What started with a small idea is now helping a number of aspiring creators find a platform. Ritam Bhatnagar spoke to us about his journey with India Film Project aka IFP and more in this candid interview!

The entertainment segment has gone through an evolution of its own in the past decade. While the tools of creativity are relatively more accessible and understood, competition is seen now more than ever. Creating has become easier but finding a platform and audience to showcase your work is still a big deal. In an era where you are just one thought away from creating something, revolutionary concepts like IFP are making more room for it. If you are an aspiring artist, there are very few chances that you haven’t heard of it. As the organisation is spreading its roots, it is bringing more and more opportunities for people to connect and create. But where did this idea of celebrating creativity come from and how did this initiative that started with just a small thought adapt to the changing trends of the entertainment industry? To understand more about this, we spoke to Ritam Bhatnagar, who founded this project and has been working on it since 2011.

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Here’s what Ritam had to say!

What made you start the India Film Project and how much has it evolved in the last decade? 

When I was working in Mumbai, I was surrounded by many people who were filmmakers and they always used to make plans for creating a short film. They used to work on narratives, storylines, casting, and everything but even though the film never got made. I remember it happening more than once and then I realised that it is a thing with creative people, we need to give them the push. I also realised that most of these people had their own people on their team and I thought it would be great if we create a space that lets people come together on weekends and work on creative projects. So, on a very random day, we came up with the idea and decided to take it forward. We created a Facebook page, a website, and a registration mechanism and just put it online to see if people are even interested in such activities. Since we first started from Ahmedabad, we used to call it the Ahmedabad Film Project. And people did show up.

I remember people personally coming to the office for registration as there were no online payment methods back then. And we believed if people are making efforts to come to the office and register for the initiative, they must be looking for something good in it. And in only 20 days, over 600 people from 19 different cities registered with us. And that’s where we believed that we must be doing something good that people from different cities are traveling just to be a part of this initiative. And it was just a one-time activity for us, to be very honest, we never thought of doing it again until our office landline number rang which was also our helpline number and there was a participant on the other side and she asked: “when is this year’s AFP happening?”. And if you just do something once, people often forget but when we did it for the second time, we started this cycle and made it an annual thing. I’ll be really honest, the first 3 years were really unplanned, we didn’t know what we were wanting to become and we didn’t even have a proper business model for everything we were doing.

All the money we got through registration, tickets, or sponsors just went into organizing the festival. So, it was kind of become a hobby thing for all of us. With each year, the number of participants just increased and as the 4th year came, we thought of making it more than a hobby. When you are working for something that has involved a huge number of people, you have to handle things more professionally. So, we started by hiring people, having more departments, and changing our way to make it more organized. We also started adding more challenges like music-making challenges, writing challenges, storytelling challenges, and design challenges and this community kept on requesting changes that they wanted to see in the festival, and keeping all that in mind we introduced new things with time. So, an initiative that started with a movie-making challenge turned into talking about creating in general. The power of creating is what makes humans different from other species and celebrating that is what IFP is trying to do now. 

How does the purpose of IFP differ from the purpose of the India Film Project? 

So, with the concept of the India Film Project, we were a bit linear as we just talked about films. With the India Film project, we were targeting just a small portion of people who were into filmmaking and we were only talking about art that was affecting people at large. But with IFP, we wanted to talk about a lot more than that. We wanted to create a space that is multi-dimensional in its approach. Even if you see the logo of IFP, there are three circles depicting art, media, and technology. So, for 11 years, we were focused more on art but we are also trying to talk more about media and technology. 

What is your observation about the Indian entertainment industry in the last decade?

So, I find it very interesting how we have evolved. A decade back, art was not something people liked to be associated with. You can easily find people who say, “I’m a corporate employee but I also make films when I have free time” For most of us, only people like Karan Johar or Imtiaz Ali could be called filmmakers. We didn’t think that a CA or a dentist too can be called that. If we look a decade back, we looked at content as consumers, we watched movies, music, and everything that we thought we will never be able to create but today, we have the power to create things that we were just consuming. If we look at the evolution of the entertainment industry, people today have the power and tools to tell their own stories without being dependent on anyone. And people can also do multiple things at a time. And since when people got this power to create, the entire entertainment segment has become much more relatable. Earlier the kind of films we used to watch felt larger than life and though we found them entertaining, they never seemed relatable. But nowadays, the content we are watching is relatable and that has brought us diverse content I believe that is the most beautiful thing that has happened with the entertainment industry in the last decade.

As you mentioned, independent ideas bring us opportunities to witness diverse and more realistic ideas. So, how important is it to acknowledge and support them? 

So, we don’t need to support it consciously. It’s human behaviour to find an attachment to things that we find relatable. You don’t need to put an effort to acknowledge something that you find interesting. Acknowledgment and appreciation are the most basic human virtues and the sense of supporting things you find interesting just comes by default and happens very subconsciously. If an artist makes a good song, you’ll stream it a number of times and that’s a way of appreciation that you did subconsciously. 

