Onir's new film co-owned by 400 cinema lovers

More than half of 'I Am' budget came from donations

MUMBAI -- Getting funds for his film wasn't a problem for Onir. The director just emailed everyone he knew, inviting them to be a "co-owner" in the unique project.

Word spread and a year later, "I Am" is complete. More than 400 people from 35 countries contributed money -- some as little as $21 (1,000 rupees).

Onir, 40, says he received 8.5 million rupees ($184,000) in donations, more than half the film's budget of 15 million rupees.

"The response has been fabulous," the director said.

"This has given me the kind of freedom I would never have got had I gone to a conventional producer."

The experiment also helped him with casting and crew, with several offering to work without a fee.

"Not only am I getting some talent, the money to make a movie I want to watch but have also created an audience for my kind of cinema." he said.

Even the smallest contributor will get credit as a "co-owner" in the end credits of "I Am" while those who have donated more than 100,000 rupees will be co-producers and get a share of profits.

"If the independent film industry in India has to survive, we have to come up with such initiatives," said Onir.

Bollywood is dominated by family-owned production houses or corporates, most of whom are reluctant to move away from the tried and tested formulas of romance and melodrama. Independent cinema was largely neglected before the rise of multiplexes in Indian cities.

"I Am," starring Juhi Chawla and Rahul Bose among others, is a collection of four short 20-minute films, each focusing on issues of gender, sexuality and conflict.

"I never thought that it might be possible for 'normal' people to be a contributor and co-owner of such a Bollywood film," Valentina Erath, a contributor from Austria wrote on the film's website.

"I Am" is scheduled to open in Indian cinemas in November.