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FILMY LABS: Creators Continue to Carve New Spaces in Desi Pop Culture

The event saw both icons and curators gather to address the next big thing

Jessica Xalxo Jul 10, 2019

(From left) Panelists Ajay Singh, Siddharth Jain and Sunil Nair with moderators Prakruti Maniar and Shikha Jain during the 'Screenwriters + Green-lighters' panel. Photo: BollyCon® International

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FILMY LABS, curated by desi pop culture convention BollyCon on July 5th at Mumbai’s Fun Republic Social, sought to bring together the best of the entertainment and journalism industries to share current insights into how desi pop culture is shaping up to be and to foretell the signs of future trends. The event took a deep dive into the growth of VFX in India, the offbeat path of the screenwriter, the power of reviews and the evolution of pop culture in the country. As Bollycon founder Kenneth Hopkins said in his keynote speech, “We have our own pop culture. Let’s celebrate it!”

Here are the highlights:

Budgets and projects go hand in hand. But writers are free agents.

The first panel or rather manel of the evening titled ‘Homegrown VFX – The Desi/Videshi Gap’ saw speakers Ronak Sanghadia (VFX Supervisor, redchillies.vfx), Russel D’silva (Bollywood trade exert & critic) and Abhijeet Sawant (Founder, Art Eye Studios) talk about the disparity in the Indian and international VFX landscapes. With home projects’ budgets being what an overseas project’s exclusive VFX budget is, the paradigms and scope of work become especially tricky for Indian professionals in the desi market. There is a need to develop financial and economic viability in order to truly realize the scope of VFX in India. The discussion was moderated by Kenneth Hopkins.

(From left) Panelists Ronak Sanghadia, Russel D’silva and Abhijeet Sawant with BollyCon founder Kenneth Hopkins post the discussion on VFX in India. Photo: BollyCon® International

The ‘Screenwriters + Green-lighters’ panel tackled the conundrum of views, budgets and writing. Sunil Nair (COO, Alt Balaji), Siddharth Jain (Head, Story Ink) and Ajay Singh (Screenwriter & Director) served as speakers while Prakruti Maniar (Editor, Purple Pencil Project) and Shikha Jain (Co-founder & curator, The Red Sparrow) moderated the discussion. With the rise of mobile internet users in the country – courtesy of Reliance Industry’s Jio network – how many are willing to pay for content? According to Nair, 80 million individuals have the potential to pay for what they stream; the debate for what the nation wants to watch will have to start from there. While Nair cited the importance of budgets, stressing that if one wants to make a show, they should first worry about the profitability of the venture, Singh had an opposing view and experience. “For writers, you don’t have to worry about budgets, just focus on the writing,” he said. Jain viewed the dichotomy between creative writing and screenwriting as an important one, citing that both form the backbone of two very different industries and that audiences’ expectations vary accordingly. The process of a successful adaptation, from book to screen, is then a collaborative one.

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The audience consists of both determiners and icons 

(From left) Sonup Sahadevan, Joginder Tuteja, Prathamesh Jadhav, Amit Doshi, Farhan Rajani and Parth Trivedi during the ‘Content Discovery Industry – Review Toh Banta Hai Na Bhai’ panel. Photo: BollyCon® International

The next manel moderated by Farhan Rajani (Head of Brand Solutions, Social Samosa) and Parth Trivedi (Creative Head – Digital Initiatives, Mirchi Love), saw panelists Sonup Sahadevan (Co-founder, Bollywoodwallah), Prathamesh Jadhav (Content curator & editor, LatestLY), Joginder Tuteja (Reviewer, Bollywood Hungama) and Amit Doshi (Founder, IVM Podcasts) talk about the value of fresh versus fleshed out reviews. Rajani brought up the phenomenon of moment marketing wherein brands put all hands on deck to capitalize on a pop culture moment. With social media influencers becoming the primary marketers in the digital generation, promotions might carry more weight than the final review. Sahadevan argued that “reviews are best when they are fresh,” while Jadhav posed, “What is a good review? When a reviewer is putting in as much effort to review the film as the filmmaker did to make the film.” Context, ultimately ties both reviews together and is subject to change over time. Films such as Johnny Gaddaar did not do well at the box office but went on to gain critical acclaim with the passage of time. When all else fails, Jadhav maintained that the audiences’ word of mouth will prevail.

The final panel at FILMY LABS was titled ‘Desi Pop Culture Power Masala Chat’ and saw both pop culture icons and curators band together to talk about selection and skepticism in Indian pop culture as well as what future desi popular content will look like. The panel comprised Rohini Ramanathan (RJ/Actor), Faisal Shaikh aka Mr. Faisu (TikTok star and content creator), Dhruv Chitgopekar (Co-founder, KWAN) and Nirmika Singh (Executive Editor, Rolling Stone India) as panelists while Samir Bangara (Co-founder & MD, Qyuki Digital Media) moderated the discussion. Although the room entertained a reasonably sized audience throughout the evening, Mr. Faisu’s appearance brought in fans by the droves and every seat was taken up – standing space included!

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Criticize the TikTok phenomenon all you want, it won’t change the fact that these videos are here to stay. For TikTok creators like Mr. Faisu, the platform marks the dawn of the everyday digital superstar — a breed of creators whose popularity even Bollywood celebrities can’t hold a candle to. But money isn’t the driving force behind Mr. Faisu’s content, it’s his audience. “When I first started out, I didn’t earn a living through the platform. But people noticed me and my videos. They valued my creativity,” he said. Recognizing these unsuspecting superstars is seminal to creating spaces for all within pop culture, given that India’s diversity is still relatively untapped.

Ramanathan opined that the queer dynamic in India is interesting because it taps into different intersections. “We are the land of the in-between, the land of the hijras, the land of the ardhanareshwars. We’re the land of the people who didn’t fit in,” she said. It would be ignorant to think that the majority of Indians are not queer; the Indian LGBTQIA+ audience is one to be respected, acknowledged and wooed. Singh cited Rolling Stone India’s February 2019 issue as a landmark one. The cover featured Indian hip-hop icons Divine and Naezy with a heading in Devanagari script reading: अपना Time गया (Our time has arrived!) And with the latest issue featuring YouTube sensation Bhuvan Bam, it’s safe to say, as Singh does, that these moves “capture a new space in [Indian] pop culture.”

Chitgopekar underlined the triumvirate value of creators, saying, “There’s no entity in the country today that is equipped to give the quality, content and insight that creators can give in a short amount of time. I think that Bhuvan is undervalued and so is Faisu because they play three roles.”

(From left) Dhruv Chitgopekar, Nirmika Singh, Rohini Ramanathan, Faisal Shaikh aka Mr. Faisu and Samir Bangara post the ‘Desi Pop Culture Power Masala Chat.’ Photo: BollyCon® International

With the dawn and domination of digital media, one can predict what’s next. But the real players in the game are those who know what to do in order to stay relevant.

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