The calling cards for box office success

THE Berlinale is the largest public-attended film festival in the world. About two lakh tickets are sold, at an average of four Euros (Rs 250) each. The two-week long festival has a budget run

Published: 13th February 2009 12:10 AM  |   Last Updated: 15th May 2012 10:13 PM   |  A+A-

THE Berlinale is the largest public-attended film festival in the world. About two lakh tickets are sold, at an average of four Euros (Rs 250) each. The two-week long festival has a budget running into crores. Coming from India, it was very interesting for me to note that the festival is a bustling market place for films. There are huge companies like Weinstein (The Reader is a big star-movie this time), and smaller independent firms from all over the place buying and selling films.  They are here to do business, and the European Film Market at the Martin-Gropious-Bau is an industry exhibition that runs parallel to the various festival screenings.

The stalls are draped with movie posters, like clothes invitingly displayed at textile shop windows. Colourful pamphlets are handed over in the thousands. This is the

T Nagar-Ranganathan Street (Chennai) of world movies. Probably there are discounts too, a winter sale of some sort, like our adi thallubadi.

But the open-mouthed, awe-struck wanderer that I was, I could not get to bargaining or buying a Bavarian film, or negotiating the TV (Asia-Pacific) rights for a Scandinavian thriller. Well, it was another matter that my traveller’s card could probably not buy me even the application form, but hey — window-shopping’s no crime.

This is in stark contrast, I observed, to the notion of film festivals in India, where the word ‘award’ is most often a derogatory prefix. As in, “Oh, that’s an award film, not commercial enough,” or some such Socratean pearl of wisdom. There’s a joke that an award is usually a consolation price for the film that has no hope of making money. But here at the Berlinale, awards are the calling cards. The golden wreaths are proudly displayed on the movie posters, and most often, these films are also box-office successes in their respective countries. I will be lying if I say the burning sensation in my stomach was just acidity.

I was wondering where India was in all this. Just then I spotted a stall by iDream Productions, which I remembered from some movies that I had loved watching: Monsoon Wedding, Tahaan. I was delighted to see that here was an Indian company selling films that probably would have been written off in our country. “That is good news for the emerging voices in Indian cinema,” says Rohit Sharma, head, international sales, iDream Productions. “We can make money on the international circuit, if sold wisely and patiently. It takes sometimes 16 months to sell a movie and make money, but the dividends are huge eventually.” How does this model work, I ask.

“A tightly budgeted film like Tahaan shot in 25 days is sure to recover its investment and reap reasonable profits, given the universal nature of the movie, and the reputation of Santosh Sivan as a filmmaker in the international

festival circuit,” he says. The revenue comes from what is being referred to nowadays as the long tail model of

business. Small sales numbers across a huge, huge palette leading to substantial revenue eventually. TV rights, DVD sales, a few theatrical screenings here and there; they all contribute to slowly building the kitty on the whole.

I remember finding the location of the particular stall ironic. It was situated bang opposite another small Indian stall, (EROS International), selling the Bollywood movie Billu Barber. My very first day at the Berlinale was drawing to a close, and I found myself awed, and somehow feeling a bit small. But soon hope dawned. (Doesn’t it always!)

Making a universal film is not a calculated endeavour. Nobody ever plans a classic. But certain parameters in a film can make it accessible to an audience that is beyond just our own living rooms. A famous example is Majid

Majidi’s Children of Heaven, an Iranian movie that became an international hit and also won an academy award. An Indian example of a movie that could have been our answer to the world, but never saw the light of day (literally, as it was screened only on Doordarshan) is Balu Mahendra’s 'Sandhya Raagam'. A movie that very few have seen in India, but if released today, I wonder if it would not have taken the festival circuit by storm.  

Some times it takes an outsider to show us the treasures we have. The day will dawn soon, I hoped, as I made my way out of the huge market hall, when the Weinstein stall at the Berlinale will be overshadowed by an Indian stall.  I felt the urge to do something then, but I resisted as it would have made the moment very Bollywood. I wanted to whistle, ‘The times they are changing’ but I hate corny endings.

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