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The perception of Hindi cinema is changing in the West, thanks to a new breed of young, talented and fearless filmmakers

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In the last five years, Indian cinema has gone through a series of changes. From change in the landscape with the increasing demand for content-driven cinema to the transitioning dynamics of the industry, the only constant has been change.

Amid the many positive developments in all these changes has been the growing acceptance of Indian films internationally. What was earlier considered to be a one-off scenario with a few-odd films making a sporadic mark in the international scene has now become a regular affair.

In light of this, here are eight things…

Independent Films At Key Festivals

More recently, after Udaan by Vikramaditya Motwane premiered at Cannes in 2010, we have consistently seen many Indian films follow suit. Films like Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur and That Girl In Yellow Boots; Kanu Behl’s Titli; Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan; Vasan Bala’s Peddlers; Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout; Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry; Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, and many more have represented India at festivals like Cannes, Venice, Toronto, Berlin among various others.

In many cases, these films have played at multiple top festivals around the globe. The biggest of sales agents and producers are regulars at these festivals and when you add the media interest in such prestigious festivals, it invariably has benefited to alter the perception of India, being capable of producing just song-and-dance musicals to a country that also tells realistic, contemporary stories for the world to consume. The overall perception and appetite for Indian cinema as a whole has grown.

Breakout Of The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox played a pivotal role in attracting international attention towards Indian cinema as an entity far beyond diaspora audiences. The Lunchbox will go down in history as a benchmark film of the extent of acceptance of an Indian film can attain if not more, be it the reception it received at Cannes, Sundance and various other festivals and also the commercial success it earned in international territories, breaking box office records worldwide.

It was also picked up by one of the best distributors worldwide for independent films in Sony Pictures Classics, and that really helped the West see Indian cinema in a different light. Additionally, the film was distributed in every major and minor territory, seeing overages in most.

Indian Mainstream Films’ Performance Internationally

Two films that have put India on the map once again at the global stage are Dangal and Baahubali. Dangal is now among the top-highest grossing movies ever in China and Baahubali too has broken records in the US. More importantly, it became a talking point in the international press, which has again shaped how Indian cinema is perceived. The yearning for such cinema has also increased internationally, with a larger number of distributors in non-traditional markets now keen to explore distributing Indian cinema.

Talent Crossover

While there have always been a few Indian actors who have played parts in Hollywood films, actors like Irrfan and Deepika (Padukone) have played important roles in big-ticket Hollywood films, thereby making a mark for India as a whole. Even now we have actors like Nimrat Kaur, Ali Fazal, and more recently Rajkummar Rao, among others, continuing to play interesting roles in international films. The cinema world has become a smaller place, with a lot more roles being carved and written for actors from our country and region. It has gone beyond playing generic ethnic characters to playing characters of Indian descent with the story weaving the character integrally.

Priyanka Chopra

Priyanka Chopra’s success internationally has been unprecedented. She has had her own album, her own TV show, and a big-ticket film, all in a span of three years. She is now on her way to the next season of her hit TV show, is producing international content and subsequently also putting Indian regional films she is producing on an international stage. Her success has not just educated but also changed the perception of how the West looks at Indian cinema and the ecosystem. From presenting Academy Awards and Emmys, to being the guest of honor at the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival, to occupying the prime-time slot on American television, she has made it happen not just for herself, but has also paved the way for numerous others.

Regional Films

It is not just Hindi films that are making a mark at the festival circuit. Films like Court, Killa, Kaka Muttai, Fandry, Chronicles of Hari, A Billion Color Story, Half Ticket, Hotel Salvation and Lipstick Under My Burkha have won various laurels at innumerable international film festivals and have shown the diversity not just in content and stories but also in different languages from which stories can emerge from just one country. The diversity of the country has been consistently well represented internationally with all these films making a mark and winning these accolades.

Indian Directors

After The Lunchbox, Ritesh Batra has gone on to make two high-profile projects, both in the English language. Even Vetri Maaran’s film Visaarani didn’t just win accolades on the festival circuit, it was also a running contender in the Foreign Language category at the Oscars this year. Even Chaitanya Tamhane, the director of Court, is touted to be one the directors to look out for internationally.

Similarly, Leena Yadav is already in the midst of her international project. What’s changed now is the fact that it is no longer where you come from, but the talent you possess and there is a growing value in that. A large part of the film world has taken notice of the fact that we have great stories to tell and great talent to tell it.

Interest Among Digital Platforms

When Netflix launched in India last year, it picked up Q’s Brahman Naman, which premiered at Sundance. Now with Amazon as well in the race, India is seen as a serious market both in terms of acquiring content and also making local content for the domestic as well as international audience. From Inside Edge’s success on the Amazon platform to Netflix announcing Sacred Games, the time is both exciting and will see growth. A larger number of content-driven films has been instilled with the confidence of taking the leap, with a new avenue to be able to exploit the film commercially.

Things that have changed the perception of Indian films internationally

(Written by Guneet Monga, a noted Indian and international producer and founder of Sikhya Entertainment)

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