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India’s Indies – The Next Big Thing!

With more and more Indian independent filmmakers proving their mettle on the global stage, this genre is coming of age

While mainstream filmmakers hitch their fortunes – and reputations – to the box office, there’s a quiet revolution taking place just under the radar. So we will forgive you if you haven’t noticed but Indian independent cinema is coming of age.

This genre has been on the upswing in India for the last few years but what seemed more like periodic flashes of brilliance is turning into a steady stream of films that are gaining recognition on the international film festival circuit. In 2017 alone, a large number of Indian films have bagged top honours at these festivals, and apart from bringing home acclaim, they have also struck some interesting deals.

The fabulous Indian indie film year started with Rahul Jain’s documentary Machines winning big at the Sundance Film Festival, and was followed by top sales in territories like North America, Switzerland, Finland and Austria.

Then there was Sanal Kumar’s Sexy Durga, which won the top honors at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, and Amit V Masurkar’s much-acclaimed Newton, which won the coveted CICAE award at the Berlin International Film Festival. This was immediately followed by Rima Das’ win at the Hong Kong Film Financing Forum organised by the Hong Kong International Film Festival, for her feature project Village Rockstars, and filmmaker Samit Kakkad’s massive win – the Ecumenical Jury Award – for his film Half Ticket.

Hotel Salvation by Shubhashish Bhutiani continued its festival magic in addition to selling in territories such as Japan, Portugal and Taiwan, much like LOEV by Sudhanshu Saria, which in addition to doing the festival round, sold in Italy, Poland, Estonia and Taiwan, among other territories.

Sure, the Holy Grail, the Cannes Film Festival, was devoid of Indian selections in its main programme, but Payal Kapadia’s Afternoon Clouds was part of the official selection in the Cinefondation side bar at the festival. In addition, films like Nandita Das’ period film Manto, Paakhi Tyrewala’s Sikkamese feature Pahuna produced by Priyanka Chopra and Dr Madhu Chopra, Saregama-produced Aaji by Devashish Makhija, and Dyanesh Zoting’s Raakshas produced by veteran Marathi film producer Vivek Kajaria, made their presence felt at the festival with strategic events and media buzz. Furthermore, Slave Garden by Abhra Aich and Past, Continuous by Nishtha Jain were awarded the IDFA Bertha Fund.

If the beginning of the year for Indian indie cinema is anything to go by, the second half of 2017 looks just as promising, with the introduction of interesting new filmmaking voices from across the country. Here are some of them:

Aakash Bhatia 

The Color Of Loss Or Blue

A well-known name in the ad film world, Bhatia turned filmmaker with his feature The Color Of Loss Or Blue, a tautly crafted, English-language feature starring Karan Pandit, Sameer Kevin Roy and Zoya. After starting with theatre and moving on to becoming a copy writer, Bhatia ventured into direction, directing a music video that went on to be selected at the South By South West Film Festival (SXSW).  In addition to his work and forthcoming feature being tracked by leading film festivals globally, Bhatia also turned producer for the forthcoming feature Buddhagram directed by Kabir Mehta.

Lokesh Kumar 

[My Son Is Gay]

A debutant filmmaker, Kumar is an engineer and a former BPO employee who dabbled in filmmaking with a short film. After his short gained massive traction, he took the leap into making a feature film, which is already among the much-anticipated indie films and stars noted Tamil actress Anupama Kumar. Lokesh Kumar says he is now geared towards making cinema with meaning. His film, My Son Is Gay, will enjoy its world premiere in Melbourne at an upcoming film festival.

Dipesh Jain

[In The Shadows]

A graduate from the University of Southern California Film School and a former student at the Prague Film School, Jain’s debut feature, In The Shadows, stars Manoj Bajpayee in the lead. A recipient of the Directors Guild of America Student Award, Jain has written, directed and produced award-winning shorts, documentaries and stage plays in India, Prague and the US. With a focus on wanting to make strong, character-led films, his debut feature In The Shadows is a psychological drama set in Delhi.

Daria Gai

Three And Half / Namdev Bhau]

After obtaining Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy with a Minor in film and theatre from Kiev (Ukraine), Daria Gai moved to India to teach screen writing and film appreciation at Whistling Woods International. After directing a few shorts, Gai ventured into feature filmmaking with Teen Aur Aadha produced by first-time producer Dheer Momaya and presented by Anurag Kashyap. Shot entirely in three long shots, the film is a leap from the usual style of filmmaking and has earned high praise from many who have watched it. Gai has completed her second feature, titled Namdev Bhau (currently in post-production) and is well into working on her next, which will go on the floors in 2018 and will be filmed in Italy.

Nishil Sheth 


After pursuing a degree in engineering in Bangalore, Sheth chose to study filmmaking and graduated in direction from Whistling Woods. All of 26, Sheth assisted on a few short films and moved on to directing shorts of his own. Now, he debuts with his feature Bhasmasur produced under his banner East Reel films, with debutant producer Karan Kadam. While the film is being prepped for its release, Sheth along with Kadam have begun working on their next.

Deepak Gawade 


Known as the executive producer on notable films like Special 26, M.S Dhoni: The Untold Story among others, Gawade, after having directed a short film in 2013, recently finished his debut feature titled Idak, produced by actor Sharad Kelkar. Currently in post-production, the Marathi-language film is being readied for the festival circuit before its commercial release.

Atanu Mukherje


An alumnus

of Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Mukherje was part of the Berlinale Talents 2015. After he directed many award-winning shorts, Mukherje was ready for his debut feature and thus helmed Rukh. The film was a part of the Drishyam Sundance Screenwriters Lab and was subsequently picked up by Drishyam Films for production. An award-winning short filmmaker, Mukherje in 2010 also directed a documentary film called My House Is Not So Far, commissioned by PSBT and Doordarshan. In addition to directorial experience, he has edited two feature films, Achal (The Stagnant) and Unfreedom, before making the leap to direct his feature film starring Manoj Bajpayee.

Dnyanesh Zoting


A theatre graduate from Pune, Zoting marks his debut with one of the most anticipated Marathi language films, Raakshas starring Sharad Kelkar and Sai Tamhankar. Having worked with noted filmmakers like Paresh Mokashi, Satish Manvar and Chandrakant Kulkarni among others, Zoting decided to take the leap into directing his feature. The film scheduled to be released later this year was also a part of the NFDC and Maharashtra State Govt script lab and the Drishyam-Sundance Screenwriters Lab. The film has been produced by Vivek Kajaria and Nilesh Navalakha, who have in the past produced films like Fandry, Anumati, Siddhant among other notable Marathi films.

Here’s to these filmmakers and films and what’s expectantly an exciting second half of the year!

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