Many fans believe that the best films are the result of a flash of inspiration. But the success of the annual film development laboratory Film Bazaar punctures that notion.

Starting off modestly in 2007, the event has evolved into a one-stop destination for writers, directors, producers, commissioning agents, film festival programmers and distributors seeking Indian films to sell, buy or develop.

Film Bazaar counts as one of its major triumphs Ritesh Batra’s critically and commercially rewarded debut The Lunchbox, which was mentored at the annual scripting workshop. Other Film Bazaar products that have gone on to win acclaim include Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, Anup Singh’s Qissa, Kanu Behl’s Titli, Avinash Arun’s Killa and Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court.

Set up by the National Film Development Corporation and steered by its Managing Director Nina Lath Gupta, Film Bazaar coincides with the first few days of the International Film Festival of India in Goa. It will be held in Panaji this year between November 20 and 24.

The business of cinema

While the International Film Festival of India is thronged by cinephiles keen to catch contemporary and classic movies, Film Bazaar is about the business of cinema – about sharpening scripts, polishing rough edits and making connections between sellers, producers and buyers. It includes labs dedicated to screenplay writing and co-production.

Last year’s event was attended by 831 delegates from 36 countries, including delegations from Australia, Canada and Poland, according to a press release.

“All filmmakers can benefit from a useful dialogue to help them open up areas they might not have arrived at as quickly by themselves," said Marten Rabarts, Head of Development at the NFDC and former Artistic Director at the Binger Filmlab.

Movies come to Film Bazaar at various stages , and all of them need some kind of a push. Some are scripts that need shaping and recasting. Some are rough edits that need sharpening. Some are completed films that are looking for buyers. The event has the word “bazaar” in its title but it is also a laboratory where various elements come together, an incubation chamber where movies nurtured to completion, and a trade fair where productions are assessed and purchased.

Miss Lovely

“Making genuine independent films, particularly in India, is a very difficult task and venues like Film Bazaar are essential in order to get interesting projects off the ground," said Ashim Ahluwalia, who took Miss Lovely to the Co-production Market in 2008 and Work-In-Progress Lab in 2011. The film is an exploration of Mumbai’s soft-porn film circuit.

The Work-In-Progress helped the director clinch deals that pushed Miss Lovely  towards completion, as well as snag a selection at the Cannes Film Festival two years later. “Although the film was already financed and in the midst of post-production, the lab was important to get us meetings with sales agents and film festival curators, including the selection committee for Cannes, where it was ultimately accepted,” said Ahluwalia.

He is back at Film Bazaar this year with the screenplay of a movie tentatively titled The Boyfriend.  Written along with Vidur Nauriyal, Ahluwalia’s new movie is a “love story between a middle aged journalist and a teenage working class boy”.

“Much like the criminal filmmakers of Miss Lovely, the two characters are forced to live every day of their lives as invisibly as possible, under the unrelenting fear of being caught and persecuted,” Ahluwalia said. “It deals with issues we never see in Indian films, so Film Bazaar is a very critical place for a film like this to germinate.”

Several iterations

Some films can go through various iterations at Film Bazaar before they are completed. Among them was Bikas Mishra’s debut feature Chauranga, a coming-of-age story set in rural Bihar against a backdrop of caste and feudalism. It won the top prize in the Indian competition category at the Mumbai Film Festival in October. Chauranga has been through “every single stage” at Film Bazaar, Mishra said. “The script was discovered at the Screenwriters’ Lab in 2010,” he said. “I was then sent to the Locarno Film Festival’s Screenwriters’ Lab, where I was provided with an advisor, which was Marten [Rabarts].”

Mishra fine-tuned the screenplay, and submitted the final draft to the co-production market in 2011 along with his producers, filmmaker Onir and actor Sanjay Suri. “We had no money to spend on development, but at the co-production market, we received a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh for the best script in the market,” he said. “The money was a stamp of approval and gave us a footing.

Further script development funds came from the Göteborg International Film Festival Fund, which forwarded between Rs eight lakhs and Rs nine lakhs. “We received all this money only because of Film Bazaar, and had we not got this second amount, the project would have died,” Mishra said, The NFDC also put in some money, and by 2012, a private investor became the main funder of the project.

This year, Chauranga is back at the Film Bazaar in a section that recommends completed productions to programmers and sales agents.

Mentors behind the movies

Film development workshops, especially to shape scripts, are popular the world over among filmmakers who are honest and practical enough to realise that they need professional help. Events such as Film Bazaar help filmmakers who wish to develop a storytelling language that can be understood by international festivals, circuits and markets. Among the biggest problems of Indian films, even the so-called artistically oriented ones, is that they rely too heavily on dialogue and exposition rather than on cinematic tools (cinematography, sound, editing) to convey information and emotions.

“One of the things we encourage the writers to work with is to trust the situation and the characters, and trust the audience to understand,” Rabarts said during a recent visit to Mumbai. “I have seen a tendency to place too much attention on the on-the-nose dialogue, as well as a tendency towards exposition.”

Fine-tuning ideas

The trick is not to impose an external point of view on the writer or director, but to suggest ways in which ideas can be fine-tuned without losing their integrity. “In script development particularly, it is the writer’s job to take us by the hand and lead us into their world – and tell us not just what the story is, but what is the need for the story, why this one out of 10,000 others,” said the script mentor, who divides his time between Amsterdam and Mumbai. “Once that is established, we do follow up-sessions by Skype and phone sessions. The emphasis is on using a cinematic language that involves sound, editing, and the use of music. These things might come later than necessary, and we encourage writers to look at them.”

Every film that scripts its own destiny at Film Bazaar paves the way for other films, Rabarts added. The event has the potential to build a library of Indian movies that can hold their own against international productions and compete not just for festival selection but also for lucrative international distribution deals, he pointed out.

“Festivals should only ever be seen as a great launch pad," Rabarts said. "For certain pure arthouse films, festivals might be the large part of the audience, but filmmakers want their films to reach the largest audience that might be appropriate for their films. It’s like a layer cake – knowing which layer your film is going to engage with is very important.”