IFFC – A collective approach to a cinema of our own  – Written by AMSHAN KUMAR

Ever since the people began absorbing digital film technology, the making of films has become affordable to everyone. It is in this context a festival aimed to promote Independent films acquires a importance.  IFFC, acronym for Independent Film Festival of Chennai, conducted its one day festival on 4th February in Chennai on three locations. It is arguably the first Independent film Festival conducted in Chennai. It has many other `firsts` too, to talk of. For the first time making films with a minimum budget,writing screenplays especially to suit that budget,censorship and strategies to market them  were taken up as topics for lectures and panel discussions.

Independent Cinema by definition is one that allows maximum creative liberty in film making, setting aside the commercial compulsions. Every time a film maker wanted to weave an offbeat film ,the industry  used to raise the bogey of box office. The films were labeled non-saleable and, worse, incomprehensible.  IFFC talk sessions deliberated on these issues.  Director Manikandan in the inaugural lecture `How to look at films?` urged the -would be- film directors not to cast an eager eye to detect pitfalls in a film with the view to criticize it. They should begin an inward journey whenever they study a film. What they would have done in those instances? They should note the kind of lasting impression a film gave to them  Internationally acclaimed Sinhalese film maker Prasanna Vithanage delivered a lecture on Screenplay writing for Independent film making. He dwelt on the many layers of story telling, the distinction between plot and story.  He advised the film makers to give the films a regional flavor. There were two panel discussions. I moderated on the topic of Marketing of Independent Tamil Cinema. Vijay Jayapal said he opted out of the theater distribution since he thought it would not be favourable to his film, `Revelations`. Hence he successfully negotiated with  an online platform.  Nithilan was not  sure if his film `Kurangu Bommai` belonged to Independent film category since he aimed at a regular audience. The same sentiment was echoed by Arun Prabhu Prushothaman maker of `Aruvi`, a blockbuster of sorts among recent releases. He was quite modest when he said he just wanted to make a film of his choice without any forethought of its category. Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan , director of `Lens` projected the travails undergone by Indie film makers like himself. It was hard for him even to show his film to a distributor, leave alone disposing it in the market.

Producer S.R.Prabhu who was responsible for the successful release of Aruvi and Joker,  said,  in the present scenario,  even mainstream films found it hard to get theaters. He assured that as Treasurer of Tamil Film Producers Council, his organization would take a favourable decision towards release of small films. After the session I could attend only  the concluding part of a panel discussion conducted by Leena Manimekalai. It was on the power exercised by Censors, the issue of LGBTQ and the role of women in Cinema.  Film makers Ananya Kasaravalli, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan and Lokesh Kumar were the panelists.  All of them were unison in their rejection of censorship codes that stood between the artist and the audience

There were film screenings. Among them six features. Santosh Babusenan and Satish Babusenan`s The Painted House,  Visakesa Chandrasekar` Frangipani`  Paban Kumar Haobam`s Lady of the Lake, Ananya Kasaravalli`s Harikathak Prasanga, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan`s Oraalppokkam and Arun Kartick`s Sivapuranam. Kamal Swaroop`s Rangabhoomi` and Leena Manimekalai`s  `Is it too much to ask?` were the documentaries. 

The evening was devoted to the formal inauguration of the film festival.  Many film personalities including P.C.Sreeram and Mysskin joined others in felicitations. Notable event of the evening was the awards presentation to those who have contributed to cinema. Professor S.Albert for the pioneering role he played in the film society movement in Tamil Nadu. He was the secretary of Cine Forum, Trichy, the second film society established in Tamil Nadu. Nizhal Thirunavukarasu was another notable awardee for conducting film workshops in rural areas and for running  his hardcore film magazine `Nizhal`.  A book on digital cinema was also released in the function. Arun, the founder of the Independent  Film Festival of Chennai can take justifiable pride in organizing the festival within a short span of time. From a modest beginning in 2008 as the oraganiser of monthly meetings for short film screenings and discussions he has grown into a potent force of alternative cinema endeavours in Tamil Nadu. He has through his Tamizh Studio instituted Life Time Achievement Award that had been conferred among others on P.K.Nair and Anand Patwardhan. He runs a film training course called `Padimai` to a group of students and runs `Pure Cinema` an exclusive film book shop . It is hard to catalogue all his activities but it is safe to say that all of them are centered around the growth of Independent cinema. He announced that from next year onwards the festival would have more number of days with more programmes and the best film would be given a cash award. He released the award medal on the occasion with a dove on the black background.  He asserted with his characteristic pride that he wouldn’t seek funding from the Government and Corporate bodies. Should he still stick on to such a decision when he has decided to enlarge the scope and size of the festival? Perhaps he can take a cue from MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival which with huge sponsor backing runs the show on its own terms. Only films chosen from among the best are shown there year after year.

