CHATLINE Director Pawan Kumar’s film Lucia has many firsts to its credit. It recently won the audience award at the London Indian Film Festival. He tells BHUMIKA K. that with the Internet melting away boundaries, filmmaking is a new ballgame
A 30-year-old filmmaker with no producer to invest in his grand ideas is not such a rare occurrence. What one does with the situation is what matters. A few months is all it took for him to figure out that no conventional producer in the Kannada film industry was going to put his money on a layered narrative that told the story of a movie usher and his fantastical drug-induced dreams.
“As a film, both in its creative processes of filmmaking, and as a business product, Lucia is unique,” declares Pawan Kumar, basking in the adulation that the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) and the endorsement Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan have brought him. The film is set to be released in theatres in Karnataka this September, but already has more than 50 producers and over 800 distributors! “We got the film subtitled for all screenings. The idea is to get people who don’t now Kannada to watch it too,” says Pawan.
He had of course earlier written the story of hit films like Manasaare and Pancharangi, directed by Yograj Bhat, and made a commercially successful directorial debut with Lifeu Ishtene. “When I was writing my fourth feature film I wanted to play with complex narratives. That’s why the script became layered, and difficult for a regular producer to relate to as a commercial product. That’s when the idea of crowd-funding came up.”
Crowd funding was great because everyone invests only small chunks of money. It also gave the young director a lot more freedom to experiment, without having to think about how it would do at the Box Office (BO). “I had earlier tried to raise funds online for a short film back in 2005. It was a disaster. So I didn’t have faith in this idea. But I tried it anyway, because everybody was pushing for it. And the shocking result was that the film raised Rs. 51 lakh in 27 days! Once that happened, I figured this is not just going to be a film; it’s going to be a new process of making a film. I wanted to show that you can make a film with the right talent, yet be able to sell it.” Theatre actor Satish Ninasam was cast as lead, software engineer Poornachandra Tejaswi came on board as music director, orchestra singer Naveen Sajju got his first playback opportunity. Pawan himself had quit engineering college at 20. He had been active on the college theatre circuit, and from 2000 to 2006 he worked with English theatre in the city.
The film eventually also became crowd-sourced. “I kept people posted on the making of the film through facebook. Whenever I was stuck, people connected with my situation, offered me their car, or house, for shoots! That sort of community activity started happening.”
Then he went ahead and tried the idea of pre-ordering the film online. Anyone could buy a pre-order at a price, and post links on social media sites. They get a unique code for themselves. If a viewer clicks on the link, he gets a share of the revenue from the view. “We already have 800 pre-orders for Lucia. And after LIFF, we got almost 100 more in one day alone! The idea of pre-orders came because we didn’t know the film would become such a big phenomenon and we would have to release it in theatres. I was thinking I would release it online, or release a DVD, or do a small multiplex screening. But when it became big, and more people wanted to watch it, I needed more money to release the film in theatres in Karnataka. Now, more than 800 people are legal distributors of the film. The hope is that they will overshadow Torrents; you’re also cutting down on piracy. We tied up with a U.K company for this venture.”
All ideas he’s hit upon during the process of this film have been born out of necessity. He started the portal www.hometalkies.com over a year ago so that viewers could watch Kannada films from the comforts of their home, online. He realised there was a demand for such viewing with his Lifeu Ishtene, from the world over. He couldn’t screen his film in theatres abroad because it was financially not viable. “If they don’t get access legally, people look towards Torrents and pirated DVDs. I felt we ourselves were encouraging them to go that way by not providing them what they want. The idea was to give viewers the film online and get the producers some money. People were willing to pay five pounds or four dollars abroad to watch a Kannada film at home. The producer of Lifeu Ishtene earned Rs. six lakh in two months from the online release. It was a completely untapped market. So I figured if I can do it for my film, I can do it for anybody else’s film.” The site currently has 18 films. Our industry is not up to date with technology, says Pawan, by way of explanation of the small number. “We hope to show them with Lucia ...”
But why turn to the Internet and social media so significantly? “In the last 10 years geographical boundaries have ceased to matter. The virtual boundaries of the Kannada community have extended into the U.S.A., U.K., Japan, New Zealand, Finland…how do you otherwise reach out to them? Moreover, they are exposed to world cinema, so my kind of stories are easier to communicate to them,” says Pawan. There’s even an ongoing interactive audience contest to sing a song and “win” a seat at the premier next to a film star.
“When it comes to Kannadigas watching Kannada films, the audience here is far more intelligent than the filmmaker. That’s why our audience look out for films in other languages or look for other forms of entertainment. We have to start matching up to what they already know. My movie is getting that connect because it’s contemporary and similar to what they get to see otherwise. Even if you make 10 such films a year, the audience will be back to Kannada films,” says Pawan. He of course doesn’t hesitate to admit that 80 per cent of urban Kannadigas, like himself, don’t watch Kannada films. He himself didn’t see a Kannada film for almost 10 years. “I think I saw America America, and after that, it was Mungaru Maley!”
“If Lucia turns out to be a success at the BO, I will set up a company or portal for ‘audience films’, where filmmakers like me who have a good script that’s not accepted by the traditional industry, we will pitch an idea to the audience and facilitate its making. The idea is to make independent cinema in Kannada grow.”