Thursday, December 27, 2007

Of a few good men and a lot of screenings…

In the first screening schedule of my Tulu language digital feature film SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) that was held in the villages of Coastal Karnataka a few months back, I had traveled to various schools and colleges. But for the second and the third schedules, I decided to target the general public. This automatically meant that the screenings had to be held only in the evenings. Yet, I managed to have two screenings a day, for during the day time I continued showing the film to interested college students.

After having written to almost all the Gram Panchayats (Village Governing Bodies) in the Tulu speaking areas of the State of Karnataka and after having hobnobbed with various governmental and non governmental cultural organizations requesting them to take the initiative in hosting or arranging the screenings of SUDDHA in the villages of coastal Karnataka; and having failed to evoke any response, I decided to individually contact grassroots level groups that have engaged themselves in cultural activism.
I dug up old contacts, networked hard and touched base with organizations that had people who staged plays, who thought dance, who held literary debates, who encouraged local folk forms and who worked for the cultural development of the Tulu speaking area of Coastal Karnataka. The response, I should say, was encouraging.
Consider this. After having traveled for over three hours from my base town Udupi on bumpy, curvy and narrow roads over vast tracts of forest land, I landed in an extremely remote village called Sulliyapadavu where our host, a seventy year old Kudkadi Vishwanath Rai welcomed us. Although he had asked for two screenings in his village, I wondered if, in this sparely populated area, there would be enough for even one!
Kudkadi Vishwanath Rai, after his retirement as a teacher in a near by town, had settled down in Sulliyapadavu, his native village. He and his family perform dance dramas in a small hall that he has constructed by the side of his house. He teaches classical dance to interested children; runs a small nursery school in his premises and hosts many meetings of self help women’s groups in the area. He had seen SUDDHA when it was screened in the city of Mangalore and was insistent that I come to his place with the film.
Half and hour to the first show, he switched on his TV set, connected it to a loud speaker, played some local music and smiled, ‘this would let the people know that a function is about to begin.’ Sure enough, the place gradually got filled and soon Kudkadi was seen excitedly talking about my film to his audience that mainly consisted of uneducated daily laborers working in and around the village.
The second show had an overflow of people and Kudkadi was like a child excited by the response that his call had evoked. He had even arranged a simple meal to all those who overstayed in his house after seeing the film! I can never forget the image of Kudkadi running to his gate, explaining the virtues of the film to the passersby and convincing them to watch it. It felt good that someone you hardly ever knew was out there battling it out for your film.
But everything was not as smooth as this. The first screening of the second schedule held at Govindas College, Surathkal was a disaster. As per the instruction of the principal, the teacher of class twelfth, herded in around sixty of her students into the screening hall and sensing an opportunity, instantly went off home. A lecturer from the nearby classroom dropped in fifteen minutes after the start of the screening and forced us to reduce the sound volume as his students were writing their exams. Those who were watching SUDDHA got disinterested because they could not clearly hear the sound track. Within half an hour the hall was empty and I was staring at a situation which could easily be termed as a director’s worst nightmare!
But for every such screening there were quite a few impeccable ones that culminated in a meaningful dialogue like the one that happened in Konaji in Mangalore University under the initiative of its Mass Communication staff Dr GP Shivaram and Dr Poornanand; or the one at 'Ranga Adhyayana Kendra', Bandarkar's College in Kundapur town arranged by Vasant Bannadi or even at the 'Bala Khendra' at Nittur village organized by the Lions organization led by a local construction contractor Ishwar Chitpadi.
It is important for me to add that over the years Dr Poornanand in his personal capacity has been spending lakhs of rupees in collecting DVD copies of classic films from all over the world so that he can show them to his students, that Vasant Bannadi is an economics lecturer who has convinced his college management to open a full time course in dramatics, the money for which is contributed by the people of his town and that the 'Bala Kendra' is a Government run remand home cum destitute house for hardened children and abandoned women.
