The Dark Side of Life - Mumbai City, Desi Bum, Aao Khelein Gilli Danda are Hindi films and 35 Minutes is a Marathi film. Kanvass Productions, which owns these films, is looking for opportunities to release them. Malik Nissar, Danish Shujauddin and Prashant Mehta are among the six partners who set it up in 2010. It is funded through their day jobs - as turnkey contractors, IT professionals or interior decorators.
Ten years ago, there was no way six unknown guys with four unknown films would have been considered seriously in an industry dominated by big talent and producers. But at National Film Development Corporation or NFDC's Film Bazaar, which concluded in Goa earlier this week, Kanvass blended beautifully. There was an entire cavalcade of new actors, directors, writers and producers hawking their films. While popular makers such as Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar yapped about cinema at a concurrent Knowledge Series, the real business was happening in the screening rooms, where dozens of films were being screened to woo sales agents, distributors, festival directors and foreign channels.
The birth and survival of scores of firms such as Kanvass tells you two critical things about the ecosystem developing around the Indian film industry - that it is doing its job and doing it well.
That corporatisation - a process that began in 2000 - has done the Rs 14,000-crore Indian film industry a world of good is well-documented. The industry has grown almost six times and is more profitable, organised and transparent. The big gap, however, that remains is of talent - in writing, direction and production, among other areas. And the commercial film industry that has borne the worst years with resilience, does not have the mindset, resources or the bandwidth to nurture it.
That is where the state-owned NFDC steps in. Film Bazaar, an event focussing on co-production and distribution opportunities, was kicked off in 2007. It is held along with the International Film Festival of India in Goa every year and has become a key global market for South Asian cinema. For young firms with little money, it offers a platform within India to showcase their films. Last year, Film Bazaar had over 830 delegates, including festival curators, broadcasters, sales agents and distributors.
It also does a huge amount of groundwork around the developmental end; for instance, in the writing of scripts - a long, painful and expensive process that is rarely funded by the industry. NFDC's Screenwriters Lab is held in partnership with international film festivals such as Toronto or Venice, among others. It invites synopses of ideas for film scripts. A jury whittles these down to six. The first drafts of these are then taken by the writers to whichever festival NFDC has a tie-up with that year - it was Sarajevo this year. This exposes them to different cinemas and they also get mentored by big creative names who are part of that festival. Back home, they redo the script based on what they have learnt and present it to a jury four days before Film Bazaar. The Bazaar then becomes a ground for them to pitch these to production houses or film boards. NFDC facilitates many of the meetings.
Ship of Theseus, Miss Lovely, Mumbaicha Raja, B A Pass, Tasher Desh, Gangoobai, are among the 30-40 films that NFDC facilitates every year. The Lunchbox, which it co-produced, and The Good Road, which it produced, were rivals in the battle to be India's Oscar entry in 2013. In the six years ending 2013, NFDC has produced or co-produced 27 films. Of these, 18 had new film-makers.
But NFDC does not have the financial or marketing chutzpah to give all these film-makers a wide release and publicity. This is where it ropes in the commercial industry. The Lunchbox or Shanghai were born in Film Bazaar but were financed, marketed and distributed by mainstream studios, creating a public-private partnership that is helping improve the quality of mainstream cinema in India.
This, then, is a lesson also on how to foster a creative industry. A direct grant to film-makers is probably not as valuable as building a platform for them to create better films and get a better price for them. Marathi film-makers have been getting grants for years, but what finally pushed up the quality of films was a wider market, thanks to television and multiplexes. So is it time for television content and animation to take a few lessons from this one?
Disclosure: The writer was in Goa attending and speaking at Film Bazaar at the invitation and expense of NFDC