By Aditya Savnal. Posted on September 12, 2015
Vasan Bala's Peddlers is the story of three unrelated individuals whose lives gradually intersect: Mac (Siddharth Menon), a street-smart orphan; Bilkis (Kriti Malhotra), a young former chemistry teacher afflicted with cancer and a cop, Ranjit,(Gulshan Devaiah). Peddlers is the debut feature of Vasan Bala and was nominated for Golden Camera and Critics Grand Week in Cannes 2012. The film which was later on picked by Eros International still remains unreleased. And sadly despite winning several accolades, the film remains largely unseen by the Indian audiences.
Thanks to Whistling Woods and Celebrate Cinema, we were able to watch the film on the 1st day of this exciting event. The film which which boasts of some great music, cinematography and performance is an impressive debut by Bala. And it would be unfortunate if many people do not get to see it. Post the screening an interactive session was held with Vasan Bala, producer Guneet Monga and editor Prerna Saigal.
During the session Vasan Bala spoke about what inspired him to make Peddlers and how his experiences as a resident of Mumbai helped him shape the film and give it a personal touch. During the session Guneet Monga spoke about her journey of producing Peddlers, The Lunchbox and the release and distribution challenges faced by Indie filmmakers and producers in India.
Bala said the dark tone of the film came from the pessimism, morbid thoughts and other painful experiences from his own life and those of the people around him. The various migrants inhabiting Mumbai and the struggles they undergo in their everyday life also played in a crucial role in shaping the story of the film. Like many, the filmmaking bug bit Bala at an early age and years later he quit his job in order to become a filmmaker. And as Bala admitted, to his surprise his parents took this decision of his quite sportingly. Soon he assisted Anurag Kashyap for Gulaal and Dev D among other films. Incidentally an argument with Kashyap on the sets of Gangs Of Wasseypur is what led Bala to determinedly direct his first feature film. Bala and Saigal further also told us that the film was shot in period of just 30 days and Saigal restructured the film to a great extent on the editing table.
If you thought that making a film is a bigger challenge than producing and releasing it, then you are in for a rude shock. For Monga, shared some of her observations on why producing and releasing Indie films in India is an even bigger challenge than getting them made.
And it gets worse for a dark film Peddlers. For Indian audiences often do not like dark films and this notion keeps getting fed on with an amazing regularity.
Monga admitted that being with Gangs Of Wasseypur at Cannes in 2012, benefited Peddlers immensely. However the fact a few of her films such as Monsoon Shootout and Peddlers have not yet released, makes her feel guilty and is a painful fact which she finds difficult to live with. She rued that current film finance system in India is a challenge and needs to be addressed at the earliest for Indian indies to flourish.
In her opinion, the current system which sees 100% equity finance being raised for films is what makes the recovery difficult. Besides this, lack of Government support, infrastructure, limited marketing spends and reluctance of multiplexes to give prime shows to indie films are some of the many things that ail Indie films and filmmakers in India. Monga suggested that a revenue system like that of the US where in 90% of the revenue of Indie films comes from overseas is what can help Indie films to sustain in India. Moreover her experience of producing some unreleased films has made her bitter and led her to exploring distribution opportunities rather than those of production. Besides this, exploring alternate screening spaces such schools, colleges and emergence of digital platforms like Hotstar, Netflix and understanding how one can use it to stream Indie content profitably is the need of the hour.
It must be said that though the path to making and releasing Indie films in a star obsessed country like ours is not easy. But the persistence of Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap, Manish Mundra and other similar minded people who have released films like Masaan, The Lunchbox and Ankhon Dekhi have shown that it is possible. All one needs is persistence, hardwork and a smart approach.