“That day, I had left office for home. On my way back, I surfed through IRCTC, saw a 10 pm train back to Ahmedabad from Mumbai, and booked it right away.”
“I was a little frustrated. I really used to miss those days of 3 hour long chaai sessions with my friends back Ahmedabad. Mumbai is fast. People are busy. Bas, toh aa gaya.”
This is Ritam Bhatnagar, talking of that one life changing decision, while we sip over some Chaai at the lush CIIE campus. This was an easy appointment, I wanted to learn the nuances of video content generation and there couldn’t be a better person than him — the brain behind India Film Project, Asia’s Largest Film-making challenge. Ritam has witnessed video storytelling evolve over 7–8 years, screening and seeing filmmakers setting the bar high with every coming year.
“Video is the most immersive form of communication in the human history. And the truth is that for years to come we’ll not have another medium of communication so powerful and vast than this, and those which would be, will be a mere extension of the same concept,” he says, almost like reading out a well rehearsed text.
Come to think of it, he is right.Our lives right now are surrounded by videos. From smart classrooms to self-learning tutorials. Movies to web series. Add to it, cheaper internet plans and smartphones have increased the consumption in multi-folds.
Coming from Bhavnagar, a city in Gujarat, Ritam had his first stint in entertainment industry in the second year of his college, where he, along with a friend, would buy rights of international movies and screen them at theatres.
“Internet was a very new phenomena then. We’d write mails to international film-makers, buy rights and would screen movies every Thursday at theatres in Ahmedabad. This included ones like ‘The Godfather’. In merely a few weeks, we were running more than 3 houseful shows every Thursday.”
Seeing the huge success of the idea, the company was acquired by a national multiplex chain.
“I was just in my early 20s then, and it was a lot of money. Startup jesa toh kuch kisiko pata bhi nahi tha,” he adds.
Fast forward to 2011, Ritam had just moved back from Bombay to the city he was comfortable with — Ahmedabad.
“I had no plan, bas ese hi agaya tha. For 4–5 months, I stayed at a friend’s place and would take up freelance projects. However, the idea of India Film Project kept crossing my mind time and again. Until one day, we decided to act on it.”
He tells me how he and his friends in Mumbai, would do shoots over the weekends.
“My roommates were from filmmaking background and were passionate about making a career in the industry. Hanging out with them and their friends, I realized the need of a platform where people like them and more like me — who are amateurs but ‘want to try’ film-making.”
And then, on 18th July 2011, Ritam, Rohan and Martin sat through the evening to put the idea on paper.
“It was just another boring nights, where people get all intellectual after getting sloshed. We planned out the basics. By basics, I mean very basic things. ‘Competition jesa rakhenge, we’ll give 50 hours to film-makers’”
“But why 50 hours?”
“Imagine you’re a working professional. Now, most of them have a weekend off. You come home on a Friday night. Work on the film over the weekend and you go to the office on a Monday morning. This was supposed to be for the everyday individuals like you and me.”
Even before the guys got over the hangover of the last night, the website went live and the date was announced — 11th August 2011.
“The name was announced too, Ahmedabad Film Project, because honestly, we thought Ahmedabad mein hi successful hojaye woh bhi bohot hai.”
In next 20 days, AFP got over 680 registrations from 11 different cities.
“We were stoked. I still remember the first person who registered. It was 11 AM.”
“This was a one-time thing. For the next six months, I became inactive again — focusing on my job. And then one day, we got a call. And that changed a lot of things for us.”
It was an inquiry from an individual about the next edition of Ahmedabad Film Project.
Unsure till this point, Ritam replied, “Hoga. Bohot jaldi.”
“This was when we realised that this needs to happen every year, and grow multi-folds y-o-y. We wanted to make the second edition better. Kick it up a notch.”
Trying his luck, Ritam searched for e-mail ids of big film-makers on the web, and luckily got his hands on that of Shoojit Sircar’s.
“We wanted him as a jury. I wrote him an e-mail late-night, and few hours later, we got his reply stating how excited he was about the idea, all he wanted from us was to arrange for his travel and accommodation! This turned out to be my favourite edition. We had 1200 entries from 23 cities that year.”
This edition later, the team decided to rename this idea as ‘India Film Project’ because certainly, it wasn’t limited to Ahmedabad anymore.
“By this time, we had become a sensation. We were getting recognition and features in media and newspapers. We had entries coming from all age groups. We had a team of 6-year-olds submitting their entries! And then there’s this old couple from Chennai who have been participating since last 4 editions. They make a film every year. And that…is overwhelming.”
India Film Project was a serious business now. And bringing Shyam Benegal as a part of Jury in 2014 was proof of that.
“Things were getting really exciting. In 2014, we were enabling and encouraging international participation. From the last edition of India Film Project we added the option for participants to upload their content on YouTube. That opened the portal of opportunity to a lot of aspirants.”
There’s so much spark in him as he speaks of it. He takes a pause, orders a ‘healthy’ sandwich.
“Yaar, Megha has forced me into healthy eating, to lose some weight.”
She comes in the conversation at just the right time when we are talking about IFP.
“She came to meet us on the first day of the first edition of India Film Project. She was an RJ with Radio Mirchi then, and we were literally so excited that our event was going to be spoken about on radio! She interviewed Sanjay Gadhvi who was the jury member for the first edition. That’s when we both got talking and eventually got married. Megha and IFP go hand in hand.”
He tells me how Megha is now an integral part of the IFP team and with every edition, her responsibilities keep increasing.
India Film Project has carved a space in the industry that didn’t exist a decade ago. From an idea of 3 roommates in Ahmedabad to do something about the things they are passionate about to revolutionising the industry. From 4 sponsors of 10K each in the first edition to getting brands like Coca-Cola on board, India Film Project has come a long way!
“We are going to have over 10,000 film-making enthusiasts turning up on 1st October’16 in Mumbai, our first time outside Ahmedabad. We’ve screened the best films out of 1220 films, up for awards night tomorrow! Our Jury this time includes film-makers like Madhur Bhandarkar, Nagesh Kukunoor, Sriram Raghavan and Vetri Maaran. I can’t even tell you how excited I am!”
India Film Project is happening in Mumbai on 1st October’16. Not just screenings, but this edition is going to witness some amazing sessions by the ones who’ve ‘been there, done that’. Drop by to their website for more information.
Edited by: Aditya Mankad.