Although there were some organizers for whom the screening of SUDDHA was just another program that fitted into their yearly report, along with the likes of blood donation and rabbis vaccination camps, most of the people who helped me arrange the screenings were extremely committed that the film gets its audience. Dr Niranjan Rai, an over worked but still energetic homeopathy doctor from Uppinangadi town was another of those who took the cudgels on my behalf. Single handedly he had arranged for five screenings in various villages, convincing whomsoever he could, including his patients, to host the screenings. And he still has few more up his sleeves!
One such patient that he had convinced was Manohar, a junior lawyer in the town of Puttur and a member of the Youth Club of his tiny village called Yelankini situated below the Western Ghats. The only large structures that Yelankini boasted of are a primary school and a temple. The village is connected to the main town of Uppinangadi by a forty five minute drive on a rickety route where the bus frequency is just three to four times a day.
It was an open air screening at the Yelankini School and there were around more than three hundred villagers watching the movie sitting firmly on little school benches. There were a few auto rickshaws and share-a-jeeps parked at the rear of the ground; with people sitting inside and on top of the vehicles. A drive in theater in the true sense!
It was an audience that wasn’t much exposed to the fast paced weepy soaps that every other television channel beams these days. I was sitting amidst the audience and the way it experienced and reacted to the film with rapt attention was an eye-opener for me. Here was a film that some city audience had termed as a ‘slow paced arty film’ that went above your head and yet, for these people the engagement with the film was perfect!
The Youth Club of Kanakamajalu village, headed by a young agriculturalist Lakshminarayana, too had arranged a screening in their open air ground of their school. The fact that there were no external disturbances like traffic noises did help these open air screenings. The ideal acoustics that exists within the dark hall of a normal film theater cut off from the rest of the world automatically creates a space for the audience to experience a film. But here in villages like Kanakamajalu where there are no film theaters, this space had to be created - mainly through the enthusiasm of the organizers.
Encouraged by the success of this screening, Lakshminarayana and his friends are now planning a week long Film Festival in Kanakamajalu and have even managed to convince a few of the village elders about it! Among the films that they want to screen is an experimental short film from Andra Pradesh, whose DVD copy they have managed to somehow acquire! The language of the film is an alien Telugu and its images and edit pattern, extremely surreal!
I.K. Boluvaru is also toying with the idea of arranging a Documentary Film Festival in his home town of Puttur. He works in the Telephone Department of the Government of Karnataka, but is more known for his activism in the children’s theater. He had convinced the Durgaprasad Rai of the 'Puttur Tulu Kuta', an organization working for the revival of Tulu culture and language, to arrange a screening in Puttur. ‘Puttur needs a screening of SUDDHA’, he had declared when I first contacted him.
The screening itself was held in front of the traditional house of Purandara Bhat, a member of Tulu Kuta. The house is actually a cultural center in the town and it houses the offices of a host of organizations like an amateur drama troupe, a writer’s association apart from the Tulu Kuta itself. The house is dwarfed by three newly constructed shopping complexes, yet a culturally oriented Purandara Bhat refuses to let go of this prime property to any local builder for a reconstruction and rehabilitation package!
Throughout the three screening schedules of SUDDHA, I have experienced that the screening goes off well, if the organizers are committed to their audience. This commitment normally showed in the way they selected the venue and the date; the way they printed pamphlets, drew posters and banners and even in the way they arranged the chairs for their audience. In many places the organizers had individually visited people’s houses inviting them for the screening, had urged them on the phone to come over and had even reminded them of the screening over numerous SMSes.
