Crowd-funded Lucia blazes a trail in celluloid financing

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Banglore,new Delhi |
Published:October 20, 2013 12:32 am


As Pawan Kumar finished the first draft of the script of a psychological thriller that weaves in and out of parallel realities — in December 2011,he knew no one would produce it. “As young people in an industry,we can’t complain,we have to have solutions,” he wrote in a now-famous blog post titled ‘Making Enemies’.

The “solutions” poured in over the next 27 days,in the form of 110 supporters who pledged a total Rs 50 lakh to make the Kannada film they believed they could be proud of.

Lucia,which released in 85 theatres on September 6,is probably the first regional film in India to be — through goodwill on the Internet. Six weeks after its release,it is still running in most Bangalore multiplexes. It was selected for the Mumbai International Film Festival and will feature at the International Film Festival of Kerala. Kumar also won the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur Award in the category ‘Digital for Creative Industries’.

Until the first week of October,the film had made Rs 1 crore from theatres in Bangalore,and about Rs 40 lakh outside the city. Going strictly by the numbers,it is not a hit. Kumar’s first film,Lifeu Ishtene (Is This What Life is About),a romantic comedy released in 2011,grossed Rs 6 crore.

But Lucia will continue to make money,mainly through the 1,300 online distributors who bought rights to the film and generated over Rs 20 lakh in a second round of funding earlier this year. People outside India can watch the film through one of the distributors for $10,half of which goes to the producers.

“Kannadigas settled abroad have been extremely supportive. They put in money in the initial stages and are now driving online viewership. One distributor has sold the film to 250 viewers,” Kumar said. Udaya TV has bought Lucia’s satellite rights for Rs 95 lakh.

“In an industry where producers want a simplistic,linear script,this film shouldn’t have worked at all,” says Kumar,30,who spent some years as a theatre artiste before he began to make feature films.

Lucia,made almost entirely in Kannada with English subtitles added on popular demand,however,transcended stereotypes and won over a new audience that normally rarely looks beyond English and Hindi cinema. Many people watched the film several times to piece together the last pieces of the puzzle.

It opens with a verse by the 16th century poet-philosopher Kanakadasa,but focuses on themes of contemporary urban relevance: insomnia,addictive medication and the dubious world of commercial cinema.

It channels world cinema and the concept of lucid dreams,dropping subtle clues along the way. There are thematic similarities with Christopher Nolan’s 2010 Inception.

Kumar,who grew up in Bangalore,dropped out of telecommunications engineering after two years to join the city’s English theatre circuit. It wasn’t until he assisted director Yograj Bhat in his recent films Manasaare and Pancharangi that he picked up the nuances of the Kannada language.

Now,Kumar is a torchbearer for alternative Kannada cinema and a poster boy for business schools: he has been invited to deliver lectures on crowd-funding,and Harvard and the IIM want to study the making of Lucia.

The film was shot on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR camera,and made very frugally,Kumar says. “We used free tools like Facebook,where we would put up requirements for filming locations and such. People readily opened their doors to us and even sent us pictures of their houses.” At one point,he was answering 800 emails a month.

It was on Facebook that Kumar found his music director,Mysore-based software engineer Poornachandra Tejaswi. Kumar told him to quit his job,and Tejaswi did. Debutante actor Shruthi Hariharan was undeterred by the prospect of riding a scooter from Hebbal to filming locations across Bangalore because Kumar could not afford a car for her.

As the team grew,so did the dream. Soon,the trailer went viral on YouTube,and the organisers of the London Indian Film Festival invited Kumar to premiere Lucia there in July,alongside the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Amit Kumar,co-producer and director of Monsoon Shootout.

Lucia won rave reviews and the Audience Choice Award at the festival.

Kumar is positive about the future of crowd-funding in India. “The commercial success of Lucia has made the project credible. We have built a mechanism. This would definitely encourage more independent filmmakers to experiment,” he said.

Kumar himself has announced a five-stage crowd funding platform for aspiring filmmakers,where they would have to prove their worth at each stage. Just as Lucia has been doing in Bangalore’s theatres.

(Kaunain Sheriff M is a student of the Express Institute of Media Studies)

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