This year alone, there has been an explosion of independent Indian films into the cinemas. A lot of production houses have “presented” or taken over distribution rights of indies that long finished the festival circuit, doing the noble thing and exposing them (finally!) to their own audiences. As a result, we’ve seen award-winning films like Island City, Parched, India In A Day, Umrika, Dhanak, Chauranga and Thithi in cinemas for a week or more. Q’s Brahman Naman was a straight-to-Netflix release as well. However, there are a few others – either already available to stream or still in its final stages of making – that may light up the rest of the year for aficionados. Here are five of them:
PLACEBO (Abhay Kumar)
For many attending last year’s Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), Placebo was one of the top priorities; the film had been lurking in documentary festivals around the globe, looking for its India premiere. And it opened to a rapturous ovation in all three of its shows across the city – primarily because not many had seen something of this sort from an Indian filmmaker before. Termed a “hybrid” documentary, the film combines a bit of surrealistic animation with live-action footage, making for a visceral and somewhat haunting experience. The filmmaker stayed at AIIMS (the finest medical school in Asia), Delhi, for more than a year and followed four students around, capturing their struggles, conflicts, and moods over the numbingly competitive semesters. Everything one sees is real, as are the faces, who have now moved on in their respective fields. If there was ever a scathing indictment of the country’s education system, Kumar’s film is it. It is now available to view on Netflix worldwide.
SIDE A SIDE B (Sudhish Kamath)
A unit of 8 people. A 44-hour train journey from Guwahati to Mumbai. A musician duo. 8 live songs. A couple of iPhone 6S phone cameras and 1 Samsung S7. One feature-length film. Kamath, a critic-turned-filmmaker, shot his fourth film in the most true-blue indie way possible – inspired by DIY musicals like Once, Begin Again, and Inside Llewyn Davis. Not many Indian films have been shot this way, lesser so live musicals on a moving train (anywhere, actually). While the entire production of the film seems to have taken place at lightning speed, keeping with its fluid conceptual methods, a festival cut is being readied. Keep your eyes (and ears) out for this one.
NEWTON (Amit Masurkar)
A black comedy by the man who made the charming B-town indie ‘Sulemani Keeda’ – what’s not to look forward to? We haven’t seen many, or any, desi black comedies over the years. More than two years after finishing his first film, the talented Masurkar has now snapped up one of the finest young actors of this generation, Rajkummar Rao, for his next – which is already late in post-production after the shoot in February. All we know is about its story so far: A common man who aspires to be someone in life heads to the jungle infested with Naxals. It is produced by Drishyam Films, Manish Mundra’s production house, and will hopefully be released late this year or early 2017.
SHREELANCER (Sandeep Mohan)
Sandeep has been known to be one of the “purest” indie veterans on the scene for years now. His first two feature-length films, Love Wrinkle Free and Hola Venky! were quirky and well-received, too, and social media folks will be aware that the filmmaker is now in the final stages of finishing his next, the self-effacingly titled ‘Shreelancer’ – which surely sounds like a satire on the industry’s tough freelancer life. He hadn’t even released Hola Venky! in cinemas, tired of the Censor Board and other administrative madness, and came up with the innovative the ‘Great Indian Traveling Cinema’ strategy – where he would travel across the country to colleges, screening rooms, cafes and living rooms to show his little film. He is perhaps considering doing the same for Shreelancer, too.RAGHU RAI: AN UNFRAMED PORTRAIT (Avani Rai)
One of the five unfinished documentary projects selected for the investor’s pitch at the bazaar in IFFI 2015, this one is a brainchild of the legendary photographer’s daughter, an aspiring filmmaker herself. Structured as an intimate – and visually arresting, appropriately, given its subject – peak into the great man’s life, his vision and his relentless eye for beauty, this is also about him as a father, a character more than just an artist. Sounds intriguing enough – and one hopes to see this one (co-produced by Anurag Kashyap) more than just make a few waves across film festivals.