* Cinemapreneur, which was launched in August, has had 15,000 visitors so far

* You can watch a short film for ₹49, a feature documentary for ₹99 and a feature film for ₹149. You can also rent a movie for a week, or buy it for a year

German director Werner Herzog once casually expressed his love for film-making by saying, “I would travel down to Hell and wrestle a film away from the devil if it was necessary.” Independent film-makers, at least in India, wrestle tougher adversaries — from shoestring budgets to logistical challenges. Though the shift to digital streaming has increased the length and width of the landing strip, it is still a business monopolised by money, power and the cult of personality. Now, a small new streaming service, Cinemapreneur, hopes to democratise the way independent cinema is distributed and consumed in this country.

The service, launched in August, has had 15,000 visitors so far, and works on the lines of popular pay-per-view US models. It’s simple, you pay for what you watch. “The idea of Cinemapreneur came to my mind through my interaction with around 100 young film-makers over the last two years,” Gaurav Raturi (35) , who co-founded the platform along with Rupinder Kaur, tells BL ink . “Also, going to the [NFDC] Film Bazaar [in Goa] and other festivals made me realise that many art-house and festival films do not release on any OTT and that cinephiles could not watch them anywhere,” Raturi adds. He also runs Filmbooth, a collective that helps organise screenings of independent films across the country.


Life in parts: The short film Gray is about a gay man caught between a wife and a lover


Once Cinemapreneur accepts entries, the maker gets a share from monthly sales. The model solves several problems. It helps the director bypass the hassle of finding distributors, convincing producers or curators who decide what goes onto popular platforms. On the side of the business, it simplifies the process of ‘platforming’ a film, down to one essential factor — quality. For cinema, it opens up a democratic space that is neither dictated by influence nor algorithms. Cinemapreneur’s growing list now has art-house films, documentaries, full-length feature and short films. You can watch a short film for ₹49, a feature documentary for ₹99 and a feature film for ₹149. You can also rent a movie for a week, or buy it for a year. All you need do is create an account on the portal.

One of the films on Cinemapreneur is Anirban Dutta’s Jahnabi , which follows the story of a young tribeswoman and her loveless existence. “After several global screenings [in Europe], I had been told that the film is ‘too arty for our audience’. I stopped having conversations after that. It’s cultural abolishment really, to only serve what is popular or approved by Bollywood,” Dutta says. He spent ₹7.5 lakh from his own pocket in the making of Jahnabi .

Mubi India, the Indian arm of the popular film curating platform, has, to an extent, supplied cinema that is rare, but it still hasn’t shown inclination for offbeat experiments or debutants. There is also the burden of subscription for the audience to carry. A platform like Raturi’s not only brings unexplored genres such as art documentaries to the fore, it also helps support underappreciated formats such as documentaries and short films. “Short films, or rather short features have less avenues for returns. They depend on success at festivals, and that too if you have high-profile actors in the project. The OTT space has now opened up for such formats, but it is still impossible to recover the money you spend,” says Preet Sodhi, director of the short Gray . The film, about a homosexual man straddling the worlds between his despondent wife and his obsessive lover, is both tender and eloquent. It adds fresh perspective to a conversation that has now been commercialised by mainstream cinema — Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan , for example — for better or worse.

A platform that showcases stories from around India without the impediment of big budgets, popular faces or language truly sounds democratic. It can, however, also sound charitable. Quality and curation are therefore key. “We have received around 300 films so far, of which around 50 are on the platform. So yes, curation is a big part of our everyday work,” Raturi, who heads the small team of curators, says. He adds that the team at Cinemapreneur aims at picking independent films that are unavailable on free platforms, and also those that “showcase the diversity of India and its rooted stories”. One of the platform’s recent acquisitions is Life in Metaphors , OP Srivastava’s National Award-winning documentary on Kannada film-maker Girish Kasaravalli. After having failed at finding a slot on Doordarshan, which is said to screen films feted at the National Awards, the documentary is finally available for viewers in India. Cinemapreneur has also added two Anand Patwardhan films to its list, including the 2011 documentary Jai Bhim Comrade .

With power comes accountability, too. Popular streaming platforms in India have been guilty of censoring political content. Raturi claims he won’t let extreme or motivated censorship stigmatise the platform. “Since OTT censorship guidelines are being developed, we are following it closely. We also have internal guidelines... We still feel that films are such a subjective art form that anyone can find anything controversial,” he concludes.

Manik Sharma writes on arts and culture