Chapter One for Understanding the Indian Indie Film Industry

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By Jaspreet Kaur Sangral

The first thing you need to know about India is that it takes three things very seriously – religion, cricket and cinema! Indian film industry produces more than 1800 films every year in as many as 24 different languages, which are then released in over 90 countries from across the world. If you employ a number of films made per annum the criteria, undoubtedly Indian film industry is the largest film industry in the world.

In India, the movement of parallel cinema or independent cinema, which unlike its mainstream counterparts is rich in socio-political content and can specifically be characterized for its realism, was started by iconic filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, Ritwik Ghatak and Guru Dutt during the 1950s. Their cinema laid the foundation of Indian indie film culture, which can be perceived as a slow but constantly progressive movement, aimed to highlight the country’s socio-political, ideological and cultural realities. In order to further understand the current scenario of Indian independent films, you need to understand these four things –

The Subcultures

India as a country is an amalgamation of so many different subcultures, ethnicities, languages and ideologies. Thus, when we talk about Indian Indie films, we are not talking about just one particular kind of cinema; we are talking about a variety of films, coming from different filmmakers with varied economical, sociological and psychological backgrounds. And this makes everything so much more interesting. You get to see a wide range of cinema highlighting different issues of different parts of the country, made in completely different styles from each other.

Conflicts in the Narratives

To understand the kind of conflicts Indian indie filmmakers try to put forth in their films, let’s for a moment think of India as a continent with 3 countries in it. The first country is a super-power with all its citizens being extremely tech-savvy, driving expensive cars and constantly traveling the world for both, work and for pleasure. The second country is kind of a developing nation with a huge brigade of the white-collared middle class population struggling to devise a new set of morals for themselves. They need to decide what ethics of culture, religion, caste system and westernization they need to accept and which ones they need to shrug-off. The third country is one of the most anarchic states that ever existed in history with widespread poverty, corruption, lack of education and healthcare facilities. The citizens of this third country are still struggling to make the ends meet.

As an Indian filmmaker, you are spoilt for choices. You can choose to make a film on any of these 3 countries or you can make films that show the ‘almost impossible to believe’ existence of these 3 worlds within a single country. The possibilities are endless!

The Censorship

Freedom of speech and expression is a real thing in India, except they ban a few films, books, music videos and websites every now and then. Wait, that doesn’t make any sense! But nevertheless, that’s what the scenario is like. Central Board of Film Certification is a regulatory body in India, whose intended job was to assign film certificates but don’t get surprised if they ask you to cut-out a few scenes from your film because these scenes have somehow managed to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of the country.

In the recent times, so many independent films (features as well as documentaries) have gone under the knife of CBFC (or have been banned completely or partially throughout or in certain parts of the country) that making a film on a supposedly ‘controversial subject’ needs a lot of re-evaluations, courage to fight against the system, support of the right people and most importantly, some revolutionary attitude. Films like Gulabi Aaina, Final Solution, Amu, Water, Udta Punjab, Lipstick Under My Burkha, India’s Daughter, Parzania, Gandu and Black Friday are all examples of how even after being banned or severely censored, procuration of acclaim, awards and accolades from all around the world is indeed a possibility.

Reception and Scope of Indie Films

Even though a majority of Indian audience prefers watching mainstream commercial cinema solely made to entertain the masses and for the purpose of generating huge profits, still there’s a lot of scope for the independent film market in the country. In the last few years, many Indian indie films participated in the film festival circuits throughout the globe and brought back home a wonderful bouquet of recognition, applause, and awards. Some of these films were commercially released as well and were increasingly appreciated by the critics and the general public alike, besides being moderately successful at the box office. People are slowly but steadily acquiring a taste for realistic cinema and the future certainly looks promising.

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