Rajnesh Domalpalli's first film, Vanaja, won the best debut award at Berlin this year. It has been accepted into 92 film festivals in 38 countries and won 19 awards so far. With world sales picked up by Emerging Pictures, this arthouse film centring on South Indian folk and classical arts and rural landscapes, includes a cast made up of "people off the street, or from the vast Indian middle class," says Domalpalli. The film is yet to find a distributor in India. Domalpalli is now working on two scripts. The first is a Telugu language film about a dysfunctional child in a very dysfunctional family, while the second film, in English, deals with forest degradation and poaching. "Going forward, I intend experimenting not just with film style and content, but also with melding genres, and alternating between a slightly more mainstream bias and an arthouse one," he says.
"Human experience draws me in. The depths at which we break and reform are where I like to plumb."
Manorama - Six Feet Under
Navdeep Singh recently made his directorial debut with a homage to film noir called Manorama - Six Feet Under starring Abhay Deol, Gul Panag and Raima Sen. The $770,000 (rup30m), Manorama was a worthy showcase of Singh's talent, but failed to make waves at India's box office. Producers Shemaroo are sending the film to festivals and have released it within diaspora cinemas worldwide. The experience of Manorama persuaded Singh to add some light to his next feature, a cop thriller. On the prospects of his movies in India and abroad, Singh says, "You can't make films for an international audience without foreign funding and an international producer."
Black Friday, No Smoking
One of the most outspoken voices of Indian independent film-making, Anurag Kashyap has worked on several films as a writer, including Water and Dance Baby Dance, and three as a director. His debut feature Paanch remains unreleased, but his second, the $1m docu-drama Black Friday, about the 1993 serial bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai was released in India and the US earlier this year, earning $1.5m and $35,000 respectively. It was sold internationally by Golden Network. His third feature, the dark comedy thriller No Smoking, starring John Abraham and Ayesha Takia, is being distributed worldwide by Eros, and premiered at the Rome Film Fest last month. Forthcoming projects include the $7m animated film Hanuman Returns, and comedy Dev D, starring Abhay Deol and Mahi Gill, backed by Spotboy (UTV Motion Pictures' production arm) and set to go into production shortly. Kashyap believes Indian films suffer from "not being about us, but about a culture of Bollywood - song, dance and escapism. I want to make films that evoke an India that has not been seen."
Shivajee Chandrabhushan's feature, Frozen, was shot in black-and-white, not as an artsy statement, but because the director felt it better reflected the harsh climate of its setting in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Produced by Chandrabhushan's Seagull Media Productions and Mumbai-based Phat Phish Motion Pictures, the film tells the story of a family whose remote lifestyle is rudely interrupted when the army moves in next door. It played in the Discovery section at Toronto and won the special jury award at this year's Cinefan film festival in New Delhi.
Chandrabhushan, a 35-year-old former music video director, and his associate director Shanker Raman, shot the film in sub-zero temperatures at 12,000 feet in the depths of winter. Although not commercial, Frozen is the kind of film that could be marketed as well-made world cinema from a rarely-filmed region. It was praised by critics for its photography and the way it dealt with the conflict between modernity and tradition.
"It really connected with the mostly non-Indian audience at Toronto," says Phat Phish Motion Pictures CEO Sanjay Bhattacharjee.
Little Terrorist, Road to Ladakh, The Forest
Ashvin Kumar hit the ground running when his short film, Little Terrorist, earned him an Oscar nomination in 2005, as well as a spate of awards on the festival circuit and a commercial release in India. He then followed that up with 48-minute film, Road To Ladakh, which appeared at various festivals, including the Vancouver International Film Festival, and feature The Forest, an eco-thriller, budgeted at $2.2m, starring Jaaved Jaaferi and Nandana Sen, which is awaiting release. Kumar's next projects include an urban trilogy set in Indian metros, a feature about Kashmir, shot in the style of a John Wayne western, and a travel documentary called Routeless. Kumar's aim is to "make films with universal themes that appeal to audiences from around the world. The films have to be political, social or humanitarian; even a comedy should be ironic. But the films have to put bums on seats."
Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2
Shashank Ghosh made his transition from television to feature films with the urban crime comedy Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part 2 (there was no part 1). Made on a budget of less than $500,000 (rup20m), the film made modest festival visits to Raindance, London and the River West Florence Festival. His second feature transfers small screen character Quick Gun Murugan into the $2m 'curry western karmic cowboy' film Quick Gun Murugan, which is expected to be ready by end of 2007. Ghosh describes his kind of films as "dark brown, urban, optimistic, with room for humour" and is drawn to stories that "have a ring of truth in them; anything except horror". Next up is the US-set crime comedy The Betel Nut Killers.
Ek Hasina Thi, Johnny Gaddaar
Both of writer-director Sriram Raghavan's films have been thrillers which demonstrate a clear influence of Hollywood and European cinema. But he is ready to widen his genre net. "It should be a story I am interested in watching and really want to tell. So the genre can be action adventure, biography, drama, horror or thriller," he says. Ek Hasina Thi and Johnny Gaddaar received critical acclaim for his international style of film-making, but neither film has played on the festival circuit. Commercially, the films appealed to multiplex audiences in the cities. Raghavan is currently working on a non-thriller film produced by Rohan Sippy, starring John Abraham and Aishwarya Rai.
Profiles by Udita Jhunjhunwala
Though his focus is Indian audiences he feels "there are some subjects that may find universal appeal from non-Indian audiences too".
Makdee, Maqbool, Omkara, The Blue Umbrella
Composer, singer, writer and film producer Vishal Bhardwaj made the shift from music to directing with children's film Makdee. He then embarked on an interpretation of Macbeth titled Maqbool and followed that up with his second in the Shakespearean trilogy, Omkara, based on Othello. Before getting to a promised third, he finished children's film, The Blue Umbrella; produced Anurag Kashyap's No Smoking; and directed 11-minute short film Blood Brothers for Mira Nair's Aids JaaGo portmanteau project. He is finalising his script for Second World War drama Julia. "We need a spectrum of cinema otherwise we will continue to be a joke globally," he says. "We amuse them with our dancing around trees, but the West will be more open to our films if we innovate."