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Small becoming big at the BO 

Friday, December 02, 2011
By Zuala Chhangte

Even small budget films make the cut at the box office today, thus shattering the monopoly of big banner films. Small, independent films with innovative scripts and good stories are well appreciated by the entertainment-savvy audience

The recent past has seen Bollywood’s Goliaths struggle at the Box Office (BO) and the Davids making registers jingle, thanks to innovative scripts and the use of technology. The monopoly of big banners like Yash Raj Films are being challenged by films made with shoestring budgets of Rs 1.5-10 crore tops. Big names like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Shahrukh Khan have also got involved. Aamir has already notched up two critically acclaimed films – ‘Peepli Live’ and ‘Dhobhi Ghat’ – which also recovered their costs of less than Rs 5 crore each.

With star power no longer a guarantee of box office success, has the time come for small budget films to entertain the masses?

“Small films or low budget films are viable if made sensibly. You need an innovative script. Creativity of course gets restricted, but the genius comes out only when you have to prove yourself in a limited budget.” says Kittu Saluja who has made two small budget films – ‘Chain Kulli Ki Main Kulli’ (Rs 3.5 crore) and ‘Bhoot and Friends’ (Rs 1.5 crore).

Technology has played a huge role. One can shoot using an HD (High-definition) camera, edit in a non-linear machine and reverse telecine for projection. The cost of hiring high-end HD cameras like Red Camera, at around Rs 5,000 per day is cheap compared to Rs 25,000 a day for a 35 mm camera. A cost of buying chips for the HD is pennies compared to the many lakh film rolls will cost.

“A number of films – features and ad – are now shot on HD. There is hardly any perceivable difference, and with a good editing software like ‘Smoke’, the product is comparable to traditional 35 mm film,” editor at Bandra’s Pixion Studio, Suraj Rawat says.

“The CG (Computer graphics) of my film are as good as that of big budget films. The audiences are intelligent now, you cannot fool them,” says debutant director, Puja Jatinder Bedi, whose Rs 8.5 crore horror film, ‘Ghost’ is slated to be released on December 16.

Non-traditional mediums like television channels – domestic and international – and the internet are providing avenues for producers to recover their costs. Small budget films can also utilise the festival circuit and social networking sites to cut marketing and promotional costs. Others however, still prefer the traditional way.

Debutant director-producer, J. H. Nakra, whose Rs 1.5 crore musical comedy ‘Love Possible’ (releasing on December 9, across 250 screens), prefers to spend another Rs 1.5 crore in promoting his film through posters, promos and wining and dining the media fraternity.

“The trend is already there, but it is difficult to say if it will continue, because the industry has both creative people and those who want to make money out of it. Banners are unfortunately investing in brands when they should be investing in good producers and characters,” says Nakra.

Small budget films are also good platforms for promoting new talent, observes music director, M. L. Ouseph Achan of Rs 50 crore film – ‘Dam 999’ – distributed by Warner Brothers, Though the film is hardly low budget, the script is innovative – about a dam in Tamil Nadu, which bursts and puts thousands of lives in danger – and the cast and director (Sohan Roy) are new.

“Young and poor producers may not match the production quality of ‘Ra. One’, but what is important is the thought. The impact of the subject is paramount.

Unlike audiences of Bollywood, who go for the stars more than the story, in Kerala, people watch small, independent films with good stories,” states Achan.

Not all are optimistic though. “Even if one manages to make a film in Rs. 50 lakh, he still requires a minimum of Rs 4 crore to get that film a proper release. But if one doesn’t even spend that amount, the film will definitely sink. Talk about new stars and new filmmaker is an empty talk. It is a business that very few understand,” points out film maker, Sandhir Flora, whose documentary ‘Kya Mein Kafir Hoon?’ won the IDPA’s (Indian Documentary Producers Association), Best Screenplay Gold Category in 2009.

“The audience will always be there if it’s a good film. Yes, today awareness about the film has to be there so that the audience comes into the theatre and that will only happen if the film is marketed properly. If you think out of the box, be it ‘small or big films’, success in the future will always be yours,” counters Saluja.

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