Now in its sixth year, Goa’s Film Bazaar co-production market (Nov 21-24) has become a key plank in the National Film Development Corporation’s strategy to revitalise Indian cinema. Liz Shackleton reports

It has been a whirlwind year for India’s independent cinema. After three films screened in various sections at Cannes - Miss Lovely, Gangs Of Wasseypur and Peddlers - Toronto devoted this year’s City To City programme to Mumbai, screening 10 films from the city’s vibrant indie sector.

Among these, Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus went on to win prizes and special mentions in London, Tokyo and Mumbai, while Manjeet Singh’s Mumbai Cha Raja scooped a special jury award at the Mumbai Film Festival and found a sales agent in Paris and Hong Kong-based All Rights Entertainment.

Other international sales agents are homing in on Indian content. Over the past year, Fortissimo Films has picked up Ship Of Theseus, Miss Lovely and Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout; Elle Driver took on Vasan Bala’s Peddlers and Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs Of Wasseypur and The Match Factory is selling Anup Singh’s upcoming Punjabi-language drama Qissa.

‘We are increasingly seeing projects that have international viability’

Nina Lath Gupta, National Film Development Corporation

Much of this international exposure can be traced back to the Film Bazaar co-production market, which has been held annually in Goa since 2007. At its inception its organisers, the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), hoped the event would stimulate a diverse range of production across multiple languages - through interaction with local and international producers, sales agents, financiers and film festivals - in the same way events such as Rotterdam’s CineMart has done for European cinema.

After six years, it appears the hard work has really started to bear fruit. A large proportion of the Indian films currently playing at festivals and finding sales agents have made their way through the various strands of Film Bazaar - which in addition to the co-production market, also includes a Screenwriters’ Lab, Work-in-Progress Lab and Indo-European workshop Primexchange.

As producer Guneet Monga of Anurag Kashyap Films explains, Film Bazaar turns the world’s attention towards Indian cinema in a way that is difficult to achieve at bigger events: “We travel to all the big festivals, but how do you have a focused meeting or bring the focus of a certain set of people to Indian cinema when you’re in Berlin, Toronto or Cannes?” asks Monga, who is currently setting up Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox as an international co-production.

She continues: “We find that everything culminates in Film Bazaar - it filters down to everybody who is interested in Indian content - all the major sales agents, programmers and buyers are there.”

This year’s projects also look likely to attract international attention with a line-up including Partho Sen-Gupta’s Sunrise (Arunoday), set to star Adil Hussain and Tannishtha Chatterjee; Gillies MacKinnon’s Jharkhand-set Quiver, scripted by Anjali Raghbeer; Opium from Peepli [Live] director Anusha Rizvi; and Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s The Untold Tale, which took part in Cannes’ Cinéfondation programme this year.

Film Bazaar also selects projects from other South Asian countries and this year’s line-up includes Biscuit Race from Bangladesh’s Mostofa S Farooki, whose Television (a Film Bazaar project in 2010) recently closed the Busan International Film Festival; and Kabuliwala, to be directed by French-Afghan film-maker Atiq Rahimi, whose The Patience Stone recently took the best actress award in Abu Dhabi.

“The bench-marking is a little higher this year in terms of the quality of the projects. We’re increasingly seeing projects that have international viability,” says NFDC managing director Nina Lath Gupta. “The most significant trend is that people are coming up with stories that have never been addressed before - stories that are more reflective of contemporary India. There’s a churning that is happening in society and that is being well reflected in cinema today.”

In addition to the traditional routes of finding sales agents and film festival exposure, the NFDC also aims to expand distribution for Indian film through international co-production. That is the core aim of Film Bazaar’s co-production market - bringing Indian producers together with their international counterparts - and since returning to film investment a few years ago, NFDC is also acting as a co-producer itself.

‘All the major sales agents, programmers and buyers are at Film Bazaar’

Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap Films

Upcoming NFDC co-productions include Bengali film-maker Q’s Tasher Desh, a co-production with Belgium’s Entre Chien Et Loup, which premiered at this year’s Rome Film Festival, and Anup Singh’s Qissa, currently in post-production, a co-production with Germany’s Heimatfilm, Netherlands’ Augustus Film and France’s Cine-Sud. NFDC also recently boarded Sen-Gupta’s Sunrise, alongside European and other Indian partners. In each case, the European co-producers are bringing in funding and connecting the projects to international sales agents and distributors.

This is a relatively new area - there have been very few Indo-European co-productions over the past few decades - and India’s fast-paced film-making style is at odds with Europe’s long development periods and reliance on public money. But Augustus Film’s Bero Beyer observes that co-production is now viable, partly due to the tenacity of the NFDC. “Productions like Qissa have only been possible because of a real commitment from the Indian side to work on these projects that take a longer time to finance and make workable,” Beyer says. “Development and building relationships take a long time, especially when two very different systems of filmmaking meet.”

In addition to co-productions, NFDC is backing fully-Indian films, such as Vinod Veera’s upcoming Adigaram 79, a Tamil-language action drama set against the backdrop of ancient Indian martial arts. Projects like these, which are groundbreaking for India, are unlikely to ever be made by the country’s risk-averse mainstream film industries.

However the real test for Film Bazaar and the NFDC’s production strategy will be in whether it can create a sustainable flow of product. International distributors need a regular supply of films in order to create a brand for Indian cinema and keep the attention of notoriously fickle audiences. But with this year’s output and an even wider range of films in the pipeline - many of which are likely to find partners at Film Bazaar - it appears this may already have been achieved.