MEDIUM RARE

“PVR Director’s Rare is an initiative, and PVR Director’s Cut is a property,”
says Shiladitya Bora, who heads PVR Director’s Rare. Bora, 30, seems
like a young man in a hurry. A man who wants to be the next big thing
by finding the next big things. His Facebook profile picture is a still from
Cinema Paradiso– the village boy in a projection room who would go on to
become an acclaimed filmmaker.

Bora is a small town boy from Jorhat, in Assam. An engineer who also
has a post graduate degree in business, he once enrolled in a two year
filmmaking course in the US only to drop out of it because he felt “it would take too long”. Back in India, ventures which he began, before moving on, include a start-up that was to produce short films and a film club for “alternate content” in Ahmedabad. He joined PVR in January 2011 to work on PVR Director’s Cut, a luxury theatre in Vasant Kunj, Delhi that was launched in October 2011. The theatre initially hosted older classics like Godfather along with regular fare. Then Bora watched the indie film I Am Kalam at a showing in Delhi’s Habitat Centre. The high audience turnout there got him thinking. He had heard from a friend about an indie movie called Good Night, Good Morning directed by Sudhish Kamath, a film critic from Chennai. He spoke to Joint Managing Director of PVR Cinemas Sanjeev Bijli about the possibility of screening such a movie to a mainstream audience. Bijli agreed.

They launched PVR Director’s Rare, an initiative to screen offbeat
independent films, in 24 screens spread across 6 cities with a weeklong
showing of Sudhish Kamath’s Good Night, Good Morning. A source
from within the theatre chain says it sold only about 2200 tickets.
The occupancy was 15%. Once bitten, the next Director’s Rare movie,
Rajshree Ojha’s Chaurahen was released for one week across only five
screens in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad and
saw a similar occupancy of around 15%.

The filmmakers first send trailers of their films to Director’s Rare, with
a synopsis and a mention of awards the film has won or festivals it has
been to, if any. Then Bora goes through these films, sometimes entailing
the help of the PVR programming head Prakhar Joshi. The films they pick are
usually shown to Sanjeev Bijli for approval.

“We decide on the number of screens after consulting the filmmaker,”
says Bora. “It depends on what kind of popular appeal the film is likely to
have, which parts of the country the film is likely to receive an audience
in and whether the producer is willing to pay for that many screenings.”
Let’s look at how much the producer has to pay to get an indie screened.
Every film showing costs the director approximately Rs 1100 (with taxes)
as Virtual Print Fee paid to Scrabble Entertainment Ltd., a Mumbai based
digital cinema system supplier that has a tie-up with PVR, for showing
the film. Bora says Scrabble Entertainment Ltd. charges mainstream
releases “around twice this amount”. PVR doesn’t charge anything but
half the ticket sales, after tax is paid, for the first week (in the second week it charges 60% of ticket sales, and so on). This being the case, it is unlikely
that a producer will refuse to screen a film at a platform like PVR for Rs
1100 per show, after having spent many times this amount to make and
release it.

The initiative has released nine more films since Chaurahen in the
following order: Ashvin Kumar’s Forest, Sandeep Mohan’s Love Wrinkle
Free, Karan Gour’s Kshay, Faiza Ahmed Khan’s Supermen Of Malegaon,
Srinivas Sunderrajan’s The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project, Amir
Bashir’s Harud, Hemant Gaba’s Shuttlecock Boys; Gurvinder Singh’s
Anhey Ghodey Da Daan and Prashant Nair’s Delhi In A Day. These make
up 11 releases in 8 months. In the coming months Director’s Rare will be
releasing possibly only one Indian indie a month.

The other releases will comprise off-beat foreign cinema, short-films (four
or five films shown together) and documentaries. “But documentaries
and short films are also indie films,” says Bora, when I mention that the
number of Indian independent films they’re hosting will go down.

He points out that Supermen Of Malegaon, a documentary on Malegaon’s no-budget filmmakers, was one of the biggest earners of Director’s Rare. This doesn’t really count for much, as the truth is that of all the films hosted only Kshay has made up its money, that too, after earning prize money of 25000 USD (Almost Rs 14 lakh) for winning Best
Film at the Shanghai International Film Festival. Love Wrinkle Free was
another of the “big earners”. The rest of the films didn’t fare even as
well. The biggest occupancy you hear of is 45%. Some of the films have
been shown on very few screens (The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project
was shown only on two screens daily, for a week, though Sunderrajan
was offered a morning slot for another week, which he declined). This
coupled with the timing of the shows (many films have been given one
screening a day in the evening at a time when office-goers might miss
the movie) is cause for disillusionment among the filmmakers. If a film is
less than eighty minutes long, for instance, it is squeezed between two
blockbusters. Hardly a cause for celebration for the indie.

Also, there’s been uproar about the fact that these low-budget films are
often being screened only at PVR’s Luxury theatre at Vasant Kunj for their
Delhi shows, which charges a minimum of Rs 850 per ticket. This was
the only theatre which screened The Untitled Kartik Krishnan Project
and viewers had to pay Rs 850 to watch a film made for Rs 45,000.
Predictably, each show had an audience of only a handful of people.

Bora has heard this criticism once too often. “There are some indie films
we’ve had to screen just there because we didn’t have any other theaters
free,” he says. “But people should understand that only a handful of
people in such a theatre can make them more money than a houseful
somewhere else – 12 tickets sold at PVR Director’s Cut will make you
as much money as a house full show at PVR Juhu.” Also he cites an
exception: Delhi In A Day which had a 64% occupancy at PVR Director’s
Cut.

Bora also flags another crucial issue- the necessity for tax breaks for
initiatives like PVR Director’s Rare to be successful. If a PVR ticket costs Rs
100 in Mumbai, for instance, a whopping 31% on the gross amount (40%
on the net price) has to be paid to the state as entertainment tax. This
leaves only Rs 69 to be divided equally between the producer and the
theatre.

However both Bora and some filmmakers agree, that these screenings,
while not remunerative in themselves, give indie films a great platform –
as with a continuing film festival. The media writes about them. There is
word of mouth. Bora believes “the audience for independent films is still
to grow”. Till they do PVR will not risk more screens on them. It is looking
instead for other ways of monetizing this initiative. It has entered into a
partnership for the satellite rights of a lot of these films for instance. Bora
says this is only the beginning and they will be exploring other options
too. “Pehle kuch nahin hota tha (Earlier nothing would happen),” is what
he says indie filmmakers are telling him. “Ab kuch ho raha hai (Now
something’s happening).”

Meanwhile Bora is getting ready to make his own indie film soon. “I don’t
want to talk about it till it goes on the floor,” he says.

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Keeping Up With The Indie Joneses

Article
September 2012
By Rishi Majumder

Rishi Majumder is Senior Editor at The Big Indian Picture.