not to say that I, and I can only talk of myself here, do not enjoy a full-on, full-blown mainstream movie. All I want is that it should be well made, and should talk to me.

I like any film which connects with me, whether it is mainstream or arthouse.

You have not only been reviewing for over two decades, but managed to review continuously for Indian Express? How enjoyable is reviewing?

I love it. Wouldn’t swap lives with anyone. It’s challenging, frustrating, and at the same time, very rewarding!

50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995–2015

  1. Dilwale Dulahania Le Jayange
  2. Rangeela
  3. Bandit Queen
  4. Border
  5. Hero No.1
  6. Dil Se
  7. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
  8. Satya
  9. Zakhm
  10. Sarfarosh
  11. Hera Pheri
  12. Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai
  13. Gadar; Ek Prem Katha
  14. Lagaan
  15. Monsoon Wedding
  16. Gangaajal
  17. Haasil
  18. Jismi
  19. Munna Bhai M.B.B.S
  20. Hum Tum
  21. Black
  22. Bunty Aur Babli
  23. Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
  24. My Brother,,, Nikhil
  25. Dhoom 2
  26. Golmaal: Fun Unlimited
  27. Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
  28. Khosla Ka Ghosla
  29. Omkara
  30. Rang De Basanti
  31. Bheja Fry
  32. Black Friday
  33. Chak De! India
  34. Jab We Met
  35. Johnny Gaddaar
  36. Om Shanti Om
  37. Ghajini
  38. Dev D
  39. Band Baaja Baaraat
  40. Love, Sex Aur Dhokha
  41. Udaan
  42. Delhi Belly
  43. Gangs of Wasseypur
  44. Vicky Donor
  45. Shahid
  46. The Lunchbox
  47. Ankhon Dekhi
  48. Queen
  49. Doom
  50. Dum Laga Ke Haisha
  51. Bajrangi Bhaijaan

FROM THE PUBLISHER :WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

The book provides a snapshot of the way Hindi cinema has progressed in the last 20 years, the years when Hindi cinema actually became Bollywood. It was necessary to document that progress as these two decades have wrought the kind of social, political, economic changes in the country not seen probably in the previous 50. And who better to document that than Shubhra Gupta, arguably India’s best film critic and journalist. The original reviews provide context and also a lookback at Shubhra’s take on a film at the time. And through the game changer section, we get a view of the connects between the films that make them symbolic of the journey Bollywood has made. The book is an important document of contemporary Hindi cinema, which has influenced and been influenced by social/economic changes during the period.

Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri

Editor, HarperCollins Publishers India