Name: Onir (Anirban Dhar)
Profession: Film director
Movies: My Brother Nikhil, Bas Ek Pal, Sorry Bhai. His latest film, I AM, explores such themes as homosexuality, child sexual abuse, displacement of Hindus in Kashmir and the dilemmas of in-vitro fertilisation.
For me I AM has been a very interesting experience. We made this film at a total cost of Rs. 3 crore. One-third of the budget was raised through Facebook. I put up the update sometime in mid-2009. The idea came to me because people would message me saying what’s the cost and how is the movie coming along, and then they were all scared, ‘oh it is so much!’ So I [thought] let me reduce the amount and get as many people because you are also cultivating an audience.
I said this is the theme of the movie and if you would like to get it made, you can join me and become a co-owner either by volunteering to work for the film or put in Rs. 1,000 or more and become part of the film.
I was stunned when people started asking ‘okay, what is the procedure?’ Within one-and-a-half months we were shooting.
There are four stories in the film, so as and when money came in, I was shooting a story. [Most people] wanted me to keep them informed about when, how and what is happening, which I would anyways do.
Why did people give me money? A couple of reasons: I didn’t realise that there is a sizeable number of people who liked my work and joined in. Secondly, people liked the themes I worked on. Lot of them identified with the subject, so they wanted to support it. Also, there was this one section of people who wanted their name in a film. To be able to pay Rs. 1, 000 and have your name in a film is something! You are constantly updated about every single stage of the film making process, so the entire process gets demystified for you.
Throughout, I did the communication till about one-and-a-half months before the release, where an external agency came in. It had to be personal. That’s because people were coming in because of me and Sanjay [Suri]. There were people who were doubtful if I am the real person, so they said fly down for a cup of coffee and we will give you a lakh. They paid for my flight, I would go have coffee and collect the cheque. The highest amount I got was Rs. 15 lakh and the lowest Rs. 1, 000.
Juhi Chawla started as a co-producer and later became an associate producer. Before she got her role, I called her saying ‘listen, I need your money’. She sent me a cheque. There are people with whom I can do that. [I also called] Purab [Kohli] with whom I have worked in the past and I said ‘listen, I need you to put in money’. Six months later [when] I gave Juhi a role. When she saw the film, she liked it so much that she [wanted] to be part of this. Sanjay and I are the producers. After the film was ready, she came in as a producer. So it was one-third our money, one-third from Juhi and one-third from the public.
I reached out to people because I needed the money. I wanted to make the film and I knew that I will not get it from the traditional sources.
For the first time I did this independently and I realised that the industry as such does not support this kind of film making. It is a really, really big fight. You make the film that you want to, you get people to believe in you, there is a good buzz around the film — and still no studio wants to pick you up.
Why is it that you see film after film being made which is of Rs. 50 crore or Rs. 100 crore compared to a movie which costs just about Rs. 3 crore with decent content and nobody is interested? There has to be a reason because I believe that each film has its own market. There are various ways in which a company can exploit a film. But why are they not? And you realise that actually, our industry was earlier run by producers and financiers, but now it has been taken over by companies and it is ruled by invisible forces. You are told that scripts don’t matter, you get this actor and we will do the film.
Even if you complete the film and come to exhibition, you face two big hurdles: One is the media. Some media will only talk about you if you pay them money. For independent cinema to be able to pay that kind of money is not possible. My whole policy was, I don’t have the money, I will show the film and if you like it, you support it.
This film has got such great reviews. But how do you create hype? I feel there is a problem with the ticketing. The tickets of lower budget films [are] priced at such expensive rates, people will think twice. All these things are a deterrent to independent cinema. They will put you in afternoon shows and tell you that people in Chandigarh don’t want to see your film. They have decided that the people of Chandigarh are not evolved enough to watch my film. I am not saying overnight people will be ‘oh you are so good’ — no. [But if you] don’t even take it there, how will people see it?
Secondly, everybody says that a small film is about word of mouth. How does it happen? People will see the reviews and say ‘okay, next Saturday I am going to go’. Next Saturday, the exhibitors have decided that they didn’t get the opening so it’s pushed to some odd show timing. So where do you get the scope? Now I am aware of [this hurdle] and I need to figure out a way to deal with it because I am not going to stop making films. And I will not start making a House Full. That I know for sure.
(As told to Ashish K. Mishra and Deepak Ajwani)