India's Indie Scene Gets Boost from NFDC Film Bazaar

The Ship of Theseus - Indian indie film 2011
Ridhi Sidhi Productions

The government-run National Film Development Corp.'s annual Film Bazaar in Goa is evolving into an essential platform for India's indie scene.

GOA – Don't call it the Indian nouvelle vague yet but the indie scene here is undergoing a much-needed evolution to carve a space in a film culture dominated by formulaic fare.

A large part is being played by the state-run National Film Development Corp. (NFDC) and its annual Film Bazaar event in Goa (launched in 2007) held alongside the International Film Festival of India.

Incorporating a screenwriters' lab, co-production sessions and evaluating work-in-progress projects, this year's Film Bazaar (which ran from Nov. 24-27) attracted about 470 delegates, compared to 400 last year, with partners including Binger Filmlab (Netherlands), Primehouse (Germany) and Asian Film Market (Busan), among others.

“While becoming an important platform for independent cinema, Film Bazaar is also reflecting a market atmosphere attracting Indian and international participants,” said NFDC MD Nina Lath Gupta who was appointed in 2006 and reinvigorated the 36-year-old institution which seemed to be languishing after its Seventies heydays when it promoted upcoming film-makers who created a parallel cinema genre. NFDC is currently prepping its own slate with about 20 projects in 11 languages including coproductions such as the much-awaited Shanghai -- an adaptation of Greek author Vassilis Vassilikos' acclaimed novel Z -- from indie champion director Dibankar Banerjee.

When Asian arthouse specialists Europe/Hong Kong-based Fortissimo Films picked up worldwide rights outside South Asia for The Ship of Theseus -- the feature debut by playwright Anand Gandhi -- the deal indicated the Bazaar's potential in introducing new Indian talent to a wider market. (Fortissimo began flirting with Indian indies starting with 2009's Road, Movie and this year's Michael.)

In his brief visit to the Bazaar, Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) saw a first cut of Theseus and told THR that this was “a very significant film out of India.” Theseus explores the moral dilemmas faced by three disparate individuals who are unknowingly connected. Fortissimo – which will act as a co-producer – was introduced to the project at last year's Bazaar and shepherded it to production with the film now in post, eyeing a 2012 festival and theatrical run.

Berlin-based film coproduction consultancy Primehouse GmbH launched Indo-European coproduction workshop Primexchange (funded 70 percent by the European Union's Media Mundus) in association with NFDC at last year's event. “The fact that there were 40 applications for the 10 final slots in this year's program shows there is growing demand for this kind of interaction which is why next year we plan to have 25 slots (up from eight in 2010),” said Primehouse CEO Frank Stehling. While not offering any direct financing, Primexchange mentors projects with industry experts while facilitating connections with potential partners. Last year's event yielded edgy youth drama Shaitaan (distributed by Viacom18 Motion Pictures) and arthouse fare Nobel Chor (which this year sold its Australia and New Zealand rights to Sydney-based 7Seas Films).

One of the projects this year, Shankar Shambu, connected with U.K.-based producer and Primexchange mentor Chris Auty (credits include My Summer of Love, Crash) who will serve as executive producer for the project about two low-caste childhood friends, co-directed by Akshat Kapil and Debashish Ghosh. “In addition to the film's great concept, I was really impressed by the detailed and high quality presentation by the producers (Delhi-based Oasis Motion Pictures),” said Auty.

While a breakthrough success, especially globally, for an Indian indie is still awaited, observers are optimistic that it will happen soon. “I have been visiting India for over a decade and I can say that in recent years the quality of independent cinema is improving,” said Festival de Cannes Director of the Film Department and Deputy to the General Delegate, Christian Jeune.