When news of Om Raut’s Ramayana adaptation Adipurush being selected to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival broke, the reactions were far from complimentary. Was it really the best way of “introducing audiences to the joys of popular Indian Cinema”?
India has a long history of its commercial films being selected to play at international festivals. Think Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se (1998) at the Cannes Film Festival back or the numerous Shah Rukh Khan films that have played at the Berlin International Film Festival.
“I hear things like, ‘Oh once we put the festival laurels on the poster, it will diminish our commercial prospects back home.’ " said Josh Hurtado, a programming consultant at Fantastic Fest and the founder of film marketing and distribution company Potentate Films.
“It's very telling that right after the Berlin International Film Festival discovered Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1999, the Cannes Film Festival selected Bhansali’s next film, Devdas (2002), to play out of competition,” said Meenakshi Shedde, South Asia delegate, Berlin Film Festival.
The massive response to Don (2006) being screened at the Berlin International Film Festival’s International Forum section led to its sequel becoming a German-Indian co-production, made by Excel Entertainment and Film Base Berlin.
Hurtado also traces RRR’s success back to Rajamouli film Eega, a revenge tale of a man reincarnated as a housefly, being selected at film festivals back in 2012. “Having that film appear at festivals showed the financiers back in India, like Shobu Yarlagadda who produced Baahubali, that Rajamouli’s work had value outside of an Indian audience,” he said.
According to news reports from 2010, My Name Is Khan tickets sold out in five seconds flat, with some later being auctioned on eBay for 1,000 euros (then about Rs 60,000) each. Programmers even describe fans queuing up in -2°C weather.
“The arthouse guys are wild and up in arms. I’ve got nasty stinkers from some of them,” said Shedde. “They feel that festivals are their last little cabbage patch left where they can have some breathing space and some oxygen because no arthouse films can be assured of a theatrical release?”
Many producers are also terrified of potentially negative buzz ahead of a film’s official release. It’s understandable – when you have Rs 500 crore riding on a movie, the last thing you want is for it to be savaged by critics at a festival.