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High on films, food and firewater

Anuradha Shenoy | September 09, 2005

In India's financial and film capital Mumbai, commercial mainstream cinema has always been a big craze. It is surprising, however, that the independent filmmakers haven't been received just as well.

Until now. At least three eateries -- a coffee house Mocha, a pub called The Ghetto and a restaurant /lounge bar titled Zenzi -- have started screening short films by independent filmmakers in the city.

To be sure, the ritual of hosting a film ('movie afternoons') every first Sunday of the month has been sacred for Mocha for a couple of years now. 

But for the others, it's a new-found passion. Zenzi began its weekly Sunday movie afternoons recently. To source content, it has tied up with Ten Films, a company that promotes independent cinema.

The eateries offer their own reasons for screening short films on the premises. At Zenzi, the exercise is aimed at attracting a certain kind of audience and to build an 'intellectual' profile for the brand.

Says Matan Schabracq, general manager, Zenzi: "I want Zenzi to have a sophisticated, artistic, intellectual and creative profile."

On the other hand, films are a passion with Thomas Cherian, managing partner of The Ghetto. Cherian also heads a film company called Nutcracker Films. The Ghetto screens films every Monday. Mocha's managing director, Riyaaz Amlani also loves films.

"Independent cinema is close to my heart," he says. Amlani has a degree in film studies from California. For its guests, Mocha accepts short films that are "clean and wholesome and less than 30 minutes' duration." 

Does the arrangement benefit filmmakers? Luke Kenny, an independent filmmaker, says "The number of short films being made has increased owing to modern digital technology, which is fairly inexpensive. It's great that these places are giving us a platform to show our work." 

Adds Satyam Bansal, another independent filmmaker: "Yes, definitely. It's a great platform to network. It also gives us an opportunity to meet scriptwriters, directors and producers."

There are some other advantages of holding such film shows at eating joints. Ritesh Sinha, managing director, Ten Films, says that, often, people who are not originally from the world of cinema, say, lawyers or IT professionals, also get interested in the medium and are keen to contribute towards its growth. "It is a healthy trend," he says.

So are the pubs and restaurants making extra money, thanks to these films? No, says Amlani. "We actually lose money. Quick turnover of tables is necessary to make money. On these afternoons, people sit at tables for a longer time. 

In the long-run, however, it builds a loyal community," he remarks. Mocha's cover charge for film afternoons is Rs 100, redeemable towards snacks and beverages.

The Ghetto has no cover charge. And Cherian says that "the cash registers aren't ringing. It is, however, a form of niche marketing. We get a loyal clientele that keeps coming back." 

At Zenzi, the cover charge is Rs 650, offering a barbecue lunch, salad and beer for the price. It is frequented by Bollywood folks and other professionals. 

Will other pubs and eateries follow suit? Ten Films' Sinha says that "Screenings contribute to brand building by creating an aura of intellectualism and an up-market profile. It is a win-win situation for the filmmakers and restaurant owners." Adds Cherian: "Others may follow. It's what I call creative business."
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