Suitcase Tales - Lessons from a storm

Posted on 6 February, 2017 by Team Wishberry


As I waited outside Goverdhan theatre Bangalore, en route Mumbai, on the evening of December 12, cyclonic storm Vardah (in Chennai) unleashed its fury so hard that the rains here had delayed my bus.

With no shelter at the pick up point, I put on my rain jacket and waited.

The rain didn’t stop and the bus was an hour late. My backpack was waterproof. Or so I thought. The laptop bag inside it was waterproof. Or so I thought.

When I took the MacBook Pro out in Mumbai, the display was dead. So I did what I usually do when the laptop shuts down because of moisture. Wait for it to come back to life.

It took me over a month and a half to get it fixed. The rains had put the brakes on my journey. Here’s how.

Just in November, I was in Goa for a couple of weeks for International Film Festival of India and the Film Bazaar (November 20-24). The Bazaar was a reality check for the status of independent cinema in the country. As their report read: “This year we had 197 films at the Viewing Room and your film was one of them. Of these, 188 films were viewed at the Film Bazaar and nine films got no views.”

Mid-November, the Bazaar had recommended 32 out of these films in its Recommends section ensuring that the handful of legit buyers in Goa during the four days had a list they could further shortlist.

My film Side A Side B was luckier than most films, that despite not making it into the Recommends section, got eight views in four days (five out of the eight were friends/friends of friends I pestered).

I had spent about 50,000 rupees (20,000 on just registrations). Did I make a sale? No. Did any sale happen? Not directly, at least (Though there were reports of companies acquiring some films to distribute with no financials or arrangement mentioned).

Credit where due, the Film Bazaar is the best thing the NFDC has done. I’m thankful for the networking opportunity and there are always things that can be better. But my experience had nothing to do with how it was managed. It had everything to do with the market reality.

We independent filmmakers are making too many movies.

Almost 200 films were at the Viewing Room in Goa. Not everybody who makes a film submits for various reasons. We can safely assume there are at least an equal number of films, if not more, that chose not to submit. That’s 300-400 feature films competing for the same festivals, theatrical release and avenues of distribution.

With studios producing digital films, that figure will double this year.

I remembered Netflix aggregator Vista India founder Suri Gopalan’s warning during one of his sessions at the Bazaar: “If you are making a film relying on Netflix to buy it, don’t. Netflix is not buying every film.”

To take you back to the first chapter, I wanted to hit the road to make four films before I turned 40. And now, that didn’t seem like a good idea.

What is the point of making these films and contributing to the clutter where there is absolutely no formal system or channel in place to distribute independent films here?

To help you visualise budgets, scale and sensibility of different independent films around, imagine that there are too many cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles and cycles… but no road.

There are middlemen, of course, who promise to help you release but they are part of the problem. Print and advertising costs have not justified collections of even our biggest festival success stories.

There are many Video on Demand options today but the supply is too huge that there is very little demand and films with theatrical releases are preferred.

So what’s the solution?

The rains had taken away my laptop so that I had the time to reflect on all this.

The adventure found a storm. A film found an interval. The plot twist brought me another epiphany.

When the path less travelled gets too much traffic, it’s time to build a road.

(To be continued)

Also read: Suitcase Tales - The Genre Test

About Sudhish Kamath:

Sudhish is a film critic turned filmmaker. He’s worked on 3 films so far, along with the critically acclaimed - Good Night|Good Morning. Currently Sudhish is set off on a journey to breathe life into all the films he penned down, while living out of his backpack.

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