Of course, my personal equation with some of the organizers also helped. Twenty three years ago, as a young college student, I attended a fifteen-day theater workshop organized in a village called Baalila, under the leadership of a school teacher called R.K. Bhaskar. I have fond memories of the workshop not only because it was the first time that I had stepped out of my house for such a long period of time, but also because the workshop had opened up many new things for me, in my life. So, it was a pleasant surprise when one day I got a call from Bhaskar, saying that he wanted to arrange a screening of SUDDHA in his courtyard in Baalila.
Bhaskar strives to incorporate theater, crafts, music and films into children’s education. So, over and above holding his regular classes in the school in which he is employed, he - on his own initiative – conducts various cultural workshops for the school children in his house. Off late, for various reasons his activities had diminished and by his own admission, the screening of SUDDHA in his house was a sort of revival of his days of cultural activism. I am glad that SUDDHA had the possibility of being such a catalyst.
Theater director Jeevan Ram too has staged and hosted many modern plays at an open air theater that he has designed and constructed in his own backyard. He stays in the outskirts of the small town of Sullia. He makes traditional mementos and designs the sets for huge stage functions to earn his living. Over the years he has developed his own set of loyal audience, who have taken a liking to whatever that comes from ‘Ranga Mane’, the organization that he heads.
‘Ranga Mane’ also publishes books and SUDDHA was screened after the release of a new book written by a local writer. Ideally I would have liked to have had just the screening as a stand alone event and not be tagged along with some other agenda of the organizers. But having participated in the book release function one did realize that for people like Jeevan Ram the book release and the film screening had a similar context – a context that would provide the village audience a variety of cultural presentations that would enable them to find their own voice.
Years ago, in a remote village called Heggodu in Shimoga district in Karnataka, an agriculturalist named K.V. Subanna believed that every village should find out and have their own cultural expressions. In his village, he went on to construct a modern theater that staged world class plays in all languages. He plunged himself into theater education, starting a year long state level course in dramatics. He organized film appreciation courses and showed the likes of ‘Roshomon’, ‘Pather Panchali’ and ‘Bicycle Thieves’ to his fellow villagers. He formed a theater repertoire that traveled to every nook and corner of Karnataka, performing plays that had modern sensibilities.
For over two to three decades Heggodu was the cultural capital of Karnataka. Hundreds of writers, teachers, students, theater artists and the rest of the intelligentsia flocked to this remote village to participate in the yearly cultural workshops that was organized there. K.V. Subanna had one mantra to tell everyone - go back to your roots and with local participation help find the cultural identity of your own villages.
The attempts by Jeevan Ram, R.K. Bhaskar, Lakshminarayana, I.K. Boluvaru, Kudkadi Vishwanath Rai, Vasant Bannadi, Dr Poornanand and others in creating their audience in their own backyard might be an offshoot of this. As much as I owe to these men the success of the screenings of SUDDHA in the villages of Coastal Karnataka, I also do owe a lot to the Late K.V. Subanna - the inspirational cultural visionary.
I have never had any personal interaction with him when he was alive. But the pioneering efforts that he had initiated decades back have surely helped me, today, to find an audience for my Tulu film SUDDHA.
The making of SUDDHA and the process of finding an audience for it has been an extremely satisfying journey for me. The ‘Best Indian Film’ award that it received at the Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian Films in 2006 helped it get heard in places that mattered. The modest Exhibition Fund that I received from the Hubert Bals Fund, The Netherlands gave me the necessary means to find my audience.
Have I been successful in creating a self sufficient system where money recovered from the exhibition of a film would lead to the making of another? I am afraid not. If I had charged all those who wanted to arrange the screenings, only a few people would have seen the film. And because I have not charged for the screenings, I will have to struggle all over again to produce and direct another feature film. That is the reality and sometimes you choose it. 

