Indian filmmakers, industry execs and government officials gathered in Delhi during the on-going Osian’s Cinefan festival to discuss the future of the Indian capital as a filmmaking hub.

Some high-profile films such as Delhi 6 and Rock Star have recently filmed in the city, which has experienced line producers, great locations and much more space than the epicentre of Bollywood and the Hindi-language film industry, Mumbai.

But although it’s the seat of power and decision-making in India, Delhi can’t boast of studios, post-production facilities, crews and equipment on the same level as Mumbai or India’s regional filmmaking cities – Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bangalore. As a result, young filmmakers such as Dibakar Banerjee and Anurag Kashyap, who lived and studied in Delhi, usually end up moving to Mumbai.

“Mumbai is a bad place to shoot yet you can’t move out of the city,” said Banerjee, who is attending the festival with political thriller Shanghai. “Film is a team effort and when a good group of people come together that’s when it really starts to happen with consistent quantity.”

On a separate panel, Elizabeth and Four Feathers director Shekhar Kapur agreed that it’s a gathering of writers, filmmakers and technicians that make a filmmaking centre, rather than building infrastructure or insisting that films actually shoot there. “Look at Los Angeles – films are not shot in LA, they’re shot all over the world, but distribution comes out of LA, so what actually makes a film hub?”

Neville Tuli, founder of arts auction house Osian’s which organises Cinefan, suggested that Delhi should be “a great cultural city in which film plays a pivotal role,” rather than a filmmaking centre. Banerjee agreed that “social and cultural history determine a film hub – you can’t turn any city into a filmmaking centre overnight.”

Local filmmaker Ramesh Sharma commented that Delhi could become the centre of India’s independent cinema scene, although at present there are no theatres or other outlets to show arthouse or non-mainstream films. “We shouldn’t just follow what Mumbai and Chennai are doing. We seldom see great regional cinema being shown here – Bollywood takes all the attention.”

There were some points everyone agreed on – as with many Indian cities, Delhi could remove some of the expense and red tape involved in location shooting and introduce rebates for the city’s expensive hotels. Banerjee suggested that scriptwriting workshops, a digital film festival and encouraging a leading post-production house to set up an outpost in Delhi would go some way towards spawning a filmmaking culture. 

But as the two-day conference unfolded, it soon became a much wider discussion about what India needs to do to develop its film industries across several filmmaking centres, rather than a debate about the role that Delhi should play. The debate also centred on whether these initiatives should come from the private or public sector.

Rome film festival director Marco Mueller, one of a handful of overseas delegates attending the conference, spoke of the dangers of leaving film industry development entirely in the hands of private companies. “If you leave this to the industry, you will create an environment that only supports big-budget films,” Mueller said. “Something needs to be done to foster a wide range of production.”

Mueller also spoke of the need for international marketing and suggested that a smaller version of co-production and screenwriting event Film Bazaar, which takes place in Goa each November, could be held in Delhi so that local filmmakers can meet international producers. 

Nina Lath Gupta, managing director of Film Bazaar organiser the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), commented that India still needs to develop skills across many areas – including script development, producing, production management and international marketing. On the subject of infrastructure she said: “I’m not entirely convinced by the viability of building film cities.”

Although it was unclear during the two days of the conference how so many different issues and concerns could be addressed in terms of positive action, it did emerge that India’s Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has moved closer to establishing a film commission.

The new body will be tasked with creating a database of Indian film professionals, arranging visas for visiting film productions and, perhaps most importantly, arranging single window clearances for shooting films. Gupta said it would also make life easier for local filmmakers: “Local producers say they face the same problems as foreign producers on permissions and fees”.

Ironically, the conference was occasionally plunged into darkness due to the power outages that affected most of North India earlier this week. But the impact on the film festival and conference was minimal as most companies and venues have back-up power generators. That in itself seemed to highlight the realities of working in India – the government can be called on to help in some areas, but a certain amount of self-sufficiency goes a long way.