Tell me a story

India, Dec. 15 -- For years, film director Shoojit Sircar's directorial career seemed to be going nowhere. His debut film, Yahaan (2005), a love story set in conflict-ridden Kashmir, had bombed at the box office but earned some critical acclaim.

Undeterred, in 2008, the 44-year-old ad filmmaker made Shoebite, starring Amitabh Bachchan. But that still hasn't been released by its production house, UTV Motion Pictures. Then, in April this year his third attempt Vicky Donor hit the screens. It was an unusual romantic comedy about a sperm donor.

Over its five-week run, it earned about Rs. 50 crore. With a modest budget of R4.5 crore, it made big profits. In August 2011, Sircar was set to produce the film on his own along with a friend, Ram Mirchandani, who suggested he pitch his script to actor John Abraham,. Abraham within 15 minutes of listening to the script, decided he would make this his first production.

Abraham isn't the only one putting substance over style. Across the country, new-age producers are seeking out new-age filmmakers, looking to make movies with strong storylines.

In 2012 alone, such films have included Kahaani, Shanghai and Gangs of Wasseypur - refreshing, atypical movies in which the focus is on the craft of filmmaking. This is unusual in an industry traditionally wary of unconventional stories and new talent.

Two styles of Indian cinema, the commercial and the so-called parallel, converged this year, says Ashish Avikunthak, assistant professor in film media at University of Rhode Island. "What films like Ek Tha Tiger represent is the Bollywood circus - there is one star and everything revolves around him," he says. "What filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap are doing is adding elements of actual storytelling to the circus."

It all began in 2001, when the sector was given industry status by the government, which meant that studios could borrow money from banks. Five years later, UTV Motion Pictures set the trend, producing, co-producing and distributing mainstream films that broke the mould, with movies like Khosla Ka Ghosla. Filmmakers like Sircar are now busier and more optimistic. He is working on Madras Cafe, a political thriller. For this film, he has found two backers: Abraham, again, and Viacom 18 Motion Pictures.

"We needed this sort of change to be able to realise our visions and make sure that our films reached theatres," says Sircar, adding "I hope this continues."

Change makers

A look at the four producers who have accounted for the bulk of the script-driven films released in 2012 - and those set to hit the screens in 2013.

Sunil Bohra, 39, Independent producer-distributor, chairman and managing director of distribution house Bohra Bros

Strengths: Connecting filmmakers with the right financiers

Coups: Starting in the late 1990s with C-grade potboilers such as Kalia Mard, Bohra has developed a reputation for backing 'risky' films such as Shaitan, Sahib Biwi Aur Gangster, Gangs of Wasseypur. Bohra says he has no selection process. All he cares about is how passionate the filmmaker is about the story. Bohra's earnings come from a property business he owns, the profits of which he sometimes pumps into films. Otherwise, he raises money by approaching friends and production houses.

Watch out for: Shahid

Guneet Monga, 29, Producer with Anurag Kashyap Films Pvt Ltd

Strengths: Building ties with buyers and distributors

Coups: She got French international sales company Wild Bunch to pick up Gangs of Wasseypur for distribution; she also sold TV rights for 2013 release Monsoon Shootout to French TV company Arte. Monga has been working with Anurag Kashyap Films for four years and runs its production arm Sikhya Entertainment, which she had founded in 2008. A recent article The Hollywood Reporter called her India's "go-to producer for edgy young filmmakers"

Watch out for: Peddlers, Shahid, Monsoon Shootout, Vakratunda Mahakaya (Marathi)

Vikram Malhotra, 35, Chief Operating Officer, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures

Strengths: An understanding different kinds of audiences evolving in India, based on extensive market research.

Coups: Kahaani. At first glance, the film seemed to have little going for it, says Malhotra. "It wasrejected at the script level by several production houses and distributors. But Malhotra says he felt that the script was very strong. In 2011, when the company rebranded itself following a joint-venture deal between Viacom and Network 18, it released three movies considered content-driven and different: Tanu Weds Manu, Pyaar Ka Punchnama and Shaitan. It has backed six content-driven films this year - including Gangs of Wasseypur and OMG: Oh My God! "It is an exciting time for Indian cinema," he says.

Watch out for: Bombay Velvet, Madras Cafe, Hamara Bajaj, Inkaar, Special Chhabis

Nina Lath Gupta, 47, Managing director of the National Film Development Corporation

Strengths: Ability to innovate and capitalise on existing assets

Coups: Raising the annual turnover of NFDC from Rs. 12 crore in 2006 to Rs. 255 crore in 2011-12. Hosting the fifth annual Film Bazaar in Goa. Gupta took over the stodgy, government-owned NFDC in 2006 and has been steadily changing its profile ever since. A recent article in US-based publication The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the 12 most powerful women in cinema around the world. While NFDC released five films this year -Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Punjabi), As The River Flows (Assamese), Maya Bazaar (Bengali), Shanghai (Hindi) and a digitally restored version of Kundan Shah classic Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. Of the five films released in 2012, only Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro was a commercial success. But Gupta and her team are unperturbed and plan to release more unconventional films. Also in the pipeline are including an online video-on-demand service and a plan to set up subsidised exhibition spaces for alternative films.

Watch out for: Gangoobai, Tasher Desh, Qissa, Sanskaar

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.