Until a few years ago, there were only a few ways to watch independent films that were neither from Bollywood or Hollywood. You could become a member of a film society. You could wait for the occasional film festival to come to Mumbai. You could become sign up with a lending library and watch your pick of world cinema on DVD in the comfort of your home. Or, you could download the films through file-sharing software like Torrent and watch them on your laptop.
Then in 2007 and 2008, a bunch of companies and characters, diverse in their motivations and revenue models but united in their purpose, set out to radically shake up the scene and make world cinema accessible to larger numbers of the population. Buoyed by the belief that Mumbai was a fast-globalising city that would welcome foreign-language films with the same enthusiasm with which it was taking to international brands, several individuals and businesses jumped on the world cinema bandwagon. They began importing foreign-language films in vast numbers and tried to distribute them in different ways, from releasing the movies in multiplexes to issuing DVDs to setting up film clubs and floating television channels.
Their efforts have been tempered in recent months by harsh market realities. The multiplex experience has been more sobering than salutary. At a time when even Hindi films featuring big-name stars have tanked at the box office, foreign-language films have found the going tough. International films released on DVD haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves, partly because of low awareness among buyers, but also because censorship has robbed these films of their integrity. Television channels have elected to screen populist and audience-friendly fare rather than try and influence audience tastes – their enthusiasm dimmed by the harsh demands of sustaining 24-hour broadcasting in a highly competitive market.
Is the viewing of international films a deeply individual pursuit that is best left to a small group of dedicated cinephiles? Is the widespread distribution of foreign films actually feasible in a Bollywood-obsessed climate? Will existing censorship laws ever allow us to watch bold and often adult movies from more permissive cultures the way their makers mean them to be viewed? We attempt to answer these questions by examining the hopes and efforts of the brave few who have tried to bring world cinema to Mumbai.
By Time Out on January 21 2010 6.29pm