Nowadays, everything has become about commercialisation. How do independent ideas thrive in the competitive market? 

So, commercialisation is a term that is being used a lot nowadays but it has been here forever. No one has ever worked on a movie for charity, all these projects were meant to achieve something and in most cases, it’s money. So, when it comes to independent ideas, they are thriving in the market because they are relatable. The top thriving works out there are relatable. Earlier, people could spend money on things that they don’t even find relatable but today they are more aware of what they want and since we have an incredible number of choices, doing this is easier than ever. And spending is not just about spending money, audience attention is also very valuable. Today, consumers won’t waste even an extra second of their attention on things that they don’t relate to. When it comes to making money for independent ideas, it all comes with good content. Let’s take YouTube pays you on the basis of your viewership and subscriber count and that all comes from the audience’s attention and retention. So, this was just one example of how relatable and widely liked content gets the money. 

You started the India Film Project in 2011! What has this journey taught you about the industry and the entertainment business? 

There are two learnings that come to my mind. The first one is that the creative space is booming and will continue to thrive longer than we expect. For a long time, a lot of people didn’t have the platforms and opportunities to express their creativity and in the last few years, we got access to tools to do it and now people don’t hesitate to be called creators. And I think it is going to be booming in the coming years and we will get to see more strong and diverse content. The second thing that I have learned is that if people in this ecosystem want to thrive, they need to make money. No one can continue doing something just for the sake of a hobby for a longer time. So, the aim of businesses like ours should be to ensure that these creators are getting paid for what they do. And how much they get paid will depend on how capable they are and their capabilities can only be proven by opportunities. So, we need to create more spaces for people to show their capabilities.

All the IFP competitions are time-bound like 50 hours of filmmaking, music, and photography challenges and then we also have 7-day challenges. Is there any particular idea behind these challenges being time-bound? 

So, let’s start with the filmmaking challenge. When we first started the challenge, we wanted a lot of professionals to participate and they obviously did not have enough time to shoot a film. So, we decided to not interfere with the office hours and proposed to have a weekend filmmaking challenge. We will give them a theme on Friday evening and they can upload it by Sunday evening that would make it a weekend project for them and that is what we used to call it earlier. But the thing with this name was that it was not defining our time duration and that’s how we came up with the 50-hour filmmaking challenge.

The agenda here is to make the participants understand that your race is not with anybody else but with time. And as you know that things like creativity are not time-bound. When you put a creative person under pressure like that, they would either be out of ideas or they can come up with the best ones. We have seen well-experienced directors participate in this challenge and come up with very mediocre work while we also see college students come up with amazing ideas in that duration.

The time part here is more about time management, the reason why you could not complete that project is that you were not very good at managing time. It is very important to have a plan in place when you work on something and the reason for these challenges to be time bound has a lot to do with your time management skills. Another thing is that when you have a well-experienced director and a 20-year-old college student participating in the same contest, what would be that one restriction that would make it a fair competition for both of them? And these time-bound contests do just that. 

We have watched a few IFP movie entries that won and we’ve noticed that most of these movies were not great in terms of good shots and cinematography but they were really good at their storytelling and concepts. What is the criteria on which you judge a project? 

Yes, in those 50 hours, the last thing you would want the participants to focus on is the cinematography and good shots. If you were given enough time, you will be able to do better cinematography but when it comes to getting good ideas, things are different. The first evaluation criterion that we have is how you creatively presented something on the table. The second is how good you are at executing it than the visual and sound appeal and the fourth one is how close you were to the theme. IFP will never judge you on the basis of how great your recording is but on how good you are at the storytelling part. 

Have you have you ever come across any competition entry that amazed you?

It would be a bit hard to believe but I go through every entry that we get in these competitions. And I usually go through these entries when the festival has already happened and then I come across some entries and feel amazed. So I remember coming across this short film called Parallax in which two things were happening side by side. The screen is split into two and one side of the screen are happening in the parallel universe. This was a film about consent. Another entry that I remember was about how humans will live in 2050. So, by 2050, we will be technologically advanced with robots doing all our work but even at that time humans would be living a very similar life but with lesser emotions and that’s a very beautiful concept. I also came across incredible teams, like there was a group of three that was working from three different locations, India, Singapore, and Boston. But they still did it in 50 hours and made it look like a good project. The concept was about three couples at three different locations and it tried to show the cultural difference but at the same time, it depicted how we react similarly to a few things. 

Lastly, what would you say to newbies in this field?

One piece of advice that I would like to give all the creators out there is to keep skilling up. Get out of your comfort zone and collaborate with more people. Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way by which you will be able to learn new things. I have seen a lot of people who just like to work with their fixed team which is a good thing sometimes but getting to work with new people might get you new ideas and be creative is all about discovering new things. 

Hope you enjoyed reading what Ritam had to share!

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