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Berlinale Bloggers 2020
India and the Berlinale – Art-house versus Commerce

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Berlinale Bear | © Berlinale

India is represented by only four films at the Berlinale, even though no country makes more films. At the Berlinale, Anjana Singh investigates whether Indian cinema is underrepresented and what this has to do with the balance between sales and art.

By Anjana Singh

In an interview with the Indian director Pushpendra Singh, who was represented at the Berlinale this year with the film Laila aur satt geet (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs), we learn that, unlike in Europe or South Korea, there is very little state funding for filmmakers in India. However, the topics of films are key for their selection at the Berlinale. Italy had nine films in the programme, India only four, a very small proportion considering the huge numbers of films that are produced in India every year (over 1000!). So is Indian cinema underrepresented in terms of numbers in the competition? “I don’t think that Indian cinema is underrepresented at the Berlinale,” says Shwetaabh Singh, the producer of Eeb Allay Ooo. He knows that the Berlinale selects films based on their content. If Indian cinema wants to participate more actively in the programme, the relevant topics have to be dealt with in the films; purely commercial cinema can’t make it. He explains that there is a lack of a balance between sales and art in the film scene. The Berlinale has always promoted experimental cinema. He would like to see good Indian contributions focusing on this aspect.
Every year there are many young filmmakers from India at the Berlinale Talent Campus. Indian films are often not adequately represented in the various Berlinale categories. This is primarily due to the tight production cycles and theatrical release dates in India, because all films that are commercially produced there immediately go to theatrical release, as the revenues have to cover the production costs as quickly as possible. Most stakeholders in the Indian film industry do not practice any “festival strategy.”
“The art-house film sector in India suffers from a lack of evaluation and financing options in its own country because producers don’t want to take any risks; they prefer to produce the next sequel rather than accept the uncertainty of an international festival trip,” explains insider Stephan Ottenbruch, organiser of the annual Indo-German Film Week in Berlin, one of the largest film events of its kind in Europe. “In a country with more than 32 languages, apart from the fact that, in addition to Bollywood, there are other important film industries in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi and Kolkata – forgive me for omitting the other language areas. With the new platforms like Netflix and Amazon, some movement comes into play. But that doesn’t really help the cinema as a meeting place. Strokes of luck with a big star and glamour factor like the gala screening of Gully Boy with Ranveer Singh (2019) or DON 2 with Shah Rukh Khan (2012) in Berlin are therefore the exceptions that internationally draw attention to the enormous potential and the mega-stars of the world’s biggest film nation.”