Are YouTube, Netflix and the likes an easy way out for Indian Independent Cinema?

05 . Jun . 2017
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Censor Board has been the Gabbar in the block for a while now and it is a continuous fight for film-makers with unorthodox content to save their film’s from its ’Sholay’.

With the recent hullabaloo on Lipstick Under My Burkha, once again the question has risen, will the makers release the film digitally to avoid unwanted Censor-ship.

We are yet to find out. Interestingly, a good number of films have taken this route and resealed their features digitally. Some to avoid censorship, and some as an experiment with the new model of film release and distribution. The perks start with limited to no censorship and include a worldwide release following much lesser investment and greater creative freedom. These are a few films that have had digital releases across platforms like YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Hola Venky (2014)

Sandeep Mohan, the director of Love, Wrinkle-free made an experimental indie comedy dodging mainstream distribution and opting for a worldwide pay-per-view online release.

The film named Hola Venky was completed in a shoe-string budget, shot guerrilla across San Francisco and Mumbai with a three-member crew. The film is bold in splitting cultures and dodging dilemmas.

The story about a 30-year old divorced techie called Venky who is about to marry Damini but postpones his wedding for a leadership program in the US and his life becomes a crazy, twisted Kaleidoscope.

The duration of the film is of 88 minutes and it has been shot for 24 days only.

Sandeep had gone through a whirlwind with the Censor Board with his previous feature. This time in order to avoid the hassle Sandeep took Hola Venky through the “travelling cinema” route. He carried a projector, his film on Blue Ray, and a screen, to people’s doorstep and watched the film with them encouraging discussion and criticism. Sandeep is convinced that his audience is occupying seats online so this time he made his film available on Amazon Prime and Vimeo.

Gandu(2014)

It is no surprise that Black and White “Rap Musical” Gandu by Qaushiq Mukherjee wasn’t considered for a theatrical release despite interesting reviews from critics and festivals world over. The Bengali film featuring Anubrata Basu, Joyraj, Kamalika Banerjee, and Rii but of course caught the attention of vigilantes because of its explicit sex scenes. Gandu moreover, hasn’t yet been send for filtering by the Censor Board. The director, Q says that it is still the grey area, which keeps evolving and unless there are complaints, a film can release online without a censor certificate he feels.

Shot by a Canon EOS 7D in Kolkata with a crew of eight members and limited budget, Q is said to have used ‘boal techniques’ for the nude scenes filtered by numerous workshops.

Lonely, bald and prone to drug rapper Khusru aka Gandu’s existential crisis is the marrow of the film. Gandu’s mother sleeps with Das Babu for money and her son steals from the client’s wallet regularly. With a hint of closet homosexuality Gandu and Ricksha go on a crack binge once Gandu wins Bhutan State Lottery. Later Gandu’s life marches into success with his surreal and bold exploration of sex with an unnamed hooker and finally conceiving a rap for ADF (Asian Dub Foundation).

Artsploitation, the production house under which Gandu was made has made the film available on Vimeo via video on demand.

Maroon(2016)

Independent film-maker Pulkit and Producer Jyotsna Nath, decided to go digital with the release of their psychological thriller Maroon. Carving a route for indie filmmakers, Pulkit-Jyotsana have opted for a a sustainable model of distribution via the global content platform Netflix.

The film will be available worldwide with subtitles in 21 languages. It is also available on iTunes, globally. The director of the film, Pulkit wanted to explore through Maroon, what the mind goes through after committing a crime.

When asked about the decision to release Maroon via Digital Platforms Pulkit said that with audiences now aggressively changing their viewing behaviour and exploring digital options, he is extremely excited to be among one of the early adopters of releasing a new film digitally. The sort of audiences he hopes will see his film are the ones that online binge watching great content, across the world. What could be better than reaching them directly remarks Pulkit.

The filmmaker has always been intrigued by dark stories and treatment. In Maroon, the writer and director etched out the story of insomniac associate professor of literature Saurabh Sharma portrayed by Manav Kaul, who is marooned into desolation abandoned by his wife Sakshi.

Independent thus, the film with a running time of 94 minutes is entirely shot in a bungalow in just fifteen days with a limited budget and crew.

Gulabi Aaina (2003)

Gulabi Aaina aka The Pink Mirror, India’s first film on drag queens, has made it to a worldwide online release on Netflix after an incessant struggle spanning 14 years. Screened at over 70 International Film Festivals, and bagging honours time and again the film went through a fight of its own with CBFC. The Censor Board had denied the much acclaimed award winning film by Sridhar Rangayan clearance thrice but now much to the joy of the filmmaker, it is available uncensored for its audience.

Gay rights activist and the director of the film Rangayan who completed the film in 2002 shares that for the film to be made, the odds were against them. However, it was a momentous occasion where the film was opening up to the world on one of the best platforms. This is where the second journey of the film would start and Rangayan is very curious to see the path it carves for itself.

Gulabi Aaina is about two Indian drag queens, engrossed in a battle, trying to woo a handsome hunk. From Bollywood songs to dance and drama, the film uses every tool creatively to explore veiled issues related to the Indian gay community, including the ever-present threat of HIV/AIDS.

The film stars (late) Edwin Fernandes and Ramesh Menon as the drag queens Shabbo and Bibbo. Ramesh who faced the camera for the first time was saddened as the Censor did not pass the film.

Rishi Raj who plays the character of Mandy said that he is very happy that all those who missed the movie can watch it on Netflix now. He was surprised when friends from India and abroad had called to say that they saw the movie after so many years!.

Rishi, who is now a stylist and fashion choreographer says, He feels that the film was made with the intent of reaching out to all. So he is glad that it is available on Netflix and other online movie platforms.

The film has become resource material on queer Asian cinema and gender studies in University libraries worldwide.

Kaafirron Ki Namaaz (2013)

Bhargav Saikia, a young producer after battling censor and exhibition issues with his film Kaafiron Ka Namaaz and not ready to conform took a brave and far-reaching step to release the film on YouTube without any cut or charging anything from his audience.

Director Ram Ramesh Sharma and Bhargav took a chance and what led next was a huge internet hit crossing 4 lakh fifty thousand views and increasing exponentially.

Though the idea looked revolutionary, it has its insight in place considering the censorship that the film would have to go through otherwise.

To begin with, the title of the film, Kaafiron Ki Namaaz was notoriously grabbing all the attention, right and wrong. With sequences related with Indian military operations in Kashmir comes the second controversy surrounding the film. The dialogues were largely bold and provided no relief to the already disturbed Censor. Much alike a play, with a Runtime of largely verbose 149 minutes, the thriller meanders through an interview between a court-martialed army man (Alok Chaturvedi) and an author (Chandrahaas Tiwari) which ticks the wrong switches to light up a fire drowning both lives in jeopardy.

These films are all brilliant examples of diversity in the nature of films and its content and the capability of the digital medium to reach them to its audience sans censorship or other woes. Do make time and watch them in appreciation of their effort and struggles as well as the newness they have to offer.