The one rupee coin in your change purse could fund independent filmmakers who bank on a culture of philanthropy to make films on issues that may not interest big production houses.

“We don’t think filmmaking is a costly affair. For us, it is not an industry; it is activism,” says Kolkata-based filmmaker Anamitra Roy. And the crux of his activism lies in independence, from conventional distribution chains and production houses. Without either, money took its time coming. Thus was born The One Rupee Film Project. The idea is to pitch the film’s plot and philosophy to anyone interested and let them participate in the film’s production. “Any contribution, upwards of one rupee, is welcome,” says Anamitra. Dozens of other filmmakers in India are travelling Anamitra’s alternate route to production: crowd funding.

For independent filmmakers

Internationally, crowd funding has become the norm for independent filmmakers. Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, for instance, had opening credits that ran, “‘Your name here’ presents, in association with ‘Your money’, a ‘Funded by You’ production.” In India, crowd funding made headlines in 2012 when Onir’s I Am bagged two National Awards.

However, the concept isn’t new to India, says Bhubaneswar-based Surya Shankar Dash, who has made six long documentaries and many short films since 2007 through it. “For years, independent filmmakers have told people’s stories using their own contributions. Only recently has the practice been branded crowd funding,” he says.

Complete freedom of expression can be achieved only outside the dictates of producers and distributors. Crowd funding offers this, say filmmakers.

Patna-based Pawan Kumar always wanted to make a film on migration from Bihar. “But no commercial producer would be interested in the loneliness and identity crises migrants battle every day,” he says. So, through crowd funding, Pawan raised Rs. 8 lakh for his film Naya Pata, now in post-production.

“Besides producers, even NGOs that fund independent filmmakers, will push their own agenda. Crowd funding can help you bypass this,” says Surya who documents grassroots movements in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills.

Online campaigns

Crowd funding spreads its word primarily through online platforms — social networking sites, chat groups, discussion forums, blogs and the like. “I would send e-mails about the project to all my contacts and ask each of them to forward it to all theirs. Funds slowly came in and 30 per cent of it from absolute strangers,” says Pawan. Tapping a physical audience is however more productive, since people contribute easier when they know you personally, says Surya, who raised Rs. 70,000 in a three-month campaign for his film Psychedelhi. In the process, publicity efforts for the film get done as well, adds Anamitra.

Rewards for contributors range from credits in the film to autographed merchandise, free DVDs or download links, meetings with the cast and crew, and sometimes even the position of producer and co-producer. “Most often though, people don’t really want goods in return. The excitement about being part of a production you believe in is reward enough and that’s what real peoples’ cinema is about,” says Surya.

The motivation to get absolutely anyone interested on board pushed Anamitra to lower his minimum contribution rate to Re. 1. “The neighbourhood pan shop-walla and taxi drivers have actually given me 10 bucks at a time and it all adds up,” he says.

The pace at which crowd funding has picked up in India has created consolidated platforms that facilitate the same. Mumbai-based Wishberry is a company that entered the field in April 2012 and now collaborates with established names such as Onir, as well as lesser-known filmmakers. “We offer filmmakers an online profile that details their production, publicises it on Facebook and provides online and offline payment gateways. So, contributors can go through the various projects in the pipeline and pick whatever inspires them,” says Anshulika Dubey, vice president of Wishberry.

For crowd funding to serve the purpose it was intended for, it needs to stay within the purview of independent filmmakers, believes Surya.

Telugu director Dakshin Srinivas agrees. He began publicity efforts for the first crowd funded project in Telugu but dropped the idea. “I was advised to do so because once I venture into crowd funding, traditional production houses may hesitate to fund my other projects,” he says.

Asks Surya, “If tomorrow, Shah Rukh Khan says, ‘I will make a film with your one rupee’, lakhs will pour in. Who will then support the indie guy who actually needs the one rupee?”