Sudipta Dey
A certain group of filmmakers don’t rely on producers and make films on their own, keeping alive the decades old genre of underground filmmaking. With the advent of technology and availability of equipment, film enthusiasts are taking it in their stride to make films, mostly short ones, on issues they want to address and on their own terms.
Q’s documentary film Love In India released in Delhi on September 16, after creating enough fervour over the internet when the trailer was out. Q’s other independent project, Gandu is one of those ‘Indie’ films which are extensively talked about in cyber space. However, they are never released in mainstream theatres — a plight shared by all independent films.
In the late 1950s, the term ‘underground film’ began to be used to describe early independent filmmakers working first in San Francisco, California and New York and soon in other cities around the world as well, including the London and Ubu Films in Sydney. The movement, churned out what most called experimental films by non-conformist filmmakers. By the late 1960s, the movement was represented by mature filmmakers, who began to distance themselves from the countercultural, psychedelic connotations of the word, preferring terms like avant-garde or experimental to describe their work.
Independent films are those that are produced mostly outside the mainstream film industry, often underground. The term also refers to art house films, but now even art films are marketed side by side with commercial flicks. In addition to being produced by independent production companies, most filmmakers procure the finances from different sources. They also take the onus of distributing the film, mostly on the internet.
It is difficult to trace the history of independent filmmaking. The Indian New Wave, commonly known as art cinema or parellel cinema, is an alternative to the mainstream commercial cinema, with a keen eye on the socio-political climate of the era. This movement is distinct from mainstream Bollywood cinema and began around the same time as the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave. The movement was initially led by Bengali cinema, which has produced internationally acclaimed filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Ritwick Ghatak and gained prominence in the other film industries across the country.
In 1969, the Film Finance Corporation, now renamed National Film Deve­lopment Corpoartion, financed most independent filmmakers of India. But in Bengal, it can be traced back to 1982, when Saumen Guha, started his workshop on Little Filmmaking, in association with the Jadavpur University Film Society (JUFS) and People’s Film Workshop (PFW). Here he propagated the idea of making films on 8 mm gauge. The Super 8, as it was popularly called picked up momentum, with many adopting this technology to make film addressing social and economic issues. One such film enthusiast was Mainak Biswas. Now a noted film critic and also a lecturer at the Jadavpur University, Biswas credits the beginning of the independent film movements back to 1950s when Ritwick Ghatak made his first film Nagarik.
“Nagarik was an independent project, which was supposed to release in 1952 but didn’t. It was much later, that the negatives were revived and fresh prints were made and released sometime in 1976. Similarly, in 1950 Nemai Ghosh’s Chinnamul based on the Partition, too didn’t release formally. But these are considered landmark films in the history of Bengali film history,” says Biswas, adding, “There are many who make films independently. Unfortunately, since they never get a formal release there are no documentations of such projects.” Biswas, points out that Super 8 was a success because the cost was low. But post 1983-84, VHS tapes came into India and anyone who was interested, could make a film with the handycam. “Now, it is even easier to make films. Every second person has a digital camera,” says Biswas, adding, “There are many students from Jadavpur University, who have gone on to make independent films and release them too, in DVD formats and over the internet too.”
Digital filmmaking has given rise to another genre of filmmaking, no-budget films. Anamitra Roy, is one such filmmaker who has been one of the driving forces in the no-budget filmmaking scenario of Kolkata. He is one of the founder members of the no-budget Indie filmmakers’ collaborative titled Little Fish Eat Big Fish, which has recently released a DVD compilation of five short independent film. His only film available is Jean-Luc Godard Had No Script. “It is practically impossible to make a film in the no-budget category. But the idea is to transfer the cost, in the sense that we have volunteers, who are ready to work, plus its digital… the ultimate cost is the cost of living and may be Rs 90, which is the price of the battery for the camera,” says Anamitra.
Little Fish Eat Big Fish’s first successful venture, 5 No Budget Films, was sold at the Book Fair 2010, from the Little Magazine stalls, where they sold nearly 130 copies. The compilation has also been released on the internet, on sites like zinemaya.com and filmmaker.pro, and also on Youtube.
“The idea is not to make profit. We never make films keeping in mind how much money we are going to make or how much money we are going to spend. We have sold each copy of the DVD for Rs 100. To make a profit from webportals, it will take us another two to three years,” says Anamitra, who is yet to recover the production cost of Rs 15,000.
Sustenance is definitely not what independent films promise, so what is the purpose of the movement? Biswas says, “Expression.” Arupratan Ghosh, a poet and one of the filmmakers of the 5 No Budget Films agrees. “We address issues we want to talk about, propagate an idea, among friends and family and those who are interested. Moreover, one does not have to work on anyone else’s terms and conditions.”

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