What do The Lunchbox, Miss Lovely, Court, Qissa, Masaan and Thithi have in common? Besides the fact that these movies have been feted at festivals the world over, all of them have been nurtured by the National Film Development Corporation’s Film Bazaar. The annual business networking event, which is held alongside the International Film Festival of India in Goa in November, is in its ninth year. Film Bazaar is where filmmakers have been taking scripts and films in various stages of development to be shared with mentors, potential co-producers, distributors, sales agents and festival programmers. This year, nearly 250 titles are available across various sections, such as the Co-Production Market, Work in Progress, Film Bazaar Recommends and the recently added Children’s Screenwriter’s Lab.

Film Bazaar has become the NFDC’s biggest activity, and garners more publicity than its other obligations towards production, distribution and the restoration of its older titles. The company’s focus has shifted from production to “skill development, production and promotion”, managing director Nina Lath Gupta told Scroll.in. Plans include developing low-cost cinema chains to support its own productions and independent films.

The Lunchbox (2014).

This is the ninth year of Film Bazaar. Which year marked the turning point?
I think the turning point was 2011, the year we had Miss Lovely, BA Pass and Mumbaicha Raja. This is when festival programmers started taking our programming very seriously and saw us as the go-to place for sourcing films for festivals. More and more people started applying. It was also the turning point because we started acknowledging the importance of development. For me, that has been the single greatest take-away – the importance of development, and that you have to build products and relationships. Also in the last five years, we have consistently promoted unusual, unseen stories which have a market and are getting distributed. That has been the single most significantachievement for Film Bazaar.

I am like a proud mother hen when a film gets into an international festival. It gives me a great deal of satisfaction.

What are the highlights of this edition? Which section has seen the highest growth?
This year, we have added the Children’s Screenwriter’s Lab and we are putting a lot of emphasis on filming in India. In the early days, it was very difficult to convince filmmakers to submit their projects to the Work in Progress Lab. Six years ago I was begging people, but now we get around 150 applicants. So that would be the section that has seen the highest increase. We are holding workshops for state government officials to acquaint them with the best practices to promote their locations globally.

The emphasis is to continue to focus on the diversity of cinema and encourage commerce. In the last nine years, I have seen the change in the way filmmakers themselves have begun to value the platform and become more professional. They fix meetings in advance and have learned how to pitch a project. They have learnt the value of multiple drafts, and the focus on development has increased. There is openness to interacting with partners across the world, a greater confidence and enhanced marketing skills.

Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost (2013).

The success rate of the projects that have passed through Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market is particularly low.
I would agree with you. That was our learning too. We did a statistical analysis of the CPM and noted three issues. Quality: sometimes in the numbers game you suffer on quality, and we dealt with that this year. From around 30 projects last year, we have only 19 this time. Secondly, it’s not difficult to get funding in India. Films always find finance towards production. We have been crowd-funding for years – either through relatives or borrowed, movies get made. Therefore filmmakers in India are not used to waiting for funding.

However international producers are used to a long trajectory of three to four years, so there is a serious mismatch when it comes to international co productions. And finally, it’s a different kind of cinema and so it’s easier for a major studio or producer to get into it after seeing something of the film. To come in at the script stage is tougher. When I see the success of the various sections, the one that will be the slowest in terms of success is going to be the CPM and the ones with the greatest success rate are the curated sections, Work in Progress and Film Bazaar Recommends.

Film Bazaar has become the NFDC’s showcase property.
We didn’t intend it that way, it’s happened willy-nilly. We would have liked NFDC to be the showcase, but sometimes one brand becomes bigger.

Nina Lath Gupta.

What is the NFDC’s mandate now?
The mandate is obviously to promote the growth of the film industry. I have always maintained that we sit on the periphery. It is not our job to do something that the private sector is already doing very well. So within that ambit, within that environment, we have transitioned from being just a film financing and film producing body, as we were till the early 2000s. We have become an institution that is focusing on the entire gamut of the film business. So we are focusing on skill development, production and promotion.

The key challenges going forward are distribution and building audiences. I am very satisfied that the kind of films we are promoting at the Bazaar or NFDC are finding distributors, but we would not have achieved that without the support of those with the means of distribution, such as Yash Raj Films and Viacom 18. We don’t have distribution strength, so we need these synergies. NFDC is a PSU [public sector undertaking] with a board of directors. The company is owned by the Government of India and has been set up to achieve the goals of promoting the film industry. We work hand in hand with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on policy too.

What about production?
We have made about 28 films in the last seven years, the latest being Island City, which was at the Venice Film Festival. It doesn’t make sense to have development platforms and not take these projects through them. We realise how much value it adds for a filmmaker. There was a time when we green-lit films based on first drafts. After 28 films in 7-8 years, I am realising more and more the value of development.

Our script labs offer a non-invasive approach. We don’t tell the writers what to write, but through discussions, pitching and narration, we compel them to think about their own writing and potential. Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Titli, Island City and The Lunchbox are some films that benefited from the process.

It’s true that many of the films that we have made have been duds too. That is a risk you take when you work with first-time filmmakers.

You have made 28 films in the last few years, yet one would struggle to name more than a handful. Why don’t we know more of NFDC’s involvement in film production?
I am not losing sleep over it, to be honest. The filmmaker is paramount. We are not a private production house and we are not in the valuation game. We have films like Chauthi Koot, The Lunchbox, Qissa and Island City, so perception does not trouble me. This is an industry that functions on word of mouth and those people who stand to gain from it know what NFDC does. And the ones who don’t will figure it out over time.

What are NFDC’s plans for the immediate future?
Development of audiences and exhibition spaces are two areas we are working on, but it’s a slow journey. We need small theatres in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. There is a fragmentation of audiences, single screens are shutting down and multiplexes are too expensive. It is imperative to build an exhibition structure that is low-priced, yet maintains high technical standards.

Island City (2016).