If you stop to think about the best Hindi films you saw in 2012, chances are Supermen Of Malegaon will be among the titles that come to mind. The documentary had been lying in the cans for months in spite of having won accolades at festivals. It was available on DVD, and its audience proved to be appreciative but limited. A theatrical release seemed unlikely, till PVR Director’s Rare stepped in. Director’s Rare aimed to release “alternative” film titles and was started by PVR last year. In 2012, Director’s Rare released 20 films, among them an old classic, a couple of Indian and international documentaries, independent movies made by young filmmakers that were struggling to find distributors, and an American independent film.
On January 20, Director’s Rare completed a year of being in business and more film screenings are in the works. When the initiative started out, though, there were only good intentions and a passion for cinema. PVR, best known for it’s exhibition business, and distribution of mainstream films, knew they wanted to spread their operations beyond mainstream cinema. Shiladitya Bora, who had been brought in to head operations at a newly opened property that catered to cinema lovers in Delhi, was given the task of achieving that goal. Incidentally, it was at a movie screening that things begin to fall in place. Bora was watching Nila Madhab Panda’s I Am Kalam, and a small poster of Good Night Good Morning (GNGM) outside caught his attention. “I made a couple of calls to find out details about the film. Eventually, I got Sudhish Kamath’s (director) contact, and asked him to send me a copy of his film.”
A slow start
GNGM, a black and white film in English about a boy and girl who meet at a New Year’s Eve party
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
After having organised the Ahmedabad Film Festival from 2007 to 2009, Shiladitya Bora (below) started a private film club called Sunset Boulevard, where he’d rent a screen at one of the PVR properties in Ahmedabad, and screen classics like The Godfather and Casablanca for his
members. The initiative caught the attention of the PVR management, who asked Bora to organise more such screenings at their theatres across the country. Eventually, Bora joined the company full-time and started PVR
Director’s Rare. He
currently heads programming there.
and exchange phone numbers, was Chennai-based film critic Sudhish Kamath’s second film as writer-director. The film is essentially a night-long conversation between the two protagonists, reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset (and the forthcoming Before Midnight). Most distributors wouldn’t want to touch an idea like that with a bargepole. Bora, however, saw merit in the film and approached the top-level management at PVR and suggested they bring the film out in a limited release, as a one-off experiment.
Financially, it was a disastrous move. There was almost no buzz before the film’s release (the marketing budget was negligible), and the film ran to practically empty houses at PVR properties in different cities. But the media coverage afterwards was encouraging. Kamath’s film was well-received by critics who appreciated his attempts at making an experimental, stylish film. Additionally, Director’s Rare received good press for their initiative. Things weren’t exactly rosy, but neither was it all bad.
“It took a while to figure out where we were headed,” says Bora. “But the response to GNGM gave me the confidence that we were on the right track. From then on, it was a matter of waiting for things to fall in place,” says Bora. Chaurahen followed, a nondescript film that Bora chose only because it had actors like Victor Banerjee, Kiera Chaplin and Zeenat Aman in it. Then came The Forest, another film that failed to excite either critics or audiences. Love Wrinkle Free, Director’s Rare’s fourth film was the first one to break even at the box office. Things began to look up with the release of Kshay, another indie shot in black and white, and Supermen Of Malegaon. Since then, Director’s Rare’s successes include Kundan Shah’s classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, which was re-released to a favourable response, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, the documentary Fire In Babylon, and The Last Act, a feature film with 12 segments made by different filmmakers.
At the start of the second year, there are niggling worries that Bora needs to sort out. For an initiative that looks at leveraging the current indie presence, there just isn’t enough good content to bank on. Bora says he watches around eight to 10 indie films every month, but most are below average. He watched more earlier, but now he judges films by their trailers initially. Maintaining a certain standard of quality is one of the things Bora will focus on more in year two. “In the first year, there may have been two or three indies we released that, in hindsight, were undeserving. That will change. You want to encourage young independent filmmakers, but choosing lesser films will only set the benchmark lower, which will cause more harm than good.” Waiting for a great indie to come along is a long process, so Bora plans to balance things out by including more international and regional films, documentaries and old Indian classics.
Bora’s second challenge is to strike a balance between art and commerce. Director’s Rare charges nothing from filmmakers, nor does it pay them money while acquiring a film. The only expenditure borne by the filmmaker is a license fee that has to be paid to Scrabble Entertainment, responsible for the digital screening of films (each screening costs around Rs1000). Apart from that, the cost of screening trailers at PVR properties, buying ad space in film journals and expenditure on standees and posters are all borne by Director’s Rare. Given the nature of the films, making a profit-on-investment every time is tough and unlikely.
The smart thing to do, says Bora, is to mix up the films intelligently. The first release in the new year will be Les Misérables, Tom Hooper’s retelling of the classic story which stars Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman and has won numerous Oscar nominations. In spite of its stars, the film is hardly mainstream and its release will be smaller than that of other Hollywood blockbusters. This will be followed by Balak Palak, Ravi Jadhav’s Marathi film about sex education. The film has already done good business in Maharashtra and Director’s Rare will release the film in cities outside Maharashtra. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s celebrated documentary Celluloid Man, about film archivist PK Nair, is next in line. There’s a clear improvement in terms of quality, but that one great Indian indie is still missing from the group.
“It will come, I’m sure. But we have to play the waiting game. 2013 could be the year we get that big fat Indian indie that we can showcase to the world with pride,” he says. We’ll raise a toast to that.