It’s a fair (albeit not a new) question for today’s filmmakers at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Independent films have just as much of a mystical aura as your typical glitzy Bollywood production (for different reasons and audiences). But how do the people making these films from India do something groundbreaking enough to shatter the rest of the world’s image of Bollywood?

Stephanie Nolen of The Globe and Mail dissects that very topic and the discussion is fairly enlightening.

“Ask most North American critics what they’re excited about and it’s not Indian film,” Aseem Chhabra, the New York-based film critic for the Mumbai Mirror and a TIFF regular, told Nolen in the interview. “But Indian film is making a slow turn.”

But why exactly is that turn so slow? Cultural critic Aakar Patel tells Nolen the main reason is because the only people who watch Indian films, are Indians (with a few exceptions.)

“Sentiment in Bollywood is exaggerated, like camp or farce, only without the insider’s joke,” he tells Nolen. “This makes it strenuous to watch for anyone not from the culture. It’s like Indian food and dessert: The spice and sugar so dominate that the essence of the main thing is lost.”

So that makes Indians one of the “clickiest” people around and that tendency to stick so close to our culture has closed off Bollywood to exponential growth. But who needs growth when your core audience is over 1 billion people? Especially when all those people seem to know what they want.

Nolen and others understand just that. But that doesn’t mean it’s the ideal situation:

Bollywood is an insular industry, controlled by old firms and families, and it is content with the reliably lucrative business model it has. That is, says director Vasan Bala, a blessing and a curse. “It’s so self-consumed and self-sustained that Bollywood doesn’t have to look at an audience that might not like it or might not understand,” he said. So there is a great big industry for a young filmmaker to work in, but no interest in any film outside the existing mould.

His first film, Peddlers, was warmly received at Cannes this year and it screens at TIFF; it tells the grim story of a pair of flat-broke young men who end up in Mumbai’s drug trade, and of the cop who stalks them.

“We make our films and we try to tell you a new story, to make our films more international in their theme, and we are still governed by the conventional distributional system which has very set operational rules,” said Hansal Mehta, whose film Shahid is a biopic of an assassinated Mumbai human rights activist. He added: “These films have to go beyond Indian shores – we need to redefine the way we look at marketing them.”


So the path for independent films from India might have to be global to start off with. If what Nolen and the experts she’s talked to are right, it might be the best way for Indian cinema to make a different mark in the rest of the world.

For the rest of Nolen’s fantastic piece please visit The Globe and Mail.