What the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) offers this year

The NFDC film bazaar is where indie headliners are born

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Most winning Indian films on the international festival circuit today were discovered at this event, which is why producers, buyers and curators cannot afford to miss it

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In its 13-year run, one of the biggest success stories to emerge from the NFDC Film Bazaar was a “happy accident” — or that is how filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane describes it. In 2012, a 26-year-old Tamhane, with just a short film and a script for Court in his portfolio, participated in the Co-Production Market organised as part of the Film Bazaar.

“I don’t know how many people took us seriously because we were a bunch of novices,” recalls Tamhane, about the event that is held alongside the International Film Festival of India in Goa. In his case, with no luck from producers and buyers, it was an informal meeting with Paolo Bertolin, a programmer at the Venice International Film Festival, that changed his life. Bertolin evinced interest based on their conversations and Tamhane’s vision for Court. In 2014, the film famously went on to win the prestigious Orizzonti competition at Venice Film Festival, where it had its world premiere. It was also India’s official entry to the Oscars in 2015.

Fine-tuning the drafts

Since its inception in 2007, Film Bazaar has become an influential space in the Indian indie landscape. Being South Asia’s biggest film market, it not only brings in international buyers, distributors, sales agents and festival programmers — to discover non-mainstream Indian cinema across dozens of languages — but also bolsters film supply by providing creative expertise to novice filmmakers and writers. In the last decade, it has shaped films like The Lunchbox, Titli, Thithi, Court, Chauthi Koot, Qissa, Ship of Theseus, Village Rockstars, Balekempa, Miss Lovely, S Durga and Soni, which went on to premiere at international film festivals like Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Busan and Toronto. In the last few years, it has gained more recognition. Films like Moothon, Bombay Rose, Aamis, Eeb Allay Oo, Aise Hee and Nimtoh, which made their presence felt abroad this year, were developed and discovered at various verticals of the Film Bazaar.

From script to post-production, the market provides support to filmmakers in all stages of development. The Screenwriters’ Lab offers mentorship to selected projects and helps shape a script, before providing them a platform to pitch in front of producers. In the Work-in-Progress (WIP) lab, filmmakers are mentored by internationally-renowned producers, writers, editors or film festival heads to fine-tune their ongoing projects. The five films selected this year are Natesh Hegde’s Pedro, Ajitpal Singh’s Swizerland, Irfana Majumdar’s Shankar’s Fairies, Ashish Pant’s The Knot (Uljhan) and Pushpendra Singh’s Laila Aur Satt Geet (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs). The Co-Production Market enables them to seek national and international producers, distributors, sales agents, and financiers.

“I could not have made Bombay Rose without the lab,” says filmmaker Gitanjali Rao, whose debut feature was part of the Screenwriters and WIP labs, and later the Co-Production Market. In 2015, when Rao applied to Film Bazaar, she was sceptical if NFDC would pick an animation project. “Most script labs don’t want to touch animation,” she shares. At the Bazaar, she was looking for an Indian co-producer for her project, which she found in Cinestaan Film Company. “While you are finding your potential partners and producers, on the side you are also developing your project,” she says.

Showcase central

Once close to completion, films are presented in the Viewing Room, which includes a subsection, Film Bazaar Recommends. Here’s where film programmers, distributors, world sales agents and investors clamour to find gems they can take to different festivals. “I attend a number of festivals every year, from Berlinale to Tribeca, and I can miss any of them but not the Film Bazaar,” says Aseem Chhabra, programmer, New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF). He remembers discovering Lipstick Under My Burkha, which opened NYIFF in 2017, along with films like Aamis, Chola and S Durga. “When you are at the Bazaar, word spreads about which films to watch out for,” he shares.

An attendee for the last 10 years, Nasreen Munni Kabir, who curates Indian films for the UK’s Channel 4, says that Film Bazaar brings together projects one would not be able to see outside of that circuit. “Because I programme for television, the small screen format of the Viewing Room works best for me, because not all big-screen films work well on TV, which has a much shorter attention span,” explains Kabir, who remembers being instantly taken in by Fandry when she first watched it at the market.

All submissions to the Viewing Room, irrespective of their quality, are presented to buyers and programmers, along with a catalogue and contact details of the filmmakers. “If you go to Cannes or Berlin, you have to compete with films from over a 100 countries, but here it is a lot more focussed and tailored to what you want,” says Deepti D’Cunha, consultant, WIP and Viewing Room. When she, along with Nina Lath Gupta, launched the Viewing Room nine years ago, there were two main problems plaguing our indie film industry: “Filmmakers didn’t have producers, so they financed films through friends and family, and they needed mentorship.” The Film Bazaar has tried to fill in those gaps, and, in the process, has become an entry point for filmmakers looking to get a foot in the door, while upholding the essence of independent cinema. “The market is more important now than ever before because indie voices are increasingly being co-opted by streaming service,” observes Tamhane. “It is becoming easier to give up on film as art when tempted with big money.”

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