Here’s how independent Kannada film Lucia garnered finance, applause and an international award

Imagine convincing people on Facebook to pay for a film that hasn’t even been made. Absurd, you think? Pawan Kumar agrees, and yet this young filmmaker did not just persuade 110 people on Facebook to fund his Kannada film Lucia, but also walked the red carpet at last month’s prestigious London Indian Film Festival to bag the Audience Award for his independent, low-budget film.

“The feeling is amazing,” Pawan says, even as he runs around preparing himself for the film’s release in India on September 6. “I never imagined I would even complete this film, let alone go to London.”

Lucia, a surreal film about an insomniac, explores how a torch-shiner in a theatre resides in an illusory world after growing dependent on a drug. While this world allows him to have extraordinary dreams, nightmares haunt him when he does not take the drug. With a dash of mystery and love thrown in, Lucia is Pawan’s attempt to experiment with new ideas while breaking away from oft-told stories that, according to him, constitute Kannada cinema.

Pawan recalls how he felt angry when he was told in Mumbai that Kannada films were of poor quality. “As in every other industry, there are bad films and good films in Kannada too. But the bad ones get highlighted and the good ones often never find a market. I realised that local writers were rarely given a chance to execute their ideas. I was determined to make this work,” says the director.

And work, it did. Lucia was not only the first Kannada film to see a world premiere in London, but it also out-raced the star-studded, multi-directorial venture Bombay Talkies and Amit Kumar’s thriller Monsoon Shootout at the festival to win the award.

Standing ovation

“We had two houseful shows and Lucia was the only film to have received a standing ovation at the festival,” says the film’s visibly excited director of photography, Siddhartha Nuni. “It was heart-warming.”

The elements of mystery and love have been amplified by striking close-up shots that are not glossy but “realistic” and “raw”, Siddhartha says. “To cut costs, we used a DSLR. In fact, one of the best production houses came up to us and said, ‘This Rs. 50-lakh film is so beautifully shot while we spend crores glossing our films’.”

Even as they bask in the glory of their success, the two say that the journey was anything but smooth. When Pawan approached producers with his script, they refused to listen to it while well-established actors stated their preference for remakes over original stories. Frustrated, but even more determined to complete his film, Pawan launched Project Lucia — an earnest appeal to the audience.

“I told them that I would sell 2,000 tickets for the film and begin work on it once the money was raised from the sale,” he says. Contributors were provided incentives based on the amount they were willing to give. Pawan assured them credit for their contribution, and even provided them the opportunity to share a “unique affiliate link” on Facebook and earn 50 per cent of sales through the link.

Astounding success

Project Lucia met with astounding success. Around 600 e-mails flooded Pawan’s inbox, around 13,000 people visited the blog, and finally the team had 110 producers. To encourage a diverse audience to visualise an idea is no simple task, say the duo, but believe that their past work earned them credibility.

“Pawan is well-known in theatre circuits and has directed the Kannada film Lifeu Ishtene,” says Siddhartha. Siddhartha, an IIT-M graduate, was himself part of nothing less than the Oscar-winning Ang Lee film Life Of Pi’s crew.

“Urban audience is tech-savvy,” says Siddhartha; little surprise then that Lucia managed to attract distributors in merely 27 days.

And, the cherry on the cake is that the film has won the award when the Indian film industry is celebrating its centenary. Does this make the success sweeter? Yes, say Pawan and Siddhartha. “The film was shot in digital medium and there are many celluloid shots because the protagonist is a torch-shiner,” says Pawan. “This is our tribute to 100 years of Indian cinema.”

But the two add that nothing is comparable to getting Irrfan Khan to endorse the film. Anyone looking to find information on Lucia on the Internet will eventually be greeted by Irrfan urging one to watch the film for its “interesting plot and earnest performances”. “For me this is like winning an Oscar,” laughs Pawan.