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Leaving Home - First Indian documentary to be released in theatres commercially

Mumbai, April 7: As India's first docu-drama to be released nationally and to receive rave reviews from critics and audiences alike, "Leaving Home" has raised the expectations of documentary filmmakers even though it may be too early to call it a trend.

Directed by Jaideep Varma, "Leaving Home" has been released commercially in theatres in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Noida and Hyderabad.

" 'Leaving Home' was shot in digital and we are showing it in Big theatres, which have a digital projection capability. It saves cost and makes the film much more viable. Technology makes it possible," says Ashish Saksena, COO, Big Cinemas, the exhibitor.

That is also the reason why despite fans in Bangalore and Kolkata crying for the film, it may not be released there - these cities do not have digital projection screens.

"I will have to make prints for the same. I don't have the financial capability to do that now," says Varma who made it at a budget of Rs.7.5 million. His company Cartwheel Features is the co-distributor.

"The film began in 2006 and has taken six times the budget we initially stipulated for it. Unless the film does well in the cities where it is currently playing, I don't think I can release it elsewhere."

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap calls "Leaving Home" awesome.

His peer Dibakar Banerjee, fresh from the success of "Love Sex Aur Dhokha", a film that has a documentary feel to it, says, "I am a huge fan of documentaries. Every time I make my films, I see documentaries to inspire myself. For example the character of Dolly in 'Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye' was inspired from a similar character in the documentary 'I Am The Very Beautiful' by Shyamal Karmakar."

But mere critical approval does not translate into box office success. Typically, documentaries are either show in the festival circuit or at film clubs and do not get a commercial release as they are not considered viable.

"You cannot seek box office success for 'Leaving Home'. First of all, despite being a national release, it's still limited to six cities. Also, we've had very limited publicity," said Varma.

So is the film's release in theatres a controlled experiment?

"It is neither an experiment, nor are we testing the waters. We know that there is a market for documentaries in the country. Hence for us at Big this is a new initiative and whether 'Leaving Home' does well or not, it will not affect our decision to screen documentaries in future. 'Leaving Home' is not a make or break decision for us," said Saksena.

But it is enough to make India's documentary circuit rejoice.

Anand Patwardhan, who has the distinction of having his documentary being shown in theatres, reminisces about one of his own films. "It was not a national release. It was the monsoon of 2005 and the attendance in theatres for films was anyway low.

"So Fun Republic and INOX in Mumbai agreed to screen my documentary 'War and Peace' on a revenue sharing basis. There was one show a day. And it did really well. It was almost houseful every day and I recovered my money."

Does that mean there is an audience for documentaries?

"Of course. Screening a documentary in the theatres has always been viable. It only needs some distributor willing to take the risk," says Anand.

Varma too feels there will be takers for documentaries if they are marketed well.

"If 'Leaving Home' fails, then it is not the problem of the film, but of not being able to reach out to that niche audience. And in a country of such a vast population, it is impossible that there isn't a crowd that will not enjoy any film.

"The challenge is to make them aware that something is playing and, two, to break their inertia for them to come to the theatres and see it. The first is a distributor-exhibitor problem, the second is a problem that audiences have to handle themselves," said Varma.

Said Saksena: "We are willing to give the documentary genre a long shot."

So can documentary filmmakers approach him? "Of course. But I want to make it clear that a filmmaker has to have realistic expectations. You cannot expect a feature film-like promotion and distribution for a documentary. As long as you are willing to be practical, our doors are open," he said. (IANS)

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