An American indie wave in the 90’s changed international cinema forever and India’s substitute used to be RGV’s factory. Come today, a new team off Mumbai’s Veera Desai Road is engrossed in giving India its next RGV’s factory.
Pankaj Mamtora is a young award-winning businessman from Houston who is highly attracted to the OTT and theatrical capacity of Indian films. His production house Lonestar Films recently made headlines when it announced its first film (Cancer) in Hollywood’s Variety magazine. Pankaj is confident about the prospects that OTT has brought on for
independent films as he and LSF’s Chief Creative Officer Devansh Patel wade ahead to give small films their sunshine time.
Pankaj says “Yes, OTT films can now recover their costs. With the rise of streaming services, filmmakers have been able to reach a much larger audience than ever before. This has allowed them to make back their production costs and even turn a profit. Additionally, streaming services often pay filmmakers for the rights to stream their films, which can also help them recoup their costs”. At the same time Pankaj cautions that not all Indian films are able to recover their costs through digital streaming, as it depends on various factors such as the film’s budget, marketing, popularity and the streaming platform’s reach. However, Lonestar Films have a suitable response to this problem. “We believe in taking risks in the stories of our films and not in its commerce” informs Pankaj.
But is that enough to guarantee an Indian film its international place? Pankaj says “It is true that Indian films have generally not had as much mainstream success in Western markets. However, it is important to note that success in the film industry can be measured in various ways, and Indian films have had some level of international appeal. Indian films have a strong following in countries with large South Asian diaspora populations and have been successful in countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Additionally, Indian films have been part of international film festivals and have won awards.
Lonestar’s CCO Devansh Patel who is a prominent Indian film journalist explains that 90’s changed indie movies forever. Devansh explains “that the 90’s America was known for the production and distribution of independent cinema that was often overlooked by major studios. The times were also known for their innovative marketing strategies, which helped to bring independent films to a wider audience. This ecosystem was instrumental in the development of the independent film industry, helping to create a platform for filmmakers to tell their stories. The 90’s have ended but its legacy lives on in the independent film industry in the form of off-beat classics such as Pulp Fiction. Currently this legacy is carried by films such as Whiplash, Room, Minari, etc. Devansh adds that “the 90’s saw the first instance of experimenting with the release pattern of films, and the strategy of releasing films slowly and building buzz through word of mouth helped to change the way films were marketed in
Devansh is thrilled when he explains that “Ram Gopal Varma’s Factory was the production house that had produced some of the most ground-breaking and socially conscious films of Indian cinema that big production houses would not see fitting their bill. RGV’s films (Satya, Raat, Kaun, Darna Mana Hai, etc) pushed the boundaries of Indian cinema and explored subjects, some of which, that were previously considered taboo in Indian films. He has also been credited with introducing new talent and new voices to Indian cinema. Additionally, his films have dealt with themes of urbanization, crime, and politics, and have been praised for their realistic portrayal of contemporary India. He has also been credited with bringing a new level of aesthetic, technical and creative standards in Indian films”. Devansh adds that RGV was one of the first filmmakers to use digital technology to make films, which allowed him to experiment with different styles and techniques. RGV films have had a lasting impact on Indian cinema, and his influence can still be seen in many of today’s films”.
Pankaj explains that their most prized possession at LSF is the writing rooms.
“The concept of writing rooms, where a group of writers come together to develop and write scripts for television shows or films, has been around for a while, but at Lonestar there have been some recent developments in the way that Indian writing rooms are organized and operated. We will soon have a Chief writer who will follow the growing movement to diversify writing rooms, by including more women and people of underrepresented classes. This is to ensure that the stories being told are more representative of the society we live in. We are also planning on inclusion riders, which are agreements that specify that a certain percentage of the cast, crew, and writers on a project must be from underrepresented groups. We augment the trend of cross-cultural collaboration in writing rooms, where writers from different countries and cultures come together to develop and write stories. Some of our writing rooms have a hybrid model, where we have a core team of writers in-house, but we also bring in outside writers on a project-by-project basis”.
When asked what Lonestar will acquire from international indie cinema Devansh explains that Lonestar wants to absorb from international films the storytelling techniques such as character development, pacing, and structure. We can learn from the distribution strategies used by international indie filmmakers, such as using digital platforms and social media to reach new audiences”. He adds that it is very important that Indian filmmakers learn from the experimental approach to filmmaking that is common in international cinema, and try to push the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. We should learn from the ways that international filmmakers appeal to global audiences, by creating stories and characters that are relatable to people from different backgrounds and cultures. Devansh informs that their debut film (Cancer) has a director from Ahmedabad, Producer from the U.S, the D.O.P from New Zealand, an editor from South India and the co-writer from the U.K. Devansh adds “We should also acquire from international films the importance of creating unique and compelling characters, the importance of creating a strong narrative arc, and the importance of creating a unique visual style. Also, we should absorb from international films the importance of creating a strong and consistent brand identity”. Lastly in the words of George Clooney from the DeMille award acceptance speech – “Thank You for keeping alive the small films. The big ones do find an audience, it is the small ones that need our support”. Indeed.