You might be watching more short films than ever, but that doesn’t mean it has become a financially viable craft.
When actors are taking time out and charging little or no money to star in short films, and feature film directors are putting in their dough to make them, you know the Indian movie-goer is readily embracing the shorter format.
Anurag Kashyap has made almost a dozen of them since 2010, and Vikas Bahl directed one on women’s safety last year, casting Alia Bhatt in the lead role. More recently, Sujoy Ghosh and Radhika Apte won acclaim for the thriller Ahalya, which he directed and she starred in. And Konkona Sen Sharma and Tillotama Shome won similar praise for their turn in Jaydeep Sarkar’s Nayantara’s Necklace.
Is short film-making finally getting its due then? Accolade-wise, yes, but economically, far from it. Ghosh admits that he’s in a position to invest in the craft, but he’s well aware that he shouldn’t expect profits. “I made Ahalya purely out of passion, or for any credibility it might earn, and I have to be satisfied with that,” he admits, adding that it gave him a huge kick to see viewers give his 15-minute film the respect of a full length feature.
On the other side of the spectrum is Devashish Makhija, who has made four short films this year, including the Nimrat Kaur-starrer El’ayichi. “I made two films with the support of Terribly Tiny Talkies (TTT), and one each with Pocket Films and Muvizz.com. TTT gave me a, flat amount of Rs 50,000 per film, but it is impossible to make a film of 5 minutes or more of any technical quality in that kind of amount, so I spent a lot more from my own pocket,” he says. “The investment is abysmally low, because none of these platforms know how to make money off these films. Right now, we’re in the middle of a bubble quite like the dot com bubble from many years ago. By this time next year, 95 per cent of the current players will have burnt their fingers and shut their short film shops. TTT already has.”
A similar sentiment is echoed by Apurva Asrani. A short film he made in 2007 went unnoticed in India despite getting award nominations at foreign film festivals. After editing Nayantara’s Necklace this year, things looked up significantly since YouTube has, by now, become a prominent means of exhibition. “Where we’re at today is that beyond a certain number of hits, Youtube is actually monetizing your videos, which never happened earlier. But they pay a pittance, and those economics need to change pronto,” he explains.
Asrani accepts that many make short films as a stepping stone, but some are turning shorter content — PSAs, branded films, music videos etc — into a full-fledged career too. And having a brand’s backing ensures timely and substantial payment. “Plus, apart from the money, such projects help you build a brand for yourself as a creative person, and to experiment with a space you might be unsure of attempting directly on film,” he reasons.
Makhija’s stance is just as practical. “Until there is a financial model in place, there will be no money to be made o these products. So the money needs to be made elsewhere and channeled into the short films without expectation of returns. And if you’re entering the field to make money, then try to make films for brands instead since they will pay you upfront for your services,” he says, likening the short film boom in India to the ’90s indie film boom in America. “There was little money coming in, even less being made, people were working for passion, for free, and there was immense exploitation of the most talented.”
That last statement pretty much sums up the year for Makhija, who — on account of the four films he’s made this year — has had his bank account hit a ten-year low. “I don’t have money for rent from March, and I’m scrambling for odd jobs. But at the same time, I’ve enjoyed unprecedented artistic freedom this year, and that’s because there was such little money at stake,” he says. “I only hope we can discuss short films as art and not as commerce. That’s the only way we can sustain the medium.”
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In the Ramayana, Ahalya — the wife of sage Gautama — catches the eye of Lord Indra, who disguises himself as the sage to woo her. Ahalya and Indra are both cursed by Gautama when he learns of her infidelity. Sujoy Ghosh brilliantly adapts this story with his own twist.
Devashish Makhija sends out a spine-chilling message about apathy, using mobile cameras and webcams. Agli Baar talks about how we don’t take another person’s problems seriously if they don’t affect us directly.