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

SUDDHA in the land of Girni

The magnificent Ararat peak greeted me when I first landed in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia - a country that was once a part of the erstwhile Soviet Union Bloc. The snow peaked mountain was just majestic. I just could not take my eyes off it.
I was there in Yerevan along with my feature film SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) to attend the Golden Apricot International Film Festival that was held from 9-14 July 2007. With me in the vehicle was Ms An Cheong-sook, a film critic from South Korea. Her gaze too, was on the Ararat.

Mount Ararat is one of the tallest of the peaks in the area. Armenians often boast that that it can be seen from anywhere in their country. It is presently located just beyond its borders, in the Turkish territory.

It is said that during the Biblical times, the Noah’s Ark had landed in Mount Ararat. Some archaeologists quote satellite images and swear that the remains of the Arc are still buried somewhere in the snow peaked mountain. Some others say that it’s just a myth.

Armenia is a country that is rebuilding itself in its new found freedom. Literally, one can see a lot of high rise constructions coming up in the city of Yerevan, blocking the infamous view of the Ararat. Presently, there is a real estate boom; its economy heavily dependent on tourism.

It is surprising that there are hardly any direct flights to its capital. I had to make a nine hour travel to Moscow, had to undergo a layover of another nine hours which got painstakingly extended to twenty; and had to finally take another three hours flight to back to Yerevan. And my plane had almost flew over Armenia to reach Moscow!

The Golden Apricot International Film Festival is just in its fourth year. But its director Harutun Khachatryan, a filmmaker himself, has already managed to associate it with the Rotterdam and the Pusan Film Festivals. Apart from the usual retrospectives, competition and non competition sections, the festival also had a pitching workshop for Eastern European filmmakers.

SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) was in the competition section. I was pleasantly surprised when after the screening, people observed and talked about the sound design of the film. I had proudly designed it myself and this was the first time someone had noticed it without me having to blow my own trumpet!

The public screening had around forty members watching the film, including a few Indian students. Many decades back, apparently the Armenians like the rest of the Soviet Block, had swayed to the tune of Raj Kapoor and his ‘Awaara’. Indian Cinema is identified with the song and dance routine. It was indeed heartening to see the public take a liking to this small non mainstream digital film made in a language that many in India itself do not know of.

I saw ‘Alexandra’ a Russian film directed by Aleksandr Sokurov. It is about an old lady’s visit to her grandson serving in a Russian military camp situated within the Chechen Republic. The film does not have any war sequences, yet it is a brilliant portrayal of anti-war sentiments. ‘Climates’ by Nuri Bilge Ceylan is a co-production between France and Turkey. It is a subtle study of relationships and loneliness and it had won the FIPRESCI award at Cannes in 2006.

Faruk Loncarevic’s ‘Mom ‘n’ Dad: Reality Show’ is a stubbornly slow paced movie that portrays the daily monotonous life of an elderly couple staying alone in Bosnia. But for the irritating mock commercials that are interspersed in-between, I thought the film has an essence that came across quite fluently. ‘Love Concurs All’ which had made a name for itself and its director Tan Chui Mui, both in Pusan and Rotterdam film festivals is a nice little Korean film about love and faith.

‘Tressette- A story of an Island’ has an unusual story about a bunch of card players in a deserted Island who are trying to recruit a fourth player when one among them dies. Croatian directors Drazen Zarkoviae and Pavo Marinkoviae have succeeded in subtly portraying the humorous interpersonal relationships between the sparse inhabitants left in the island.

There are only a few Armenian films being made these days and almost most of them are funded or co-produced by the cultural department of the Armenian government. ‘The Priestess’ by Vigen Chaldranian tells the story of a priestess of an Armenian temple in Girni, in a violent era which saw Armenia adopt Christianity as a state religion thousands of years back.

In my brief stay in Yeravan, I noticed that the Armenians are proud of the fact that they are the first state in the world to adopt Christianity. But in this film, an Armenian historian is in search of his country’s identity that goes beyond the Christian era. The temple of Girni is the only pre-Christianity temple standing in Armenia today. It is a pity that time did not permit me to visit and gaze at this historical temple.

The genocide of the Armenians by the military in Turkey during the First World War lingers heavily in the collective subconscious of the Armenians. The fact that a production company from Italy with funding from Italy, France, Bulgaria, Spain and the United Kingdom had to make a film on this subject is a reflection of the state in which the Armenian Film Industry is presently in.

‘The Last Lark’ directed by the Taviani Brothers was the opening film of the festival. It talks about one such Armenian family caught in the genocide. Although a few men from the Turkish delegation who were attending the Film Festival later told me privately that the film was too simplistic and heavily one sided, the Armenians gave a standing ovation to the film that lasted more than five minutes. The clapping never seemed to stop!

