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Crowd funding’s poster boy

Filmmaker Pawan Kumar, who spearheaded crowd funding in the Kannada film industry with his indie Lucia , talks about new-age filmmaking on the eve of his next film U-Turn' s release

Pawan Kumar might as well write a book called My Experiments With Crowdfunding . The poster boy for crowd funding, who created hope for how new-age Kannada cinema could be made, is on the cusp of a new release. His new film U-Turn, which was warmly received at its world premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival on May 8, is now slated for an all-India release on May 20.

Ever since the 34-year-old Kannada film writer-director scored big on the crowd funding platform with Lucia , expectations are riding on his young shoulders. Kumar’s U-Turn , though, is not strictly crowdfunded, and yet it is. After learning from his first crowdfunding experience, Kumar sourced his funds differently this time around, and nearly 65 shareholders came together to create Pawan Kumar Studios, a Rs 2-crore company. Drishyam Films, which has produced films like Ankhon Dekhi and Masaan, steps into distribution with the countrywide release of U-Turn with English subtitles later this month.

Three years ago, Pawan Kumar sought crowdfunding for a film called Lucia after conservative producers were reluctant to fund him on his creative terms. By then, Kumar, who had been active on Mumbai and Bengaluru’s theatre circuits, had written two successful films — Manasaare and Pancharangi — and made a commercially successful directorial debut with Lifeu Ishtene .

Everyone sat up and paid attention when Kumar raised an unexpected Rs 50 lakh in 27 days for Lucia, without revealing what the film would be like. Lucia , a layered narrative about a movie star and his fantastical drug-induced dreams, went on to win the audience awards at the London Indian Film Festival, where it premiered.

Riding on Lucia ’s phenomenal success and popularity, Kumar believed his next film C10H14N2 (also referred to as Nicotine ) would be easier to fund. However, there weren’t many enthusiastic takers. “With Nicotine , [which is] an anti-smoking film, though people felt it was a film to watch, they didn’t want to fund me anymore. Crowd funding works on a very underdog concept, like in Charlie Chaplin films when the crowd believes he is one among them, but an underdog. Which is what I was [while] making Lucia . They felt this guy needs to be funded because he’s living the dream we couldn’t. After Lucia , I became way too popular and suddenly I’m not the underdog who needs to be funded. My success worked against Nicotine . Now they feel ‘why should we fund and he make money?’” he laughs.

While Nicotine ’s crowd funding venture didn’t take off, it didn’t stop the young director from talking about it as he felt it needed to be made an example of. “Because I’d become this poster boy for crowd funding and people thought that I knew all the answers, I felt this failure would be the best way to tell someone ‘Look, crowd funding happens only when the crowd is in sync with what you're doing’. The crowd might come back later. You never know. The crowd is a very dynamic entity. It’s really to do with the crowd and their money. It’s nothing to do with the guy who’s pitching his project,” he said.

And therein, he says, lies the tragedy of crowd funding — people are yet to understand how the business of filmmaking works. “There’s so much you can’t really explain to a layman. The media and Wikipedia claim Lucia made Rs 6 crore, but I didn’t see six crore. You enter these spaces where after a point, trust is an issue for no reason. That was one of the greatest lessons.” Kumar also believes the film industry creates this illusive image that everything is going big. But in reality, it is like any other business with smaller profits. “The numbers reflected are huge. When you say a film had a Rs 100-crore opening, what the producer gets is Rs 30 crore.”

In another experimental move, Kumar had launched Home Talkies, a portal to show Kannada films online on a pay-per-view basis which turned out to be before its time in the Kannada film industry and had to be phased out. The site only hosts Lucia at the moment.

“A filmmaker, when he ventures into delivery, it’s so massive, you get lost. The idea of making films is to write something and I was getting so bogged down by the ups and downs of distribution that I stopped doing what I liked doing,” he says.

He spent four months after Lucia ’s release just sorting things, sending out promised DVDs and Bluerays. “I am surprised that after Lucia I still have enthusiasm to do all this management work.” he laughs. But Kumar is all earnestness: “It’s important because you are making a product and selling it, and if you look at it as any business, that's how it works. It's important for a filmmaker to think of selling. Otherwise I’ve seen great filmmakers who, film after film, struggle for funds. If you put your brain into selling, you could be independent.”

The young filmmaker is also a firm believer in leveraging the tech space. “A filmmaker can build his own audience through media like Facebook and Twitter, have his one-lakh audience willing to pay 100 bucks for a download and he’s sorted. After that he can put up the torrents himself. That way, he’s got funding to make his next film. It’s important to go in this direction, and I’m going there,” he says.

The writer is a freelance journalist

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 12:37:11 PM |

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