Not Just Bollywood, a season of Indian film, hits our screens in Autumn 2017. Omar Ahmed from the University of Manchester tells us more about India’s vibrant independent film scene.
In 2014, The Lunchbox was the only independent Indian film released anywhere in the UK. An endearing tale of love, loneliness and the ritual of eating, it was an unlikely international success, a “crossover” Indian film that suggested the consolidation of the “Hindie” (Hindi + Indie) new wave. While its global success might have signalled that the Hindie new wave had reached a critical mass, however, this was not to be the case.
Independent Hindi cinema has flourished over the past decade – producing edgy, alternative works such as 2014’s Court, Sunrise and Placebo – yet a cinematic abyss has opened and few such indies have made it onto UK cinema screens. Masaan, the most coveted Indian indie film of 2015, for example, saw no UK release – despite being lauded at the Cannes Film Festival.
The history of independent cinema in India has been an intermittent one, populated by poor funding and distribution and a disinclination by critics to take its directors seriously. The most sustained creative period began with Parallel Cinema in the late 1960s, supported by state funding from the Film Finance Corporation (FFC), and the influence of Parallel is evident today in the work of directors such as Anurag Kashyap – arguably the face of contemporary Hindie cinema who rose to fame with 2003 debut, Paanch – as well as directors such as Dibakar Banerjee, Anand Gandhi and Kiran Rao.
But since the millennium there have been significant changes within the Indian film industry. New production studios – such as UTV Motion Pictures and Pritish Nandy Communications – have been willing to take risks on new filmmakers, genres and subject matter. Financial support has come from new sources, too: Hindi film stars such as Aamir Khan have moved into production, backing unusual film projects such as the darkly satirical Peepli Live (2010). Television producer Ekta Kapoor, meanwhile, recognised the commercial potential of indie cinema and began distributing films like Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (2010).
In 2008, UTV Motion Pictures set up its own indie production arm, UTV Spotboy, and backed audacious films such as Dev D (2009) and Udaan/Flight (2010). Most recently, UTV acted as distributor for director Anand Gandhi’s critically acclaimed debut feature, Ship of Theseus (2012). As the sector grew in size and confidence, new indie filmmakers toyed with populist cinema, blurring the boundaries between independent and mainstream film and leading to intriguing pictures, such as Kashyap’s Bombay Velvet (2015).
Elsewhere, a fresh crop of filmmakers, actors and production companies has sprung up in the regions, particularly South India. New waves have emerged in both Tamil and Malayalam cinema; the New Generation films from Malayalam mix popular conventions with an indie aesthetic, leading to exhilarating work such as Traffic (2011) and Annayum and Rasoolum/Anna and Rasool (2013). Tamil cinema has also witnessed an erudite cycle of postmodern films, including the brilliant Pizza (2012) and Soodhu Kavvuum/Gambling Devours (2013). In many ways, these new waves are both far superior to Hindi independent cinema.
With such energy and change in Indian film, this new season at HOME makes for essential viewing. It plugs audiences into a vibrant independent scene – and plugs an until – now overlooked gap in British film programming.
Omar Ahmed is the curator of Not Just Bollywood which runs at HOME in September 2017.
This project is supported by Film Hub North West Central, proud to be a member of the BFI Film Audience Network.
HOME Digital in association with Virgin Media Business