During the festival, I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself with some wonderful people. Critics – Klaus Edgar, An Cheong-sook, Anna Gareb, Zaven Boyajyan; Producer -Behrooz Hashmian; Distributor - Hans Hodel and directors like Pavao Marinkovic, Peter Lom, Sergy Bukovsky and Celine Gulekjian.

Hrant Hakobyan the veteran Armenian director, with whom I have had many intense discussions about India related issues like Satyajit Ray, Raj Kapoor, the Richird Gere - Shilpa Shetty kiss saga and the likes of it; signed off my trip with the comment – ‘Deep in my heart I do believe that there is a deep connection between India and Armenia’.

How wonderful it would have been if this would result in a co-production between the two countries. It would come very much in handy for me, because as such I am finding it difficult to raise the necessary money for my second film.

I realized only after I came back to India that maybe people in Armenia too may be thinking about the same lines - looking to the rest of the world to fund their films. The breed of directors are the same, the world over!

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Friday, June 01, 2007

A Premier

A few months back I had approached Mr. T.A. Srinivas of Chitrabharathi, to distribute my Tulu digital film SUDDHA (The Cleansing Rites) in Mangalore. Tulu films have a history of just over thirty five years. On an average, one Tulu film is being made every year. In the two districts in which Tulu language is spoken, Mangalore is the biggest center for such films – followed by Udupi and Putthur. A four weeks run in each of these center is enough for a Tulu film to be considered as successful. If the production costs of the movie is kept to the minimum and if it is intelligently publicized, Tulu films do recover their money. Some producers even swear that profits can be made.

Srinivas is from Mangalore. He has made a career out of distributing the Kannada films of Dr. Rajkumar in Coastal Karnataka. His love for his native Tulu language and his fascination for the film production bug, has seen him venture into the making of a couple of Tulu movies which, by his own confessions, were just moderately successful. Srinivas takes immense pride in his language. He banks on his wisdom that the audience to his Tulu movies would come to the theaters for their sheer love of the language. His logic is that if you have a movie which has a little bit of song, dance and fight; and therefore quality in it, the viewers would follow. What is at stake is the ‘Tulu Pride’.

When I first met Srinivas, I was already in talks with a Mumbai based company that facilitates the digital exhibition of films. The company has a network of theaters all over India, especially in the western region. These theaters have digital projection facilities. Being the only player in Coastal Karnataka, its presence in the region is immense. My film SUDDHA is shot digitally and when I proposed to the company that they facilitate the distribution of the film in two of their theaters in Coastal Karnataka, they were taken aback.

Up till now they had just facilitated digital exhibition of feature films that were shot in celluloid. Huge film production and distribution houses look up to the digital exhibition of their films mainly to reduce their print costs. Besides, with digital exhibition there is the possibility of having a simultaneous release of their films in centers across the country, thereby increasing their revenue earning capacity. The digital projection facilitating company takes a certain amount of money from the exhibitor as well as the distributor for each of the show it helps project.

And here was a guy who had shot a small feature film in standard definition video, in an obscure language and was asking for just one week of theatrical time in two small town theaters! Their first reaction was a big 'No'. Then after two test projections, in which I got my material converted to a format called 720P, they agreed. A few weeks later, their CEO vetoed the idea – my guess is that it just did not make business sense for them to help release a feature film for just two weeks, that too in the morning slot. The official reason given to me was that the films they take up for distribution facilitation are the ones that are at least shot on High Definition Video (HDV).

Srinivas was open to the idea of a digital screening of SUDDHA. But as the saying goes, even if the gods are willing, the priests refuse. He keenly followed my interactions with the digital exhibition facilitating company, but was not entirely disappointed when they refused to take up the film. By now he had seen a copy of the film which I had send him and had unilaterally declared that it was fit for the ‘classes’ and not the ‘masses’. When I suggested that we hire a theater, a digital projector and facilitate the release of the film ourselves, I sensed that he was not too keen.

