On either side of the mighty Godavari river lie the districts of East and West Godavari in Andhra Pradesh which are famous for their coconut trees, for breathtaking scenery, and for people who are crazy about cinema. Among themselves these two districts supply half of the technicians and artists for the Telugu film industry. Sujeet comes from the heart of the Godavari cinema land called Palakol. Even though he is studying to be an engineer, Sujeet has only one ambition in life. To become a famous Telugu film director. Fifty years ago when Telugu films were being made in Madras, Sujeet would have bought a general ticket for the Sarkar Express and would have landed in Pondy Bazaar. Twenty years ago he would have run off to Hyderabad’s Film Nagar. But Sujeet wants to become a director without having to sacrifice his studies in his home town as he has what any of his predecessors did not have. He has technology on his side.
I met Sujeet on a train to Hyderabad, where he wanted to participate in a short film competition and possibly get some attention for himself. Never missing a chance to promote his work, he pulled out his laptop and showed me some of his short films. For a middle class young man living in a small provincial town, and for films made on a budget of a few hundred rupees, they were surprisingly good. As I would find out myself when I visited the short film competition, Sujeet is not alone in making short films with good production values on shoe string budgets. The abundance, the sophistication and the cheap cost of today’s digital cameras combined with some very good, comparatively cheap and user friendly editing software means that many of today’s youngsters, who would previously would not have any means to showcase their creativity, are finding it easier to bring out their inner talents.
But as these people know, the job is not done when the film is made. Just like a Karan Johar would relentlessly promote his movie, these youngsters promote their movies albeit more cleverly. Sujeet again is a prime example. For starters, like every aspiring celebrity, he posts his work on YouTube in the hopes that it will go viral and become the next Kolaveri Di or Gangnam Style. Another aspect of his relentless and heartbreaking promotional effort is using Twitter. I had a chance to look at his tweets and was stuck by his perseverance. Since then I searched around on Twitter for similar young men who all seem to have the same routine. Follow anyone connected to the film industry, be actors, directors, camera men or any technician. And then bombard them with your work every day in the hope that they will see it, or re-tweet it.
Even though all of this looks like hopeless work, these youngsters have a common belief in the democratisation of Internet. They believe that to make it big, all they need to have is talent. And once they have that talent and their work goes viral on the Internet, offers will come looking for them instead of they having to stand in front of film studios and trying to make it in an industry which notoriously promotes nepotism. And they could yet be right. Take Balaji Mohan, whose short film Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi went viral on YouTube because of which he eventually directed a feature film of the same name. Internet is many things for many people. For these youngsters it is the new Pondy Bazaar.