Interview: Srinivasan Narayanan on the Mumbai Film Festival

October 11, 2013

The Mumbai Film Festival has the parts that its organisers need to make the show a big deal on the international film circuit: appearances by world-class directors such as Costa-Gavras and Oliver Stone, screenings of films like “The Social Network” and “The Fifth Estate,” and the backdrop of a city that is home to the world’s largest movie production business. And yet, it isn’t enough. Festival director Srinivasan Narayanan spoke to Reuters about his roadmap for the festival and the hurdles in his path.

What is your ambition for the Mumbai Film Festival?
I want the festival to take shape in such a way that it emerges as one of the best festivals – getting the best films and the important celebrities to participate…

Any international festival that you are looking to emulate?
Why do people want to go to Berlin and Cannes and Toronto? The minute we demonstrate an ability to put films under a global film festival, only then can we aspire to be a global film festival. Right now, I am trying to give some sort of national promotion to film-makers and films, and even that is proving to be a daunting task because there is limited coverage in India in the electronic and print media, because most of the media in India is, well, commercial. In the sense, paid news. And as of now, the festival doesn’t have the kind of financial muscle to do that kind of promotion.

Could you elaborate on “paid media”? How often have you faced it?
This is like a film promotion — if you make a film for 10 crore rupees ($1.6 million), you have to spend 5 crore rupees ($0.8 million) to promote it. As of now, I am not able to spend that kind of money. We are delving into social media and digital media, which is free.

Is buying media coverage the only way out?
Yes, buying (is one way). Second is celebrity participation. If the stars attend, then it makes news. Most of these stars are covered by media almost every day. My only aim is to attract celebrities, Bollywood stars and others to come and participate in the festival. Therefore, we are scaling it up in terms of creative content.

Will Bollywood stars get you the international spotlight you want for the films?
That global spotlight is going to take a long time. Right now, I am trying to get national publicity and national spotlight. Between the philosopher and the king, I am the king and thinking of the immediate future. I am unable to be a philosopher at this point.

How does the lack of Bollywood presence hamper the festival?
The Bollywood presence will get more visibility in the national media and in the diaspora. It may be easier for me to get sponsorship. Not just Bollywood, but actors coming in from the South, will enhance the prestige of the festival.

What are the other hurdles in your path?
There is no big sponsorship. Reliance Entertainment has been spending all the money for all five years. And in spite of tremendous positive reports about the festival, we have not been able to get strong sponsors. Unless there are three, four title sponsors or co-sponsors, we’ll have financial problems forever. But if you look at the models of festivals like Cannes and Berlin, 50 percent of the budget comes from the federal government, 25 percent comes from the municipality and only 25 percent or less from sponsors. Here we don’t have government support. All the festivals in India are with government support, except the Mumbai Film Festival, which is run independently.

(Editing by Robert MacMillan; Follow Shilpa on Twitter at @shilpajay and Robert @bobbymacReports. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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