The festival was a resounding success by all counts. Young people were in great numbers and they participated in all the programmes with equal enthusiasm. Film Societies in the Seventies and eighties too attracted such big crowds but over time the spirit vanished. It can be said a similar fate would not happen now since the participants want not only to appreciate the medium but to explore it in their personal capacity. Kamal Swaroop, the veteran Indie film maker said the screening in Mumbai took place in big halls during the MIFF,from where he just returned,  but the capacity of the audience was thin. Here, as a contrast, the hall was small but excessively packed with audience. At the end of all festivities the question with which it started still remained as a puzzle. How to market the indie films?  Prasanna Vithanage suggested that we kickstart an app, preferably called `Karuppu` since it is the favoured color of IFCC , and stream the indie films on demand. That I am sure should be the next priority of Arun and his Pure Cinema team.

A quick note on Independent Tamil Cinema.

 Tamil Cinema since its beginnings was never independent. The pioneer R. Nataraja Mudaliar who made the first Tamil film Keechaka Vadham ( 1917) had his studio in Millers Road in Chennai. Studios had the monopoly in the production of films. Individual producers followed their pattern in production and distribution. It was Nemai Ghosh who charted the path for Independent Cinema  when he produced and directed `Pathai Theriyuthu Paar` (1960) with the active assistance of his cronies. It was truly a collaborative exercise previously unknown to Tamil industry. Then came`  Unnai Pol Oruvan`( 1965) directed by Jayakanthan. He followed it with another film `Yarukkaka Azhuthan`. The maverick film maker from Kerala,  John Abraham signed off after his foray into Tamil Cinema with his controversial film Akrakarathil Kazuthai  (1977).  Jayabarathi`s Kudisai (1979)  and Nanba Nanba (2002) were also independently financed low budgeted films in  offbeat style.  All of them needless to say suffered due to unsupport from traditional distribution practices.  Aval Appadithan (1978) by Rudraiya in spite of its ensemble star cast was a parallel venture. Pasi (1979) by Durai was  successful on its release. Balu Mahendra`s ` Veedu (1988) and Sandhya Ragam ( 1989-produced by Doordarshan)  had relatively a better acceptance. B.Lenin`s Ooruukku Nooru Paer (2001), Amshan Kumar`s  Oruthi (2003) ,Priyadarshan`s Kanchivaram (2008) , and Leena Manimekalai`s Sengadal ( 2011) are the other independent films that followed.

Independent  Films were also state financed. Thagam (1972) by Babu Nandhan Code, Thikkatra Parvati  (1974) by Singitham Srinivasa Rao  and Sooravali ( 1981 ) by  Nemai Ghosh  were financed by FFC which after  rechristening as NFDC fully produced Marupakkam, Karuvelam Pookkal, Sasanam,  Jameela and a few more. They were given only token release.  There were accusations despite the resources they commanded the state owned nodal corporate institution were reluctant to let off full steam in distribution of their own ventures.  Many of the Independent films over the years were recognized for their artistic merits with National and State Awards.

Coinciding with the arrival of digital technology in cinema the viewers` preferences and expectations of Tamil cinema have undergone perceptible changes. Films that once thrived on a compulsory diet of four to six songs , three stunts and stars in the cast are now focusing on specific genres like thrillers horror and social dramas. Some of them have completely done away with songs and stunts. Every second film has newcomers in the cast and they are independently produced. It must  also be said that their content and presentation are not always as those expected of independent films. – AMSHAN KUMAR

 

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