Chasing an audience...

Cameraman Narayanan Venkataraman watching
a projection in Mumbai
It was clear during the very conception of the film 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts) that it would be difficult to find a conventional release for it. Despite this, the small crew that the film had, did get enrolled into the making of this film. They found it worth giving their time and effort for the film and I am thankful for them. 

We shot the film in 2013, had a rough cut in 2013 itself. I then met a producer who had once asked me to come to him, if I had an edit in hand. It would be easier to for him to 'pick' the film because half the work was already done. He met me, heard me patiently and told me that he would be needing a minimum of 25 lakhs of rupees to be put into publicity and marketing for any film to have a conventional release, however limited it maybe.

'If I had that kind of money, I would put it into real estate', he added. Very logical. He already had two such small films that he was involved with, as a co-producer - either he had supplied his equipments to the film making team or let them use his post production facilities.

Small films act as fillers between two big films in multiplexes. Many times they are given non-viable slots for exhibition and sometimes I wonder if even the electricity cost of the exhibitor of that particular screening would be covered at all, with such small films. 

It sounded irrational for me to follow that path.

So, I participated in the market section of the Mumbai Film Festival conducted by The Mumbai Academy of Motion Pictures (MAMI) in 2013 where I had about twenty meetings with prospective buyers, distributors etc..  The game was to chase these people during the three to four days the event was held and pitch the film in five-ten minutes, to each of them. Some people did take a liking to the project, asked me to follow up and I when followed up, emails were not replied.

The  'work-in-progress' lab at the International Film Festival in Goa did not select this film. The few existing international post-production grants followed suit; the nerves started getting into me. 

I had shown this film to a few friends, who were fired up after watching the film. Some said, it was too verbal, but it portrayed the reality of the film industry, the subject matter of the film. Others said, it was a bit too long. Some liked one actor's performance, while some others preferred the other actor. Some liked the unsettling structure that was employed in the film, some asked me, 'why?'.

But almost all of them had implied that the film was compelling.

Taking this interactive process to the next level, I showed the rough cut of the film to the second year direction students at the Film and TV Institute of India, thanks to Sandeep Chaterjee, Head of the Department of Direction at the Institute; and to the Manipal School of Communication students who were conducting a Film Festival under the guidance of HS Shubha.

Based on the reaction and feedback that I received, I made certain changes in the film, mainly incorporating certain jump cuts into the structure of the film.

Satisfied, I finalised the sound in March 2015. That's when I gathered the courage to send the film to film festivals. While I was waiting for some of these Film Festivals to respond, it occurred to me that I should arrange some screenings of this completed film, albeit at alternative screening venues.

I had extensively done such screenings in parts of Karnataka with my first feature SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) thanks to an exhibition grant provided by The Hubart Bals. The Children's Film Society of India (CFSI), the producers of my second feature 'Putaani Party' (The Kid Gang) have their own exhibition set up where they screen some of their films in association with the Local District Administration and the Theater Exhibitor's association. Yet to gauge audience reactions, I had also screened the film, on my own, in some fifteen alternative venues, again in Karnataka.

So, I thought I should have a whirlwind tour of Karnataka with 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts) using the same network. 

Off to the first screening schedule...

My active association with Mysore Film Society dates back to the day they screened 'Putaani Party' in October, 2014. Sometime later, in March 2015, V N Laxminarayana a retired lecturer in Mysore and the motivating force behind the Society expressed a desire to screen my new film 'Haal-e-Kangaal' (The Bankrupts). He had heard about this film from my Bangalore based filmmaker friend MS Prakash Babu.

Manu and Muddukrishna from the Society enrolled Abbur Prakash, The Deputy Director at the Department of Information and Public Relations in Mysore, into screening the film in Kalamandira, one of the biggest halls in Mysore. They took aid from the Karnataka Chalachitra Academy. The Academy helps Film Societies in Karnataka to screen movies that are deprived of mainstream theaters.

So, on 13th of August  2015 The Bankrupts (Haal-e-Kangaal) had its premiere in Mysore.

Lakshminarayana lauded the techniques used in the film, opined that there were many extraneous elements that were packed in the film. Later on during dinner time, I asked him if these extraneous elements overshadowed the main concern of the film, he vehemently denied, saying that these were essential to the very nature of the film and to what it proposes to says.

The next day, there was one a show in Bangalore at the Indian Institute of Human Settlement (IIHS). Filmmaker Subasri Krishnan heads the media lab of IIHS. When I wrote to her to ask her if they would want to screen the film at the IIHS, she had instantly agreed. I was pleasantly surprised as I thought they have a history of showing documentaries and not fictional work.

V N Laxminarayana traveled all the way from Mysore to watch the film again in Bangalore!!!

Prakash Babu, whose debut feature 'Atthi Hannu Matthu Kanaja' (Fig Fruits and the Wasps) is making its Film Festival rounds presently, helped arrange a screening at the 'KV Subanna Aapta Mandira' (KV Subanna Intimate Theater) at Bangalore on the 16th of August, through the Film Study Circle run by Samuha Gopinath.

Gopinath is trained in theater, but is now a civil contractor. The theater which he has built above his house, is used to stage plays, hold film screenings and seminars. A small but dedicated group of people came to watch the film, those include people like Girish Kasaravalli, Usha Kattemane, Abaya Simha and Shrikant Prabhu.

While Girish refused to comment on the theme of the film, saying that it would need him a couple of more viewing for him to do so, he did suggest that the limitation of two characters set rigidly in a small one bed room hall house was well handled in the film.

An overnight journey and on the 18th, the film was screened at Manipal, under the aegis of Manipal School of Communication. It was a home coming for the film, as I had showed a rough cut here a year back. The students were particularly interested in knowing about the changes that I had made to the rough cut, after the first Manipal rough cut screening.

Some of them were intrigued as to why the narrative is not straight or why there are jumps in the cuts. It was a pleasure answering them. I have Sunil Bhadri, the faculty member who helped organise the screening, to thank.

Four screenings of 'The Bankrupts' (Haal-e-Kangaal) in eight days in three cities/towns with a combined audience of about 150 to 200 was sure worth the salt. I plan to replicate such small but focused schedules, in other parts of India as well. Anyone who wants to get the film screened, can get in touch with me at sonkfilms at gmail dot com. I would be pleased to reply.

A couple of days back V N Lakshminarayana had emailed me saying that the film needs a wider audience. The internet provides me with that, but I still value screenings that are participated collectively. Well, it just occurred to me that chasing such an audience for such kind of a film is the most difficult part in the process of film making.

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