The momentum had been building up for a while, and in 2016, the big boom finally happened. There was an explosion of digital content on video-sharing websites, forcing content creators such as HumaraMovie to come up with a new plan.
Founded by Preety Ali, Pallavi Rohatgi and Vinay Mishra, HumaraMovie has been producing short films since 2012, but the new opportunities offered by platforms such as YouTube has meant “noise with known names, bigger budgets and concrete publicity plans,” Ali said. HumaraMovie has pushed out over 300 short films on its web channel in 2016, including the chatter-worthy Pure-Veg, Chidiya, Playing Priya, Khamakha and The Virgins.
When HumaraMovie started scoping out the scene in 2011, short films were a novelty. They were shown either at film festivals or cultural centres or were grouped according to themes and screened in theatres with great difficulty (HumaraMovie’s Shuruat Ka Interval, Shorts). “Forget 10 years ago, even when we began there wasn’t a market for short films,” Ali said.
Video-sharing sites have dramatically transformed the attitude of filmmakers towards the medium and have produced serious short film content players such as HumaraMovie, Large Short Films and Pocket Films. Well-produced and performed shorts, many of them featuring top-draw talent, are now uploaded regularly on YouTube and often publicised in advance.
Among the best-performing titles for Humaramovie is Khamakha, a road film directed by Aarti Bagdi and featuring Harshvardhan Rane and Manjari Fadnnis. The Virgins, a humourous film by Sandeep A Varma about attitudes towards sex and starring Pia Bajpai, Akshay Oberoi and Divyendu Sharma, has raked up over 4.7 million views on YouTube since its release in August.
Excited by the immediate and widespread reach, filmmakers are keen on experimenting with the short film format to explore unusual subjects and themes that are often free from the constraints of censorship. “We reached out to popular actors and they were very excited to work on these projects,” Rohatgi said. “That was nice for us because it meant that they recognise the brand of HumaraMovie.” Hindi film actors are now more open to online content because they get repeat and new audiences, which in turn helps fuels further productions.
Like most such ventures, HumaraMovie had modest beginnings. “When we started, we invited everybody to make a short film for us,” said Ali, who has been producing films for 20 years and takes most of the creative decisions at the company. Among the first undertakings was a short film competition. “Budgets were low because we couldn’t build a bank with high budgets,” Ali added. “Our focus then was on the concept and the story. If it excited us, we did it.” Their first film on their YouTube channel: Adrak.
The uptick in video-sharing platforms has meant a great volume of production. A creative team at HumaraMovie reviews initial proposals and shortlists exciting projects. “Before green lighting a project, we read the script or meet the filmmaker,” Ali said. “We also see the edit and give our comments. Or in a situation where they need a certain actor and I know someone, I can probably go talk to them about working in the film. So, we come in wherever we think we could bring some value to the project.”
With over 300 short films in a year, it is fair to assume that the HumaraMovie creators have a good idea about what works. However, Ali and Rohatgi are quick to point out that they don’t. “I don’t think anyone has really been able to identify what really works,” Rohatgi said. “It’s unpredictable and there are no guarantees.” However, there is greater access than before to young and committed filmmakers, Rohatgi added.
Although the internet is the principal mode of distribution, HumaraMovie hasn’t abandoned the cinemas yet. Shor Se Shuruaat, an anthology production comprising seven shorts, was released in theatres in November. Each of the seven films was made by promising filmmakers handpicked by established directors such as Shyam Benegal, Mira Nair and Imtiaz Ali. The company had previously produced Shuruaat Ka Interval in 2014, consisting of eight short films. “It always gets better – there has been a vast improvement in production values from 2014 to 2016, and the next one will be even better,” Ali said.
If some of the shorts feel like teasers for feature films, that’s deliberate. The plan is to develop scripts for lengthier narratives. “For example, Gaurav Bakshi made a short film on reincarnation,” Rohatgi said. “We have been working with him on this for the past two years to develop a script for a feature film. We hope that it takes off in 2017.”
Most of HumaraMovie’s revenue stems from YouTube and payment from channels and platforms that share their films. “Both avenues yield just about enough to meet our expenses,” Ali said. “Going forward we want brand associations, which is really the only way to earn revenue.”
The target in 2017 is very clear: “Revenue. We have not really been thinking of revenue, but in 2017 we are going to put all our strength into creating more revenue for HumaraMovie,” Ali added.