Beyond Bollywood lies regional cinema

MUMBAI: The Hindi Film Industry (Bollywood) has predominantly been promoted as the face of Indian cinema the world over. However, the fact of the matter remains that Telugu, Tamil, Malyalam and Kannada films form the largest share of Indian cinema. Nonetheless these regional film industries have been downsized as marginal.

Sample this: Indian cinema comprises 70 per cent regional films, 90 per cent of awards go to regional films and 99 per cent of awards go to regional directors.  

In session titled ‘Regional Cinema: Beyond Bollywood’ representatives of regional cinema from various parts of the country participated in a discussion that moved beyond the emotional and passionate talks about regional cinema and highlighted the use of new media for movie marketing.     

Bytes from a cross-section of Indian cinema representatives

Marathi Film Industry – Amol Palekar
“Marathi cinema bears the biggest brunt from Bollywood because the center for both is the same,” said Palekar. What’s more, he had no qualms in voicing his aversion to Bollywood. He further pointed out certain facts about the Marathi industry:

* The year 2006 saw as many as 72 Marathi film productions, which is more than double of what used to be a couple of years ago when the production totaled at 30 films for a long time.

* From 1996 – 2002 it became very tough for the Marathi film industry to thrive, after which the government announced subsidies. Undoubtedly this gave a boost to the film production, but lack of apt film distribution, rent of exhibitor, withdrawal of a film from theater within one week and many such problems still bother the Marathi films makers.

* Marathi films are made on a shoe string budget of Rs 4 – 7.5 million (Rs 40 – 75 lakhs) and this leaves them with little or no money to afford even print ads of their movie.

* Palekar himself has been repeatedly requesting Kodak for concession in raw stock.   

* The Marathi film industry does not avail of any special facility from the bank. Levy of four per cent VAT further poses a hurdle in revenue generation and despite repeated attempts the State budget as only ignored the request for exemption of VAT.

But even as he pointed out these vulnerabilities, he said that the circumstances have been shifting towards a brighter side. “Marathi films are now remade in Hindi as well, multiplex facilitate subsidized screening, presence of films at international festivals and local film clubs is increasing the use of English subtitles and dubbing of films is also far simpler now,” said Palekar.

Bengal Film Industry – Prosenjit Chatterjee

Chatterjee started his acting career 25 years ago in the Bengali film industry when movie budgets ranged from Rs 1.6 – 2 million (Rs 16 – 20 lakhs), but now the scale has increased manifold with films being made on a budget of Rs 20 – 25 million (Rs 2 – 2.5 crores), he pointed out.

“Language was never the problem for commercial viability of regional films. It is good content and script that makes the difference and Chokerbali is a fine example of that,” Chatterjee said.

He further said that there were close to 10 channels in Bengal out of which four – five were general entertainment channels, which require 250 Bengali films annually for screening. “Hence there definitely is a viewership platform for this industry. But what is required now is  financial planning and corporate backing. There is a need for more plans to market films nationally and internationally.”      

With the presence of Prasad Labs, the recent entry of Adlabs in Bengal and also plans to make an International Filmcity in Calcutta, the future of this industry sure seems bright.

Malyalam Film Industry – T K Rajiv Kumar

Kumar has been a director, producer and writer of various Malyalam films. While he too condemned the promotion of Bollywood as Indian cinema, he also pointed a way out. “The solution lies in creating the right audience, which will develop the right market. This should then be followed up by creating an ambience for the films and then ultimately after the success of all these, the theatrical release should be targeted at.”

With this objective in mind, the Kerela State Academy has created a film academy wherein a 15 film package was made and toured across the UK. This programme was such a success that channels there are now asking for the telecast rights of the films.

“Regional cinema has to depend on new media like terrestrial channels and internet as also international film festivals, thus sidelining theatrical release of films. This proposition has already gone down well with Malayalam film makers and close to 15 per cent have already begun thinking on these lines,” Kumar stated.

Orissa Film Industry – A K Bir

“Art and commerce always contradict each other but cinema emerges as a promising vision,” said Bir.

Bir shared the experience of his debut directorial venture and how he faced commercial  problems. “My aim was to make a small film that reaches out to the international audience for which I took funding from NFDC. The film received five state awards and 22 national awards and was even screened at the Tokyo Film Festival. But my main objective was to payback the borrowed money. No distributor came forth to buy the movie hence I could not release it. I finally sold the film to DD for which I got money but after one year.”

Content, story and scripts are the biggest strength of regional cinema that seem to be missing in Bollywood pointed out the panelists. Hence going forward regional films have to be promoted on these grounds. What matters is content be it regional, Bollywood or for that matter even Hollywood.

Rohini Bhandari

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