Her first feature “Girgit” with India’s Phat Phish Motion Pictures, reached the stage of eight minutes of animation being produced, but then, “The producer disappeared, that’s why the film never got finished. We’re still looking for him,” says Rao.
Rao then reached the production stage with Disney India on another feature “Shadows of the Mahabharata” but the company pulled out. “They didn’t have conviction in the project. I also feel that Disney in India is not going to make Indian animation films. It’s just one of those things they have to sign when they start a company in India, but they don’t really have to follow,” says Rao.
Painted, 2D frame-by-frame animation is what Rao specializes in and that is what “Bombay Rose” will be, in the Hindi language. Les Films d’Ici has raised 40 percent of the film’s $2.6 million budget and the rest will be match funded from India and elsewhere. Rao has also secured grants from Cinemas du Monde and the Doha Film Institute. The project is looking for pre-sales and distribution deals at the Busan Asian Project Market.
Rao has currently divided the film into a series of shorts and will begin production in January on these while the funding gets finalized.
Multi hyphenate Anurag Kashyap’s pioneering directorial efforts like “Black Friday” and “Dev D” went a long way toward making indies visible to mainstream audiences and encouraged a whole new generation of Indian filmmakers. His partnership with producer Guneet Monga (co-producer of Busan opener “Zubaan”) yielded Cannes selections “Gangs of Wasseypur,” “The Lunchbox” and “Masaan,” among others. His current outfit Phantom Films, along with Fox Star Studios India, produced his 2015 big budget directorial venture, the period drama “Bombay Velvet,” starring Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor, that left Indian critics and audiences disappointed, but received a standing ovation from an 8,000-strong Locarno Piazza Grande audience. “It was an indie film at a mainstream cost,” says Kashyap, quoting his Phantom business partner Vikas Bahl (director of “Queen”).
Question: What are you working on these days?
Answer: I am in a writing phase right now. I’m writing three film scripts and a series for whoever buys it — it is dark, edgy and very real so I don’t think television is an option, so, probably a web series.
Q: What is the Phantom slate looking like after Vikas Bahl’s “Shaandaar” that’s due this month?
A: There’s Abhishek Chaubey’s “Udta Punjab” which is in edit now, there’s a film that Vikramaditya Motwane is going in to shoot. There are lots of these films, small and big, we’re trying to do — right now we are in development overload. We’ll announce a slate probably by December.
Q: How is the joint venture you signed in March with the giant conglomeration Reliance Entertainment working in practice?
A: It’s not a deal that is funded. Reliance is not bringing in money. We work with various studios on every movie. The sensibilities stay the same. Reliance has come to us and invested in our sensibility, rather than wanting to change us. They have brought a whole infrastructure with them, access to international and domestic distribution, and we have access to their library of 184 films and post production facilities. The money we go out and raise ourselves.
Q: In your opinion, what is the Indian independent film scene like today?
A: I think there are a lot of very good films coming out but they are not finding proper distribution. If you look at it, from last year, “Court” won at Venice, “Umrika” at Sundance, “Dhanak” at Berlin, “Masaan” at Cannes, “Thithi” at Locarno, but the biggest problem is distribution — and that is worrisome. All these movies are squeezing each other out. In a film industry driven by stars, it is tough for independent films to survive. Industries driven by content, like the regional Indian industries, that’s where a good film will survive. At Phantom we are trying to set up a distribution model for films that are finding that part difficult.