He blurted out facts on how much we would stand to loose in case the ‘public’ never came to the halls. Over the last few years, he said, he was disappointed with the declining ‘Tulu Pride’ of his audience. Kannada, Telugu and Malayalam films have had decent runs in Mangalore, but no one bothers about Tulu any more, he lamented. A few months back, he had organized a Tulu Film Festival to celebrate 35 years of Tulu Film Industry. But the ticket sales were pathetic, he complained. As for me, getting SUDDHA distributed in mainstream theaters in Mangalore was slowly getting transformed into a distant dream.

Then, all of a sudden a month back, I got a call. Srinivas had booked one of the biggest halls in Mangalore for the 26th of May. He was willing to hire a LCD digital projector and have a single show of SUDDHA for the people of Mangalore. He would not charge tickets, but would collect donations form sponsors, invoking their infamous ‘Tulu Pride’. He even promised me a token amount, asked for the film stills and a copy of the censor certificate. He meant business, although the scale was much smaller than we had originally thought of. The flip side of it was that I was to be felicitated with some fruits, a heavy garland, a traditional brass plate, a huge memento and a red shawl!

I agreed - anything for the release of my film!

So, on the 26th of May, 2007 I had the opportunity to witness the ‘premier’ show of my first feature film. Also felicitated during the occasion was my co-producer Mohan Marnad and two of my actors. Srinivas had made a huge poster of SUDDHA which was displayed at the venue. The design, I must admit, was eye catching. He even had a press conference, three days before the screening. But when Srinivas sheepishly confessed that the advertisements that he had proposed to publish on the day of the screening, never made it to the local press, I choose to believe him. A few people knew about the screening. Yet, there was an audience of around three hundred.

The screening started only after all the sponsors of the event were given an opportunity to speak and have their moments of glory. After all, they were honoring the film and the team that had given international ‘recognition’ to their own Tulu, which was one of the five main languages of the Dravidian branch. When his turn came, Srinivas lamented, chided and even scolded his audience for turning up in such a small number. ‘Where is your 'Tulu Pride'?’ he screamed.

Over the years there have been serious attempt into lobbying the language into the 8th schedule of our constitution. But the fact that there is no widespread usage of the Tulu Fonts, has never made that into a reality. Tulu has been recently included as a subject in some schools. A few vocal activists are already baying for a separate Tulu State. And as they say, above all, the Tulu film fraternity has also been day dreaming about having its own Film Development Corporation!

One of the guests spoke about how SUDDHA had contributed immensely to the Tulu cause. He referred the film as ‘our film SUDDHA’, almost claiming its ownership. That was it. Something told me that the film that I had helped create was, now, no longer mine. And I am not even through with my two week commercial release!

My deep felt thanks to Srinivas and for all those who believed in the film.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

An Autograph of Acceptance

There is always is a strong stinking sense of incompleteness if the film that you have made does not get the opportunity to be viewed widely. The mainstream cinema is lucky to be having a business model in its production-distribution-exhibition chain that facilitates this process of dissemination. But it has its own set of unwritten rules that defines the likes and dislikes of its audience. Unfortunately, in the little interaction that I have had with the harbingers of mainstream cinema, my Tulu language digital feature film SUDDHA has been branded as a film that will not be accepted by a ‘wider audience’. It has been portrayed as THE ‘eternal truth’.

While I do accept that it is becoming increasingly difficult for my film to find a wider audience within the well entrenched production - distribution - exhibition system that the mainstream cinema can boast off, it is a total myth that films like SUDDHA cannot lend itself to a wider audience. There are quite a number of people who would like to see the film on the big screen, but unfortunately because it is perceived that this audience is not substantial enough to cope up with the economics of a conventional theatrical release, the existing exhibitors are very reluctant to show the film in their theaters – and this is true even if you are willing to take the risk and pay the theater rentals before hand!

In such a scenario, how do I get across my film to a willing audience – however small it might be when compared to the pan-India audience that a mainstream Hindi film has?

