Fund the film you want to see
Crowdfunding is emerging as a viable option for independent films struggling for funds
As far as Sanjeeb Biswas can remember, it is from one of the Feluda fan pages on Facebook that he came to know about a documentary being made on his fictional childhood hero. The Muscat-based banker has contributed Rs3 lakh to the film’s Rs50 lakh budget. Had director Sagnik Chatterjee approached him personally, he would still have made that donation.
“It was an emotional decision," Biswas says over the phone. But there is no way Chatterjee would have found a supporter such as Biswas—or others like an Italian man who discovered Satyajit Ray’s children’s detective in literary form at a book store in Ahmedabad on one of his visits to India—without Wishberry, without social media, without the internet.
Are there a sizeable number of people who care enough to pay for a film they would like to see even before it has been made? Recent examples of successfully crowdfunded films seem to suggest there are. Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla’s An Insignificant Man, currently playing in theatres, raised Rs71 lakh on its website from around 800 contributors, and is one of the most expensive crowdfunded Indian films till date. Wishberry, a crowdfunding site dedicated to the arts, has so far collected approximately Rs12 crore, of which Rs6 crore has been for films—the site saw a 200% jump from 2015 to 2016 in the number of films on its platform.
Indian films of all shapes and sizes are exploring crowdfunding, from Punyakoti, a Sanskrit animation film that centres on a dialogue between a cow and a tiger, with funding of Rs41 lakh (the highest by any film on Wishberry), to TiffinBox, a Konkani short which was shown at the International Film Festival of India this year. Placebo, one of the most talked-about documentaries of 2016, took the crowdfunding route to raise part of its budget. Other films have used a similar strategy: opting for crowdfunding before entering the post-production stage, after exhausting all other independent sources of funds.
Actor-director Rajat Kapoor is crowdfunding his next feature, RK/R Kay, from the conception stage on Gocrowdera.com. This is the first cinema venture for the California-based site, previously limited to medical emergencies and scientific innovations. Kapoor’s film sounds crazy enough to not have found a traditional producer or studio to back it. It’s about a director trying to catch one of his characters so that he can put him back into the film he’s escaped from. RK/R Kay is looking to raise Rs2.5 crore by January. If it succeeds, it will be the highest amount raised by an Indian film through crowdfunding—the current record belongs to Onir’s I Am (2010), which collected Rs1.3 crore over a year.
“It’s a desperate measure," Kapoor said in an interview to NDTV. “When all other roads get closed, when you realize nothing is going to come from conventional sources, you look for a new path, so that you can reach out to those people directly who are eventually going to watch the film."
Indians warming up to the concept of crowdfunding has been good news for regional cinema, particularly films from Assam. The trend was set by Bhaskar Hazarika’s Kothanodi, which took to crowdfunding as a last resort. It won the 2015 National Award for best feature film in Assamese. Kothanodi’s success story encouraged other Assamese film-makers to explore crowdfunding. When Kenny Basumatary’s low-budget action comedy Local Kung Fu 2 fell short of funds before post-production, he raised Rs8 lakh in a month on Wishberry.
“I think one of the biggest factors for the success of the campaign would be that we already had an existing fan base," says Basumatary, whose Local Kung Fu (2013) had a cult following even outside Assam. Another Assamese film-maker, Reema Borah, went a step further. For her film Bokul, which played at the Mumbai Film Festival in 2015, she bypassed all intermediaries and crowdfunded on Facebook—raising Rs9 lakh of the film’s Rs25 lakh budget. For her latest film, Bisnu, she raised Rs1 lakh on Facebook. “I had the freedom of making the film I wanted to, without any compromises and hindrances. Most often, this freedom is what every film-maker craves," says Borah.
One of the pledgers of Borah’s film, an Assamese government employee working in Mumbai, says that while he made the donation for the betterment of Assamese cinema, he made sure his money was in safe hands. His research on Borah led him to look up her graduation film from the Film and Television Institute of India. Similarly, Soumitra Ranade, who raised Rs40 lakh on Wishberry for his surreal reimagining of the 1980 art film Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai, found himself at the receiving end of scrutiny by interested pledgers, sometimes unpleasantly so. Ranade got calls from people who wanted to understand why, despite being the proprietor of a successful animation company (Paperboat Design Studios), he needed money from people. “I tried to explain that I am not that studio. It’s a private limited company, I get my pay from there and I have to run the house. But there seemed to be a perception that I am doing very well and I’m not a struggling, hungry film-maker," says Ranade.
The “crowd" psychology works in curious ways and no one knows it better than Bengaluru-based film-maker Pawan Kumar, dubbed by the media as the poster child of crowdfunded Indian films. Kumar pulled off a coup when he raised Rs50 lakh for his film Lucia through crowdfunding. It started with an angry blog about the frustrations of making an independent Kannada film in an industry which seemed to favour only safe commercial films. Kumar devised an inventive way of attracting investors—he offered distributing rights to the funders; they could make money out of a unique link given to them if they shared it with others and got them to visit the site. Most of the other crowdfunding sites in India, and major ones abroad (including Kickstarter), are based on donations.
When Kumar initiated funding for his next film, Nicotine, through the same route, he realized it wasn’t working out. Lucia is credited with having started the Kannada independent film wave, but its success meant that people didn’t look upon him as an underdog any longer. “Unlike in the West, where people contribute based on whether they would like to watch a film or not, in India we see crowdfunding from an emotional point of view," he says.