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Raghu Romeo: An Unusual Film

Raghu Romeo, a film by Indian director Rajat Kapoor, was financed through a website. Are we finally witnessing the birth of a new financing culture in film production?
The Indian film industry, Bollywood, makes a few thousand films every year. Most are on a beaten to death track, both in terms of content and the business angle. Among the thousands of films made every year across the world and the few thousand of those made in India, very few stand out. One film came as a breath of fresh air, Raghu Romeo, the brainchild of a professionally qualified director and well recognized actor, Rajat Kapoor. Not only is the film reminiscent of the simple, comic timing that some Indian directors excelled in, just a few decades ago, but also it boasts of a unique financial endeavor.

In Mumbai, the film capital of India, a new generation of film-making took birth last year. For the first time in India, a film was financed through a website. Innovative requests to like-minded individuals to be a part of a trend setting film were posted by Rajat on his website, Rajatkapoor.com, and the response, in his own word, was fantastic.

Rajat Kapoor is a well-acclaimed actor in Bollywood. In his short span of 5 years as an actor, he has done some memorable work. He has also made some short films that have won acclaim.

According to Rajat, this film has been funded by what one may call goodwill. While the script of the film was ready three years ago, Rajat did not have the kind of money needed. He approached business houses and various financiers, but got a lot of empty promises. There were recommendations to change the star cast, perhaps with an eye on the box office, but Rajat wanted none of that interference.

While a part of the finances is from National Film Development Corporation in India, the balance amount came in after Rajat approached film lovers and friends for money. He appealed to people through the website to buy shares of Rs 10,000 for the kitty to be collected, and got a tremendous response. This is the first time in India, and probably in the world, that this kind of a financial arrangement has been done for financing a film. The media took up his cause and an unbelievable number of offers pouring in, those who could, offered money, and those who couldn't, offered skills. There were number of talented people who offered their services and this whole movement of goodwill was so touching, Rajat felt its repercussions while actually shooting the film. There were points in time when he felt the film was creating itself, and it almost seemed to have a life of its own. Now, after a whole lot of appreciation across the international film fraternity, the movie has come to theaters in India and also some international markets.

This labor of love, Raghu Romeo was showcased in several International Film Festivals. It won the Best Film award at MAMI Film festival and the hero Vijay Raaz bagged the Best Actor Award in Dhaka International Film Festival. The most prestigious achievement was that Raghu Romeo was screened in the fabulous 'Piazza Grande' section at the 56th Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland. Rajat still hasn't gotten over the accomplishment. The huge screen, the international audience, the great appreciation, everything seems to him an outcome of all the positive energy of the tremendous goodwill he got.

The film was also screened at Rotterdam, Stockholm, Oslo, San Francisco, Toronto, Barcelona, Shanghai, Florence, Trivandrum, Calcutta and other international film festivals and received great response.

Raghu's accolades have not yet stopped flowing in from the global audience. It is not a glamorous or commercially oriented film and now what is to be seen is whether its commercial release across theaters in India and abroad will get Rajat and his Raghu as much adulation. To Rajat, it doesn't matter. As long as he is satisfied with his work, his accolades are home.

Rajat feels it is committed people like his team who could pull off this feat. And no, he is not looking for established actors with great commercial success tagged to their name, to any of his future projects either ... his own dream team will make his dreams true, thank you very much.

The film itself begins with an idea that almost as old as the history of entertainment itself. The protagonist, Raghu, a bartender is completely in love with a screen goddess (a screeching, pathetic excuse for womanhood in real life but a principled, lovable and all Indian housewife in a television serial). Most people with an average intelligent level tend to let an actor's screen persona take over his real identity in their minds and react to the fictitious person only. Our Raghu is one such man, living in a world of his own.

This phenomenon of falling in love with images, Rajat feels, is the biggest and most Quixotic sign of modern times, when a fictitious character becomes so important that (in this case) she takes even superhuman proportions and becomes an object of adulation. There are, of course, various sub-levels in the story, two other love stories, where the gangster loves his dancer moll and the dancer loves Raghu while Raghu loves the actress he sees on television. It is a quaint situation where all the loves seem unattainable, and brilliant actors who have little or no glamor quotient bring it to life. The story was balancing itself on this fine dividing line between the ridiculous and the sublime. One wrong move and it would have been a complete failure. But there were no wrong moves, so the film got accolades instead.

The actor who plays Raghu, Vijay Raaz, is not a hero in any manner, he looks like what an average bartender in a beer bar in Mumbai would look like, with his little troubles, a nagging mother, a leaky roof, no salary for five months, but he has tremendous screen presence. He has acted in some international films before and Rajat's confidence in him was complete. In fact the entire main cast, Rajat feels, was incredible. The result was a great team, loads of positive vibes and a great film shot in an amazingly small time frame.

With the success of Raghu Romeo among critics and film community, one can hope that the trend of commercially huge but intellectually meaningless films will change. The golden era of Indian films in which small budget films were not lost in the maze of huge investments, huge promotions, great glitter and blinding glamor, may have a reason to return. It is no secret that the underworld money finances most Indian films, and this exercise in sincerity and the art of film-making may just about change that. Let us hope, one man's honest endeavor to make good cinema will pave the way for more such people, because only that can actually provide life breath to the choking Indian film industry choking on its own blood.
By Kanika Goswami
Published: 6/17/2004
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