The Independent Cinema of Vikalp

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Vikalp, an initiative for independent cinema, draws together several film makers. AF Magazine recently interviewed film maker Paromita Vohra who is involved in this initiative and spoke to them about Vikalp, on how it started, what it currently accomplishes and what are its goals for the future.

Paromita Vohra

Paromita Vohra

Vikalp is a collective of film makers that was created as a remonstrative approach to the concept of censorship in the Bombay Documentary Film Festival in 2004. Despite the toning down of censorship rules and organising an ‘alternative film festival’ that year, an independent screening space seemed imperative to them. The ideology behind Vikalp was the need to focus on making contemporary yet unconventional films, documentaries, short films and animations, which under normal circumstances are not screened in cinema halls. They try to show films which stand for diversity rather than films which don’t. The concept of a ‘formal’ member does not exist and Vikalp has no specific identity other than cinéphiles teaming up as volunteers to make, view and appreciate alternate cinema, whose numbers fluctuate sporadically. These volunteers engage in separate professions for their independent livelihood, participating in Vikalp solely for their unreserved passion for cinema.

Vikalp’s partnership with Alliance Française was fostered when Alliance Française de Bombay wanted to organise a music festival and the erstwhile Cultural Coordinator asked Vikalp to do it. Though in a hurry, they agreed. The first film’s invitations were sent only three days prior to the screenings of the the films with an expectation of a meagre response; but a houseful auditorium encouraged them to continue their tie.

On 19th July 2014, before the Vikalp film shows began at Alliance Française de Bombay in the evening, AF Magazine interviewed Paromita Vohra, an Indian filmmaker and writer involved with Vikalp, who told us more about the initiative and the films shown:

AFMagazine:  Vikalp showcases many independent films. What films do you consider “independent” and could you tell us about the films you show?
Paromita Vohra (P): By independent, we mean that a film that is not going to be released in a cinema hall, but that’s mostly feature films in India, so that’s everything else almost. You see, we don’t show feature films; animations (short ones) and documentaries are our interest. We don’t show everything, we make some kind of decision. Mostly, it is based on a collective decision making because it can’t be only what my taste or only about someone else’s taste. So, normally, say, … if two people like it enough we’ll show it; so it’s not that everybody has to like it, it’s not unanimous. But at least some of us should feel that it is interesting. The other thing we do is that: our programme is thematic – we normally select films on the basis of a common theme every month. This month’s [July 2014] theme is animation in documentary. Next month we are doing a friendship day special because August 3rd is Friendship day. So we’re showing two films about friendship. Sometimes we do a special on the city. One time, we did a series of films on women in areas of conflict.

AFMag: How do you select a given month’s theme?
We try to look at a film in different ways...P: It happens in many different ways. We don’t decide the theme first. It always comes from the films. Sometimes we may see two or three films and say “that’s a good program!” Today, Gitanjali Rao whose film we are showing, is a very good animation filmmaker and her films have won big prizes. (AFMag article on Gitanjali Rao: Animated Challenges) We want to show her film, so we could have shown it on a package on love; we could have shown it on a package on Bollywood, but since she is an animation film maker, it’s nice to be able to talk about animation techniques with her. So we’re showing it as part of a package on animation with her. That’s how we do it. So, it’s a very dynamic process; it’s not very fixed. We try to look at it in different ways…

AFMag: And it’s worked that way just for the Alliance Française or all screening places?
P: No, only for the Alliance Française. Because it makes it more interesting: the audience is in one mood and it helps them to think of an issue from different points of view instead of only one point of view. So if there are two films on friendship, then you will have different thoughts about friendship, so we want to start a discussion; an atmosphere, a spirit and  a culture of discussion is what we want to create: that there are many ways of thinking about the same thing. And the films can offer you different facets of any theme. So, that’s why we normally try to show at least two films at a time.

AFMag: And do you always organise a screening with a talk after?
P: Yes. But you know, sometimes the filmmakers are not able to come. Normally we like to have the filmmaker here since we can have discussion about the film, and if they are not there, we still try to have a discussion. Having a theme, helps to have a discussion.

AFMag: Are there some specific film directors Vikalp works with in the sense whose films you would like to screen?
P:  We don’t work with anybody. There’s nothing like that. We screen first-time films, student films, films from established directors, it’s about the film. The whole exciting thing about documentary in India is that there is lot of diversity in the practice, and we would like to showcase that rather that falling victim to the pressure of making only one kind of film depending on the funding.  So our desire is to showcase a number of approaches. We want to show people that there are so many artistic approaches to making documentaries, and that it’s actually an exciting artistic medium.

AFMag: What is the future of Vikalp
It's very organic. We go with the flow.P: No, it’s very organic, there’s no plan for Vikalp. The issue with Vikalp is that it is not owned by anybody, so it’s quite difficult to start anything in its name. It would be nice to make an archive or a library, but it’s hard because we don’t own it. If tomorrow, someone wants to collaborate with us on it, we would do it such as if someone in the University wanted to run an archive. On our own, expansion has problems: in whose name do you do it? How do we survive if we put all our time in this activity as we are all volunteers? And what about our other work? However, it’s organic, so I really don’t know what is going to happen next to it. We go with the flow.

AFMagIs there some particular target audience that you have in mind?
P: Everyone. The more the better!

Find the program of Vikalp on the Alliance Française de Bombay website
Facebook group of VikalpGroup “Vikalp Bombay”
Paromita Vohra’s film production company:

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...