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Of cash strapped filmmakers and an Oscar bid

By Sumeet Chatterjee, IANS

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Despite their Marathi film "Shwaas" being chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars, the group of eight producers -- most of them debutants -- have no time to rejoice.

Furrows of worry crease the foreheads of these modest entrepreneurs-turned-film producers as they struggle to raise enough money to take their movie, which has already won a coveted National Award, to the Oscars.

Help is pouring in from different quarters -- people are pooling in money, Marathi film stars are taking to the roads and even temples are putting up special donation boxes for devotees to contribute towards the Oscar dream.

In this scenario, financial help from government and big corporate houses is going to be crucial in raising the Rs.20 million needed for overseas publicity costs and the production of prints with subtitles.

"We need to have a corpus of between Rs.15 and Rs.20 million to meet all the expenses for the Oscar campaign for 'Shwaas'," said Rajan Cheulkar, one of the producers of the film.

"So far we have managed to raise just a fraction of that," he said, sitting in his small Chinese restaurant in the middle-class Borivali suburb of India's financial and entertainment capital Mumbai.

"We have to start the previews and publicity campaign all across the US from the middle of next month. We have to hold a series of press meets. But at this point of time we have no idea how we are going to bear the expenses for all these," Cheulkar told IANS.

"Shwaas", a Marathi film and India's official entry to the Oscars 2005 in the Best Foreign Film category, is about a little village boy with eye cancer and his grandfather.

Directed by debutant Sandeep Sawant, the film is also the first Marathi film to win a National Award after 50 years.

The film was made over a period of six months mostly by first-time producers, who have modest backgrounds as teachers, computer operators and hoteliers, on a small budget of Rs.4 million.

Cheulkar says it was a deliberate move to create a "cooperative" of eight producers for "Shwaas" to mitigate the risk of any one person taking a major financial blow if the film flopped at the box office.

"After producing the film all of us were left with little money. When we first got to know about the Oscar nomination we didn't have enough money for buying couple of air tickets for the US," he admitted candidly.

"Then, slowly, general public and Marathi film industry people started to rally behind us. They think it's a matter of pride for them since a Marathi film has been nominated for the Oscars for the first time.

"We have received contributions from even daily wage earners like hawkers, maids, and taxi drivers. Their reaction makes us feel that we have not just been nominated for the Oscar but we have actually won it."

A Shwaas Oscar Fund has been created by the filmmakers for general pooling in of contributions from different avenues.

In a first of its kind initiative, Mumbai's famous Siddhivinayak temple has decided to put up a special donation box at its premises to generate funds for the film's Oscar campaign.

"The trustees of the temple took the decision of raising money from devotes after we got to know about the hardships being faced by the filmmakers," said Sanjay Bhagat, one of the trustees of the temple.

"On an average, we generate Rs.4 million per month through donations. We are hoping to general an equal amount over the next few weeks for the film."

But Cheulkar says all these "hand-holding exercise" may come a cropper in the absence of large-scale government of corporate funding in the days ahead.

"We have received promises from the government as well as many political parties. But nothing has materialised as yet. Many Maharashtra and national political leaders have also given us assurances."

Cheulkar and his colleagues plan to hold special screenings of the film for big corporate houses and industry chambers in the coming weeks. "Their help is going to be crucial if the film has to make its presence felt at the Oscars."


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