Filmmaker KP Kumaran at the KNIFF Coffee Chat

Malayalam filmmaker and screenwriter KP Kumaran, who co-authored Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s iconic Swayamvaram (1972), hosted filmmakers on Day 2 of the Kazhcha-NIV Indie Film Festival in Trivandrum yesterday.

Reminiscing about the 1970s and the 1980s, the period when he was making films, Kumaran spoke about the confluence between theatre and cinema and the fact that there were outstanding writers and critics.

“Literature and social consciousness was reflected in cinema,” Kumaran recalled. “There was a confluence between literature, politics and cinema.” He pointed out that it was in the 1960s that people in Kerala had become interested in cinema and a conscious understanding of the medium and its creativity started.

But he also highlighted the challenges in making independent films. “A career as an independent filmmaker in Kerala is very difficult,” Kumaran said. “Except two or three people who had a strong support base, generous producers and government support, with NFDC [the National Film Development Corporation] and the Films Division which were there, but the entire thing is gone now, so as a species how are we to survive?”

Echoing this concern, filmmaker Indrasis Acharya, who is at the festival with his film Pupa (2018) said the situation was the same in Kolkata as most of the film business is run by two powerhouses who do not allow anyone else to enter.

“We have few filmmakers who out of their passion raise funds and make films, but there is no one to distribute our films because distribution takes a lot of money,” Acharya said. “Our film budget is less than the money required for distribution. We really depend on festivals which sometimes give us exposure.”

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Kumaran recounted his own struggles as a filmmaker and said his work in television enabled him to sustain himself. Despite all the hardships, he continued his work in cinema, saying, “The pleasure of making films is the prime factor. Making films is nothing short of ecstasy. It has an intoxicating effect.”

The way forward, according to the veteran, is to create a loyal audience base. “The audience is the real issue, and the question is how to create an audience of your own,” he explained. “Also you should be able to reach that audience!” He recounted that when the great filmmaker Satyajit Ray had visited Kerala, he had said that most of his money was recovered from the audience in Kolkata itself, but that is not the case for filmmakers in Kerala. 

Filmmaker and festival organizer Sanal Kumar Sasidharan said that while, with digital platforms, it is not so hard to reach out to the audience, impediments remain in getting one’s films on to the digital platforms.

“There was a platform, Reelmonk, for independent films and we got some money,” Sanal Kumar said. “Not too much, but at least people were paying something. Another platform, Moviesaints, was coming up. Then Netflix came in and everyone started giving their films to Netflix as independent filmmakers thought Netflix is going to save us, but after two years Netflix is not taking any independent films. Now both those platforms have died out and Netflix is not taking the films, so we need to find out who is the real enemy and what is the trap.”

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The Coffee Chat at the KNIFF has been conceptualized as a private interaction session between filmmakers and legendary Malayalam film personalities at their homes over a cup of coffee, where they discuss various ideas about cinema and contemporary times.

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