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By Naman Ramachandran
The Toronto Intl. Film Festival [TIFF] this year offers up three independent films from India that have the potential to be commercial hits and a lecture from an Indian filmmaker whose work is box office gold.
Gala presentation, feature debutant Shubham Yogi’s “Kacchey Limbu,” a coming-of-age sibling drama with the game of cricket as a backdrop, has billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Studios backing it. “Tora’s Husband,” a family drama set in small-town eastern India is competing in the festival’s Platform section and is by Toronto regular Rima Das, who has tasted box office success with “Village Rockstars.”
Actor and director Nandita Das’ “Zwigato” is about the gig economy in India, focusing on the food delivery industry. It stars Indian television superstar Kapil Sharma and is produced by Applause Entertainment, a prolific content producer for streamers, which is planning to enter the theatrical release space imminently. And, S.S. Rajamouli, known for his “Baahubali” franchise and “RRR,” one of 2022’s biggest Indian box office successes, will deliver a lecture that covers among other things, the notion of art versus commerce.

Rajamouli says that at a basic level both art and commerce are opinions. “Commercial numbers are a combined opinion of all the people who saw my film – it irrefutably indicates whether they liked or didn’t like it and it helps me understand the present film,” Rajamouli told Variety. “Critical acclaim is the opinion of a few intellectuals. It helps me fine tune my craft for my next film.
For Yogi, “Kacchey Limbu” is a personal film, which thanks to his backers, Jio and Mango People Media, he was able to make the way he wanted to. “I set out to make a film that I as a filmmaker was happy with. I did that and as my debut film I honestly couldn’t have asked for more. Commerce as I see it a by-product, I set out to tell a story and I feel blessed I was able to tell the story I wanted to,” Yogi told Variety. “I believe when you put something out there in the world that you’ve made with all your heart, it will find its own journey. I am hopeful that ‘Kacchey Limbu’ will pave its own journey and somewhere touch the hearts of everyone who sees it.”
Rima Das felt that her Toronto debut “Village Rockstars,” about children in a village with musical ambitions, would be understood by audiences at film festivals, but maybe not by people who frequent cinemas for commercial fare. But the kind of response ‘Village Rockstars’ received surprised her, with packed screens in her home state of Assam, where the film is set, and a decent response in other parts of India as well. India selected the film as its Oscar entry in 2018. As a solo producer, she was more than happy.
“Indie or not, all films are affected by the change in the audience viewing after the pandemic. If people like it and there is a good marketing and distribution strategy, then things fall in place,” Das told Variety.
While prepping “Zwigato,” Nandita Das was drawn to the human aspects of the mashup of high technology and the life of the food delivery industry workers and feels that the film, while set in India, is a global story. “Independent films are challenging to make everywhere in the world but the real roadblock remains marketing and distribution opportunities for them. There is no level playing field,” Nandita Das told Variety. “And with economics interfering in art, the space for such films has surely shrunk. Though, on OTT [streaming] platforms it has probably expanded. But when I make films, I don’t think of it as art or commercial. I just make what feels right, real and relatable. And I think my films are accessible if given the opportunity to be.”

All the filmmakers laud TIFF for being a platform that celebrates art and commerce in equal measure. “Being selected at a prestigious film festival like TIFF, brings indie films better visibility, wider reach, improves the possibility of the film traveling to other festivals and the market value increases. So, the prospects for better commercial deals also increases,” says Rima Das.
“In the film world there are filmmakers, media, critical audience and general audience. Film festivals are the only platforms where all these people are brought together. Each person from the cross section can understand how the others think and work and perceive,” says Rajamouli. “TIFF, I feel understands this and curates the best of the films whether they are art or commercial.”
TIFF runs Sept. 8-19.
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