‘The community of independent filmmakers in India is essentially crabs in a basket’

A still from The Lunchbox

I’m deleting my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I don’t want to give more interviews; I’m going into hibernation. I have lost faith in everything because of the Film Federation of India’s decision to send The Good Road to the Oscars, not because it is a bad film — I’ve not seen it; it may be a good film — but because I have realised that the community of independent filmmakers in India is essentially crabs in a basket; they cannot bear to see a film or a filmmaker do well.

Let me say this: if there was a clear policy stating that only National Award-winning films should be sent to the Oscars, I would not complain. But the problem here is that it was left to a vote, and essentially both The Lunchbox and Ship of Theseus, which have received worldwide acclaim from audiences, did not make it to this list because people were voting against us. I do not show my films at the International Film Festival of India, I show them at smaller festivals like Mumbai Film Festival because that’s the audience I want to reach. As a result, I can show you a number of allegations made about me and my team, where people have accused us of currying favour abroad, of having a “setting” with film festival juries across the globe.

These are the same wannabe filmmakers who send us mediocre scripts and ask us to produce their projects, who are routinely rejected because they refuse to think out of the box. How do you think we managed to get Sony or Karan Johar to back The Lunchbox? It’s because, to bring down the cost of production, we do not take a fee. We invest in these films ourselves because we want them to be distributed widely. Frankly, we sell the product for almost nothing. Guneet Monga (co-producer) sold her house to raise money for the film. It’s a risky strategy, but we do it because we believe in good cinema, not just market-driven products. We barely manage to recover costs with multiplex audiences, but we still push our films onto the festival circuit hoping that they will be appreciated for their universal form and content.

I don’t lobby; I never will. I believe in letting my work speak for itself. That has not changed. But this is a moment of defeat for me, and for independent cinema, because, for once, our chances were great. We could have sent a beautiful film, one that has captivated audiences and that truly deserved to win. Instead, we have let the opportunity go. I want a break to reflect right now, and then do the only thing that I have ever learnt to do right — make more cinema.

(As told to Nishita Jha)


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