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Despite minimal funds, non-existent ecosystem, regional indie filmmakers soldier on to tell stories

New Delhi: Gathering funds, making films available to wider audiences while earning enough to keep the home fires burning, independent filmmakers say they go through a lot to tell stories rooted in their culture and tradition.

Sunpat director Rahul Rawat, Kombong Darang of The Songs We Sing, The Drums We Beat fame, co-director of Pataal-Tee Mukund Narayan, and Rizza Alee, known for This is It showcased their films at the second edition of The Himalayan Film Festival (THFF) in Leh, Ladakh recently.

They may come from different states, but these filmmakers believe having an independent voice and vision in filmmaking is not easy.

Rawat, who hails from Uttarakhand, said he ‘spent a few lakhs’ from his own pocket to make Sunpat. The Garhwali short fiction film follows the story of childhood love as it deals with the theme of socioeconomic migration in the mountain state.

“I wonder how we will make a feature film if we don’t recover money? To arrange funds, we started an event where we presented our film with music performances. Tickets were priced starting Rs 500. One of the shows was held at JLN Stadium in Delhi and there was 95 per cent occupancy,” the former advertising professional told PTI.

According to Rawat, in the beginning, independent filmmakers face hurdles as they are unfamiliar with the process of presenting their work to the world.

“We are able to write the story, shoot it, edit it, and get the award also. Now what? Where do you go with the film? Where’s the platform? There are hardly any platforms for regional films. We don’t even know which film festivals to apply for,” the director said, adding he is curating a platform for new filmmakers where they can sell their films.

Darang from Arunachal Pradesh has a similar story.

His documentary short The Songs We Sing, The Drums We Beat narrates how the Nocte tribe in Arunachal Pradesh breaks an age-old tradition in their community to allow women to beat drums at a Logdrum installation ceremony.

The movie, in English and Kaasik (Nocte) languages, is produced by Centre for Endangered Languages, Rajiv Gandhi University in Arunachal Pradesh.

“Fund is the main issue. In our state, there is not much focus on documentary filmmaking. The documentaries that are being produced are all promotional that come from the government departments like the agricultural and educational departments. Last time, I made something for the education department because they gave me funds,” he added.

To support his family, Darang is working with a non-governmental organisation.

“At the end of the day, you have to pay your rent and look after your family,” he said.

Narayan, who directed the Bhotiya language fiction short Pataal-Tee with Santosh Singh, said the film was initially supposed to have a young girl as the protagonist who embarks on a quest of ‘holy water’ after her grandfather falls ill.

Since the crew comprised young men in their 20s, no parent agreed to send their daughter on a film shoot for 20 days in the Tehri Garhwal region of the hill state of Uttarakhand where there was no mobile reception.

“That’s why we had to change the protagonist to a boy,” Narayan added.

After the shooting, Narayan and Singh were happy with the footage but clueless about the editing process. What the directors lacked in terms of money and filmmaking knowledge, they compensated in passion. They used social media for help.

Narayan texted Sanyukta Kaza, editor of Tumbbad, on Instagram. She put the filmmakers in touch with her assistant Pooja Pillai, who edited the film for ‘nothing’, he said. The director wanted Oscar winner Resul Pookutty to help them with the sound design and his persistence bore fruit.

“Resul was busy with his directorial debut (Otta). I kept nagging his manager. I had nothing to lose. Resul eventually decided to do it and he did not ask for money,” he added.

Even after a National Film Award for best cinematography and screening the film at 11 festivals, things haven’t become easy for Narayan.

Pataal-Tee co-director Singh is missing from promotions as he can’t shut his hardware shop, his ‘stable source of income’, to travel.

“Santosh is still not willing to come to festivals as he would have to shut shop. He has a young daughter at home,” Narayan said.

Alee, born in a village in Jammu & Kashmir’s Baramulla, said he always sets ‘bigger goals’ for himself. As someone who faced bullying in childhood, nature was the only respite for the filmmaker.

His love for the mountains and adventure took shape in It is This, an English documentary short chronicling the history of snowboarding in Kashmir. Backed by American tech company GoPro, the movie draws its title from the famous Farsi couplet which translates to “If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here (in Kashmir).”

“You don’t need a big camera to try and tell big stories,” said Alee, who wanted to highlight how privilege is a factor when it comes to an expensive sport like snowboarding.

“The snowboarding kit alone costs Rs 5-6 lakhs. Two years ago, I became an ambassador for GoPro. I told them about this idea. They were really supportive and funded this project,” he added.

Alee is currently working on a feature film exploring the mental health of Kashmir’s Generation Z, a topic he is finding difficult to arrange funds for.

(Published 21 October 2023, 13:03 IST)

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