The Telegu slice-of-life comedy Cinema Bandi is currently trending on Netflix, providing a much-needed sense of positivity in these bleak times. At its core, Praveen Kandregula's directorial debut revolves around Veerababu, an auto-rickshaw driver who accidentally chances upon an expensive camera. As the protagonist reveals this prized possession to his friend Ganapathi, a wedding photographer, the latter points out that while he's not aware of the camera's model, this is definitely a camera with which 'Mahesh Babu films' are shot.
Soon, the two friends gather a bunch of misfits from their village to shoot their very own film. Would this film earn big bucks at the box office? Or would this film garner acclaim at an elite-dominated film festival? The answer would mostly be in the negative to both questions, but this self-made film is just meant to delight the characters of Cinema Bandi, serving as a means of escapism from the daily monotony of their lives.
Even though Cinema Bandi makes for a light-hearted, feel-good family watch, one can also observe the underlying social commentary in the film. As Veerababu goes through the previously-recorded content on the camera, he discovers some vlog-like videos shot by the owner, an urban-dwelling woman called Sindhu. Despite spending nearly 4 lakhs on the camera, her own videos seem to look 'amateurish' to say the least.
And of course, Veerababu and Ganapathi also lack 'film school knowledge', but they try to be at their creative best while directing their film. Acting as the cinematographer, Ganapathi climbs trees to get aerial shots or relies on a bullock cart to serve as a jib. The end result of Ganapathi's efforts might not qualify as high-art cinema but it definitely shows his innovative outlook on adapting to his surroundings, a necessary prerequisite for a filmmaker.
One can even draw parallels between the villagers' creative attempts at filmmaking and Sindhu's comparatively bland vlogs. For instance, in the urban Instagram-reels-dominated social media, the privileged demographic is quick to term any short video from a rural/small-town setting as 'cringe'. Even if the TikTok video or reel is recorded in an urban region, it would still be categorised as 'cringe' by the upper sections of society if the video didn't match their sense of visual aesthetics. At the same time, the elite gen-z would be more than happy to shower praises on several mediocre dances and fashion trends, as long as the content creator boasts of pretty privilege and the background is dominated by the accepted 'aesthetics'. Of course, this is a broad generalisation and shouldn't be taken in a sociological sense.
But the argument behind this case study is that everyone cannot afford the perfect light and sound equipment, and definitely not everyone can learn professional filmmaking as a passion. The case with Veerababu and Ganapathi is the same. What they still bear is a certain commitment to their vision. And this is why Cinema Bandi succeeds at celebrating the art of amateurish DIY filmmaking.
And if we look beyond mainstream and arthouse cinema, there might be many examples of homegrown, low-budget features that don't catch the audience's attention (largely due to lack of distribution). For instance, a film studio originating in a slum in Uganda, Wakaliwood, offers heavily amusing takes on the action genre.
Wakaliwood was the brainchild of a man named Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana, a.k.a. Nabwana IGG. Since the 2010s, Nabwana has been writing and directing various action films, many of which were budgeted at just a little under 200 dollars!
Despite these financial constraints, Nabwana has created a name for himself with his action flicks that are adorned with hilariously outdated graphics, self-aware humour, and a cast that largely includes his own family and friends. One can Google cult classics like Who Killed Captain Alex? and Crazy World to get a glimpse at his filmmaking style. YouTube comments on these films' trailers offer genuine praises from even non-Ugandan viewers. While many observe Wakaliwood's 'no-budget' productions as 'extended memes', they are also in awe of the effort and earnestness behind such projects.
Just take any scene from Nabwana's films and you can experience the hilarity on your own. For instance, a group of men fight each other in Who Killed Captain Alex?, prompting the film's omnipresent narrator to shout, 'ACTION-PACKED MOVIE'. When one of the men punches his adversary right on the lips, the narrator robotically remarks, 'Ugandan kiss'. The humour is random and silly, but genuine.
Nabwana knows that his film's scale might not match that of a Michael Bay or even a Rohit Shetty blockbuster. But while his technical knowledge and budget might be scanty, the limits of his imagination clearly know no bounds. What we get as a result are some outrageously fresh narratives that go well beyond the formulaic genre tropes of high-budget action (or even comedy) films.
Closer home, in Assam, Rajkumar Thakuria is a similar underground legend. Usually referred to as 'Mr. Rajkumar Thakuria' or even 'Raku-da', he's an all-rounder in low-budget filmmaking. The ex-Central Bank employee always wanted to be an actor. After seeking voluntary retirement from his banking job, he went on to pursue his cinematic dreams.
Today, Thakuria has a cult following with his songs as well as films in which he serves as lead actor, director and producer. His films are a mishmash of all genres and follow a 'masala' formula, but the execution is what sets his work apart from a generic Indian action entertainer. Yet again, he has a low-budget style with laughable VFX and acting that would be categorised as 'unprofessional'. But he's clearly having fun being the hero of his own film, as is evident from ventures with exaggerated titles like Super Warrior, A Wondrous Army, and Terrorist Enter My House!
These are just two examples that celebrate amateurish filmmaking, much like Veerababu and Ganapathi's efforts in Cinema Bandi. If we dig deeper, there might be many such hidden gems. Ultimately, the question arises, what even is amateurish? Further, who decides what is amateurish and what is not? Cinema Bandi offers a simple and inspiring answer in its end credits: Everyone is a filmmaker…at heart.