From multiplexes to grass roots

Posters of the winner of the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year, Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman, are up in the PVR multiplexes in Mumbai, ahead of its March 31 release. On Monday night, the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) is organising a special premiere of the film at Bandra’s Le Reve cinema. Meanwhile, the man who brought Farhadi’s film to India, Sunil Doshi, is promising more; Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep and Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang will soon be coming to a multiplex near you.

Doshi has created a separate label, Sunil Doshi Presents, under his company Alliance Media and Entertainment to bring the best of world cinema to India. He calls it a boutique enterprise, all about personal hand-picking and curation of films. “I don’t have the mind for dealing with big-ticket films like a Logan,” he says.

Doshi thinks that the script and co-production labs and subsidies and grants have been giving world cinema a fillip, but reaching out to the people is the real deal. Instead of waiting for people to come to the movies, can we then take the movies directly to the audience? “Netflix, Hulu, Amazon are changing the game. Movies are being watched on mobile and tablets now.” According to him, the need of the hour is audience development. “Are we cultivating viewers?” he asks rhetorically.

So Doshi’s prized catch, The Salesman, after doing the festival rounds — MAMI, IFFI, IFFK, festivals in Thrissur, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mysore, Pune, and Kottayam — will now be distributed commercially by PVR, obviously riding on the Oscar win. The film will also open the Habitat International Film Festival in Delhi this week.

But Doshi intends to take it even more far and wide. He also intends to hold free screenings at the IITs, IIMs, NID, TISS, Manipal University, at Nandan in Kolkata, KSFDC in Kerala and community centres in small towns. “The idea is to take the films to the community.” There will be a piggy bank of sorts at each of these community screenings and the audience will be asked to put in whatever amount they feel like contributing to the cause of good cinema. He intends to take Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin to schools to inculcate film appreciation at an early stage. “The whole cinema eco-system needs to improve,” he says.

The inspiration seems to be drawn from John Abraham’s Odessa Collective, which was about making general public participate in cinema instead of giving in to the market forces or “middlemen”, as Doshi puts it. It is about taking cinema to the grass roots. “Non-traditional is the way to go,” he says.

Doshi had been an active member of and ran a film society in Juhu in the 1980s and 1990s. He was also the force behind the Lumiere channel launched in association with Manmohan Shetty and Prannoy Roy. The channel got some brilliant films to the Indian drawing rooms, from Orphange to Persepolis, but folded up eventually. “The cable industry did not allow us to survive. We had to pay carriage fees of millions of rupees. I was heartbroken. We were ahead of our times,” he says.

For years now, Doshi has been trawling the international film festivals, at times acquiring films when they are still in the development stage. The Salesman, for instance, was acquired immediately after its premiere at the Cannes film festival last year. But what of the Hollywood biggies in the multiplexes that it will be competing against? “Co-existence is the key. Both are mutually inclusive,” he says. He is happy that world cinema is getting programmed in multiplexes. “It’s become a prestige thing. The programming is also getting eclectic.”

His immediate aim is to consolidate a great bouquet of films. He intends getting 15-20 films every year to India. Doshi is also looking at getting acclaimed documentaries and animation films, shortlisting some, reading scripts of others. “These don’t get seen through the traditional circuit,” he says. And he does seem to have some enviable titles in already: Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? that premiered in Berlin last year, Songs of Lahore, and Michael Moore’s Where To Invade Next.

But what about the returns? How will he get the money back? He admits it’s risky. For him, one film alone is not the key. Although the profit motive is not driving The Salesman for now, he hopes to make his pickings in the long run. “Profit and loss can’t be calculated at the end of one film. You need a period of time and quite a few films.” Amen!

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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 6:54:35 AM |

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