Fortunately, through a little bit of external funding, I now have the opportunity to exhibit this film in a scale that can bring in the wider audience. Instead of solely relying on conventional theaters, I can target schools, colleges and small film clubs in Coastal Karnataka, where Tulu language is spoken. If nothing else, they would be having a space to screen the movie and a ready made set of audience as well. For the past six months, I had already arranged around fifteen sporadic shows to such an audience. But to achieve a target of one hundred screenings, one needs a road show. And this is now possible.

Soon enough, for the first time in my life, I came to know that in every district in Karnataka, there exists a government officer called the Deputy Director of Public Instructions and that I had to seek his permission to screen my film in the high schools that come under him. I was suggested by his office that I take a nominal contribution from the management of each school amounting to five rupees per head . As soon as I agreed, the typist was instructed- “Madam, please type a permission letter similar to that we had issued to those ‘science guys’.”

Apparently, there were some people who wanted the high school students to see some science based instructional films on how airplanes worked. Yes, the fact that my ‘award winning’ film was being put at the same level as the ‘instructional film’ did put me off for a while. But sometime it helps to take what one gets first. It allowed me to long for more. Having tasted blood, I went to the Deputy Director of Pre-University College, and even got his permission to screen the film in the Pre-University colleges that came under him.

I had to complete my first set of screenings by February 2007, for this was the time when the kids either had their exams or were busy preparing for them. I decided to focus on just one Taluk, mainly because life would be easier in terms of logistic arrangements. Dates and timings of the screenings were decided upon based on long distance calls made from Mumbai to the respective heads of the institutions. Ten working days from a total of fifteen would have to be converted into twenty five screenings – so at times I had to have three shows a day!

The screening venues would be classrooms, school halls, or even college offices where, unfortunately, considerable day light would be sneaking through. Therefore, the projector needed to be powerful. I armed myself with a 3000 luminance projector, a bulky 7x5 inch portable screen, a DVD player and the necessary cables. To maintain uniformity in the sound quality to an audience that I presumed should not be more than two hundred per show, we zeroed in on a system that included a 250 watts amplifier and two 100 watts bulky speakers along with their stands.

All this meant that I needed to hire a vehicle and an assistant to help me with the screenings. I got Harish, a local under worked still cameraman, to accompany me. Suresh, the taxi owner cum driver whom I had hired, came to know about my filmy connections, and immediately increased his stake. But thanks to the highly visible portable screen kit tied on to the top of the car everyone knew that the screening guys had arrived.

It was a struggle to stimulate the optimum conditions that are needed to screen a film. The venues were dirty – they had to be cleaned and mostly such a thing happened only after our arrival. Benches and desks had to be arranged or removed – depending on where the kids were going to be seated. In the front rows, they would normally be squatting. The teachers sat on dignified chairs, followed by the kids who occupied the benches and then the desks - which had higher levels. In the last row or two, people even stood up on these benches.

My audience per screening ranged anywhere from 70 to 600 in number. In one particular venue, some primary school kids, who had sneaked into the hall in excitement, sat 180 degrees to the screen and saw the film - their eyes and mouth wide open. Where the number exceeded 200 and where the possibility of two screenings were bleak, I had to boost the sound levels through the amplifier. The front row guys would therefore hear a slightly distorted sound and the last row would complain that the volume was low. Besides, in most of the halls and classrooms, there was no proper ventilation – the closing of the doors and windows was not adding to the cause.

Frequent power cuts, forced me to hire generators. To deal with the resultant power fluctuations, I had to hire a bulky stabilizer, or else the extra-sensitive projector would on its own, switch off its bulb. Soon, I got the heads of each of these institutions to request the Karnataka Electricity Board not to implement a power cut when the screenings were on. They responded well, except in cases of major unscheduled cable repair work – and it came up at regular intervals.

