Filmmakers break out of Bollywood mould

By Bollywood standards, an unusual movie was released in India at the start of January. It is not star-studded and has a paltry budget with 150 producers pitching in the money. Tickets have been sold by going door to door, and profits are to be shared equally.

Unlike the typical Bollywood film, which has the backing of a known banner, a thin script and bankable stars who ask for the moon, the Hindi film Hume Jeena Seekh Liya (We Have Learnt to Live), is a first-of-its-kind cooperative film in Indian cinema.

More than 150 people from the western state of Maharashtra, including doctors, engineers, lawyers and artists, financed the production of the film, which is a story about a teenage romance that runs into trouble because of socio-political issues.

“Most of the folks who paid up are part of the Spandan Cinema Parivar Movement and like to see well-told stories of everyday life,” Milind Ukey, the film’s director, said.

The film’s budget, of 10-million rupees ($260 000) was a drop in the bucket compared with the cost of a typical Bollywood film of $5-million, he said.

“Everything from set design, selling tickets to posters has been undertaken by film enthusiasts who form Spandan,” Ukey said.

With just six prints—three in Mumbai and three in Pune, both cities in Maharashtra—the film, which was shot in 35 days, is getting a sedate release.


Milind Gunaji, a regular actor in art films and state theatre who has a major role in the film, said he is not perturbed that the film is likely to be overwhelmed by the weekend Bollywood and Hollywood releases.

“The film is based on a very successful Marathi novel, Shaala by Milind Bokil, which has been adapted to a play that has been running very well in Maharashtra,” Gunaji said.
“I think people will be happy to see a film adaptation as well.”

To create awareness about the movie, Spandan members did more than 2 000 slide shows in schools and colleges across Maharashtra.

If the film does well, the producers plan to release six to 12 more prints in the next week and take it to 30 prints over the next two months.

“I put in $1 780 for the film,” said Gaurav Khande, a college student from Pune. “What I got to learn is invaluable. During shooting, I learnt a lot about filmmaking.”

The making and release of the film has its roots in the contribution of Amarjeet Amle, who founded Spandan in Maharashtra in 2000.

Without a mega-star cast and conventional promotion, Amle and his team found it difficult to distribute the film. “When we showed the film to distributors and theatre owners, they weren’t too impressed as it does not have a star,” Amle said. “After this, we thought of taking the challenge of distributing the film ourselves.”

Cooperative filmmaking

Bollywood has had only one such release of cooperative filmmaking in the past—though of a different kind.

In 1976, half-a-million milk farmers in the western state of Gujarat contributed about two rupees (five United States cents) each for a film about celebrating the potential of the cooperative movement. It was called Manthan and was made by art-house director Shyam Benegal.

Manthan was a sponsored film,” Ukey said. “It propagated a cause. Ours is a career film.” He added: “This is a very unique cooperative effort. Whatever profits we earn will be shared among the members. The amount will be returned to the contributor with his share of profit in it along with the interest.”

Spandan, for which this is its first full-length film, has branches in various cities in Maharashtra and conducts workshops on cinema, assists film technicians in their studies and has made about 100 short films.

“In Bollywood, one needs a godfather to succeed,” Amle said. “Through Spandan, we want to say it is no longer a necessity. We are like farmers and cultivators of cinema.”

Ukey, who assisted in two major Bollywood productions, agreed: “If banks, credit societies, sugar factories, milk producers can work on a cooperative basis, why can’t our film industry?”—Sapa-dpa

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