For the cause of good cinema
It’s the art house cinema season in India. So if The Salesman has been here could I, Daniel Blake be far behind? Former director of the Mumbai Film Festival, Srinivasan Narayanan, has brought Ken Loach’s Cannes’ Palme D’Or award winner to the screens in India through his re-launched international distribution company In2Infotainment. The rights were bought last year and the film has now been released on PVR’s new theatre on-demand initiative — Vakaoo. Tickets for it can be booked on the app and the website. In fact In2Infotainment has the rights of Loach’s film for the entire SAARC region, i.e. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Helping Narayanan in the initiative is actor Abhay Deol who will present the film that Loach himself describes as a “universal story of people struggling to survive”. About a senior citizen trying to negotiate the web of bureaucracy in the benefits system in the UK, I, Daniel Blake is bound to ring a bell with Indians as well. As would the film’s secondary thread: the protagonist’s unique friendship with a single mother and her young children.
Championing good, cinema is nothing new for Narayanan. In fact he started off in the business of art house cinema (without any backers at that) way back in early 2000, after taking voluntary retirement from the National Film Development Corporation. Recently he also backed the more mainstream The Jungle Book (2016).
Around 2005-07 he got films like Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions (2003) Dardenne Brothers’ Le Enfant (2005) and Dominik Moll’s Lemming to the country. “Multiplexes were not very strong at that time and we suffered for being the pioneers,” he looks back. In2Infotainment has also been exporting Indian films to Iran, Singapore, Australia and Canada.
Passion for cinema
The distribution company though took a backseat while Narayanan was running the show at the Mumbai Film Festival between 2008 to 2014. But the commitment stayed and international contacts grew in number. Narayanan is ever passionate about cinema even while being away from the hub, Mumbai, busy with his organic farm in his small village near Trichy in Tamil Nadu. His passion remains primarily because he feels no serious effort is going in to sourcing art house films, so that they can be watched at large rather than remain confined to the niche festival circuit and the online world.
What makes him pick the films he zooms in on? “Falling in love with them,” he says. His only criterion is that they should move him, that the emotion should be right. And he does confess to having “fond affection” for filmmakers like Loach and Pedro Almodovar.
In2Infotainment gets a new lease of life with I, Daniel Blake because things seem better now for the art house circuit. With many digital platforms available there is always a better chance to recover the money invested in buying the film rights. Still, commercial release is an uphill task what with the high prints and ads (P&A) costs involved. “One spot ad in a single newspaper costs about Rs 37,000,” explains Narayanan. More such ads would mean bigger costs than could sometimes exceed a week’s theatrical collection from the film.
Narayanan could well turn out to be that long distance runner that art house cinema needs, for helping to develop a sustainable model for distribution.