Can Delhi become a new venue for films? Or do we want it to become the venue for a new kind of film? These were some of the questions raised at Osian’s Cinefan Global Summit
If a film titled “Delhi – 6”, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s ode to the Old City of Delhi, has to be shot outside Delhi, it says several things about the city. At a very elementary level, it tells us that Delhi, or at least the Chandni Chowk area where the film was to be shot, cannot accommodate films. The reason cited by Rakeysh Mehra then was space, that shooting in Chandni Chowk would create congestion and disrupt the life of residents, even though they probably wouldn’t mind it.
At Osian’s Cinefan Global Summit, organised in collaboration with the Government of the National Capital Territory of Delhi and part of the ongoing film festival, the question of Delhi as a viable venue for films was vigorously debated. While the overarching theme of the summit was “Is Delhi India’s Next Film City?”, panel discussions titled “Filmmaking in Delhi: Challenges and Opportunities” and “Delhi : Culture, Heritage and Cinema” entered the question from different points.
The discussants in the first panel included filmmakers Shekhar Kapur and Imtiaz Ali, Madhup Tiwari, Additional Commissioner of Police (Licensing), and Neville Tuli, Chairman, Osian’s Group. The session was chaired by film producer Suresh Jindal and moderated by filmmaker Ramesh Sharma. In his address, Kapur made a slight but necessary departure from the theme to focus on the question of what makes a city creative. “The city must be provocative, must have an underbelly, and a sense of rebelliousness,” he said. Having identified that all three are present in varying degrees in Delhi, he said to become a “film hub”, Delhi would need more film schools and cultural institutions like the National School of Drama.
Tuli also weighed in on the subject of building cultural infrastructure. He outlined his vision of Delhi as a global cultural centre, in which films would play a substantial role. “Positioning Delhi as a film city would take the pressure off Mumbai and also enable neighbouring states to access the film industry more easily,” he added.
The idea of access was a recurring one, in the discussion between panelists and also in the questions from the audience, which included several independent and aspiring filmmakers. Some of them complained that having lived and learnt filmmaking in Delhi, relocating to Mumbai and finding opportunities there had proven cumbersome.
Accessing Delhi as a filmmaker also entails bottlenecks in the form of permissions for shooting. But Tiwari assured the gathering that the process of seeking permissions is far simpler than that in Mumbai, taking the example of Imtiaz Ali’s “Rockstar” which was shot in locations with varying safety requirements across Delhi. In turn, Imtiaz defined a film city as one which is inhabited by filmmakers and technicians. While Delhi abounds in film technicians, the need of the hour is to have a roster that lists all technicians, so as to make the process simpler for filmmakers, it was decided.
The second panel, however, problematised the concept of a film city. While Dr. S.Y. Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner, and AGK Menon outlined the heritage and culture of Delhi, welcoming a film city within this configuration, filmmaker Amar Kanwar stressed that it is “imperative to talk about the kind of films we want to make before building a film city.” In a similar vein, photographer Raghu Rai expressed dismay at the “melodrama” and “cheapness” of Bollywood films and said if a film city was to be instituted in Delhi it would have to engender a new kind of content.
In the United States, such a model already exists, said Dr. Aruna Vasudev, the originator of the film festival and moderator for the discussion. America’s east and west coasts house the independent and mainstream film industries respectively.
Members of the audience also expressed their reservations. While a classical singer wondered what would happen to other arts if a film city were to be set up, another independent filmmaker categorically announced that only a “nurturing space” is required by way of a film city, not buildings and studios.