FB fans bankroll ‘risque’ Bollywood film


As Indian director Onir applied the final touches to his new movie ‘I Am,’ he paused to pay tribute to the 400 people who responded to his Facebook campaign to help finance the project.
Onir, who uses one name, cannot wait for the film’s release on Friday – a success achieved against the odds after he nearly gave up due to lack of studio backing. Producers were scared off by the “risque” content, one critic said.
The movie explores subjects considered taboo by many in India, from child sexual abuse to police harassment of gay men and a single woman’s search for a sperm donor.
Onir says he raised about one-third of the 30 million rupees ($675,000) budget through donations, most of them from a network of Facebook contacts. The smallest donation was just 1,000 rupees ($23), but the 55 top donors who gave more than 100,000 rupees each will be rewarded with a co-producer credit and a share of any profits.
Just six weeks into, he shot the first scene in Bangalore, as donations began to arrive from India and as far as the United States and Australia. Among the major backers were Boston-based psychotherapist Sarah Loper Sengupta and The Humsafar Trust, a gay rights campaign group. “Some people said they liked the film’s subject. Or they wanted to learn about filmmaking. Or they simply wanted their name in the credits,” Onir laughed. Bollywood is famous for its song-and-dance extravaganzas, but a new genre of Hindi cinema has taken off with “indie” films that choose gritty realism over melodrama.
Even so, the 41-year-old Onir was familiar with rejection after his first film, ‘My Brother… Nikhil,’ which told the story of a gay Indian man who fights discrimination after being diagnosed with HIV. “I remember taking the idea to different producers, and everyone wanted me to make the protagonist straight,” he said. “One producer actually asked me, ‘Why can’t the guy get AIDS from a popular Bollywood actress?'” ‘My Brother… Nikhil’ did finally get made and became a critical – if not commercial – hit when released in 2005. Film critic Anupama Chopra, who was impressed by Onir’s debut movie, admitted that Bollywood was still not good at taking risks. For Onir, the fact that the film is about to be released is both a personal triumph and an acknowledgment of the power of social media sites to mobilise campaigns. “We shot footage as and when we got funds. Sometimes I used to wonder what if we don’t get enough money? What if I get stuck midway with an unfinished film?” he said. “Now I just want people to turn up and watch the film.”