And then there were the sundry issues to deal with - In one case a single principal was managing two institutions that were located 25 kilometers apart from each other – creating lots of coordination confusion. In another, we wasted a lot of time thinking that there was a power cut – but actually it turned out that the wires connected to electricity pole next to the venue had a loose connection. The windows to the hall of another institution were all stolen and used for firewood by the villagers! And there weren’t enough drama curtains to block the immense amount of light that came in.

And above all, I had to face stiff competition from the ‘science guys’, who kept haunting me off and on throughout my screening schedule. When I landed up in one school, I realized that the head master had also given the same appointment to my competitors. And because they showed an educational film called ‘How planes fly’, they were given preference and I had to pack my bags. It also did not help that I was an ex-student of the same school.

In Malpe, a village very close to the sea, the students were quite noisy. A strict physical trainer who herded the students branding a long cane, whispered to me that the ‘science guys’ had come a week back and the kids were very quite during the screenings because the films shown were dealing with the functioning of the human body – of both male and female. He was very sad that I was not making enough money through these screenings and suggested that the next time I come up with films that dealt with animal life – especially ones that showed their procreation.

But it is amazing to realize that in each of these screenings different audiences reacted almost similarly, to similar points in the film. They liked the spirit of the college going girl trying to be independent. They enjoyed the predicament of the rebellious college drop out who has no courage to do what he says. They loved most of the caesuras - points in a film that provide much needed pauses to the story line. They loved the Tulu dialogues – the typical phrases, sayings, similes and the metaphors used, all taken from every day life.

Of course, it did help when, during the mandatory introduction to the film, I made it a point to remind my young viewers that this film is not like the popular special effect movie 'Krishh', but is closer to ones own soil. The characters in the film might straight be out their own families or their neighborhood. Besides, I announced a competition for the kids – any write up on the film would stand a chance of winning a prize and getting into a proposed book or booklet on Tulu Cinema. The teachers, who had already heard about the film thanks to a publicity blitz that it had received after it won the best Indian Film award at the Osean Cinefan Festival of Asian Films, New Delhi in 2006, loved this academic touch and were very sympathetic.

Almost ninety percent of the educational institutions that volunteered to screen SUDDHA were either government colleges that had poor facilities or that which were financially unstable. An exception was the pre-university college in a village called Nitte where, amidst almost nowhere, exists a private campus that provides educational courses of all kinds. The kids here were taken to the comforts of a generator operated air conditioned auditorium where the neatly arranged seats and the total darkness provided a certain degree of formality that was absent in the classroom screenings in other educational institutions. Sitting in the comforts at the last row of the auditorium, I did not seem to miss the fact that I did not have a multiplex release of my film.

My last screening in this lot was in a girl’s college in Karkala. When we were packing up a after the screening, I was approached by a confidant young teenager named Hemalatha, who had earlier vigorously swept the hall almost single handedly to facilitate the screening. She had with her a note book and a pen. and She recalled an interview that I had given to the local All India Radio station some months back, had liked it and now wanted my autograph!

For a second I did not know how to react. But soon, I gathered myself and scribbled something in Kannada. She thanked me for giving her the opportunity to see ‘such a nice’ film and without wasting a second, she then disappeared into the corridors of her college.

That was how my first road show ended – on a note of acceptance.

That brings me back to the point - films like SUDDHA, which are slightly different from the mainstream cinema, does have an audience. We just do not have a financially self sufficient exhibition system to take these films to those to need to see it. To use business parlance, there could be the existence of many kinds of soaps in the market, and each of these soaps would be targeted to specific but different set of users. The marketing system of the soap distribution would allow such a co-existence. Not so in films.

The screenings of SUDDHA in coastal Karnataka cannot boast itself of being self sufficient in nature – in the sense that the screening costs are barely covered, leave alone the thought of generating some funding for your second film. But I do have the satisfaction of finding and creating an audience for my film through the large screen – something that was not available to me earlier. It was the least I could do, after having made the film!

In India, such road screenings are not entirely new. Historically, the state of Kerala in South India has been active in this regard. But the issue that is now scratching me is - can this ever be converted into a financially viable proposition?

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