Sindhi film industry striving hard
to revive fading culture
By Leena Mulchandani – ET Bureau
About 25 years ago Mangharam Harwani, founder of the $7-billion Denmark-based Sunico group saw a Sindhi musical programme on a VHS cassette (it was the age of VHS!) and the memory of that programme stayed with him as he built his business over the years. Financial success only sharpened that memory and Harwani yearned to do something so as to revive the fading culture of his community in some way. Films, he thought, were what lured the youth and so he decided to produce a Sindhi film – Pyar Kare Dis: Feel The Power of Love in 2007. The budget was modest, around Rs 1 crore, but the goal was to keep talent and the language alive. “I think the Sindhi culture and language is beautiful, but we are losing our identity. I'm hoping films can help people bond again and keep the language alive,” says the 62-year-old man who didn't bother whether the film raked in money when it was released two years ago.
Like Harwani, there are a handful of Sindhis who are trying very hard to preserve a culture and language whose very existence is in danger. The going is not easy as the Sindhi film industry strives hard to find its place in the regional cinema space in India. With no state or even a region to call its own, this fledgling regional film industry has not only managed to survive in its own small way but has also notched up around 30 films since Independence. In the past few years, production has picked up and about four films have released in the past two years. It is possibly the only regional Indian language which has people from all over the world making films. From Dubai to Denmark, it truly transcends borders. Other than Harwani, Laxman Bhatia and Koshi Lalvani from Dubai have made Parewari (Padosan) and The Awakening respectively while a businessman from New York, Jawahar Rupani, is putting in his bit by organising a screening of all these films in New York. All these 'film-makers' have only one interest — to increase awareness about the Sindhi culture and language through the medium of films.
NOT ON A MOOLAH ROUTE
For once, a community strongly associated with their sharp sense of business and success in making money, is not really looking at the returns, so films are made on low budgets, not because of a lack of finance but because of a limited market. Yet, being shrewd businessmen, they work out their outlay after measuring potential. “I know a Sindhi film can recover up to Rs 50 lakh so I make sure my total production plus marketing budget doesn't spill over Rs 20 lakh. This means I can roll over the profit to my next film” says Mohan Sachdev who made Vaaeesar Ee Gum (Totally Confused), which released in March this year, across 15 cities and has already recovered the Rs 20 lakh investment. In Mumbai alone, around 2,000 people saw the film at the 30-odd shows that were held in April-May.
Not having a state to call their own, creates multiple hurdles—there're no subsidies similar to the ones enjoyed by other regional film industries and there's no one to nurture and promote the industry. “Normally all language films are supported and protected by the respective states by way of subsidies, tax holidays and benefits, awards etc. Maharashtra, for example, supports and actively promotes the Marathi film industry or for that matter, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Chhattisgarhi, Bhojpuri and Bengali films are protected by their respective state governments. Sindhi being stateless sees no support either from the Union or any state body. If one has to produce a good quality Sindhi movie, it has to be on his/her own steam, strength and capacity,” says Shyam Shroff, chairman of Fame India which released Vaaeesar Ee Gum. In fact, Shroff recalls some old Sindhi films he has watched decades ago and rues the quality of the cinema today.
Not having a state also means that the Sindhi language speaking population isn't concentrated in one area. Sindhis are spread across the world. In India itself they are spread across six states and 100 cities. “Distribution and marketing, therefore, require innovation. We do a staggered released and focus on direct marketing as against mainstream media marketing like other film industries,” says Sachdev who also uses Facebook and other social networking websites for the purpose.
Talent crunch is a big problem, as Bollywood is the preferred destination. “It is a vicious circle. We need to raise the bar for better talent to make this industry worthwhile, but if people don't give it a chance in the first place then how will the industry grow,” says Kamal Nathani who directed Pyar Kare Dis.
Despite all the issues, there is a bunch of people who have faith. “At the moment this film industry seems to be reeling at the bottom. The potential is there but we need innovation and some bold steps,” says Shroff, who thinks a remake of films like Hum Aapke Hain Kaun or Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge in Sindhi could do wonders.
Pakistan, where there is a large Sindhi-speaking population, used to see three to four releases a year till a decade ago, but the social and political conditions have led to a total decline of the Sindhi film industry. Satish Anand, a producer in Karachi, says that the conditions are so difficult that not a single Sindhi film has been released in about eight years now. “The condition of the theatres is bad, funding is difficult and people prefer mainstream cinema. Many producers have tried to revive the industry but eventually it fell apart,” he says sadly. Anand also tried an alternate model of releasing films only on television and home video. But that too didn't work because of rampant piracy. Shroff, who has travelled through Sindh via road, agrees with Anand.
Both the Sindhis and the government need to take some steps to nurture this industry. “Films are a great way for the Sindhis to preserve their language and the government can surely extend help by way of funds since it is a social issue,” says Kanhaiyalal Gidwani, member of All India Congress Committee who heard about the film Abana (Native land) when he was 15-years old and was thrilled that someone had made a film on Partition. He recalls coming to Bombay to take the prints back to his hometown Sangli. “We had three shows — all house full. Abana means the house of my forefathers and naturally it was touching for everyone to see and remember their life on that side of the border,” he recalls.
While Sindhis are having a not-so-easy time making films in their own language, there are many who have taken their talents to Bollywood. The list of Sindhis in Bollywood is long and transcends vocations. Directors, actors, producers and even musicians, they are present in every field. From Babita to Govind Nilhani, Vashu Bhagnani, Tarun Mansukhani, Ritesh Sidhwani, Rajkumar Hirani, Nikhil Advani, Preeti Jhangiani, Ramesh Sippy, Ramsay Brothers, Asrani and Vishal Dadlani. Kumar Taurani, managing director of Tips Industries which posted a turnover of around Rs 65 crore in 2008-09, believes that he would have made Sindhi films had there been a bigger market. “I saw some Sindhi films 20-25 years ago and they were very good films. The story, the music was all top class. Since those days of quality content there has been a downfall. And with the language now restricted to fewer people, Sindhi films are niche product and balancing costs to make a profit is not easy for such a niche product,” says Taurani who produced Race, one of the biggest hits in 2008.
Some Sindhi actors, who've made their debut in Bollywood, are still keen on working in Sindhi films. Preeti Jhangiani, who made her debut in the Hindi industry with Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein, says “I would surely want to promote the industry. If there is a good script and it is promoted well, then I'd love to take it up. In fact, I did a song in Pyar Kare Dis without charging the producer for it. And my experience on the whole was very good. Even though they don't have the big budgets that Hindi films have, they still have the passion,” says the young star who could bring some hope on the talent front.