In October 2018, Manoj Bajpayee's Bhonsle made waves at the Busan International Film Festival, bagging a nomination for the Kim Ji-seok Award. His act as a reticent cop who raises his voice against divisive politics was widely applauded. Almost 20 months later, as the drama enjoyed a digital premiere on SonyLIV over the weekend, the actor—who has doubled up as a producer on the project—is content. "We had decided at the start that we would take this film to as many festivals as possible. An independent film needs to create a dialogue about its merit so that it can get buyers," reasons the actor.
After doing the rounds of 30 international film festivals and winning the Best Actor gong at Asia Pacific Screen Awards last year, Bajpayee started seeking a theatrical release for the movie. "We were eyeing a March-April release, but, with the lockdown, that looked like a distant dream. When SonyLiv made an offer, it seemed like a win-win situation."
With Gulabo Sitabo paving the way, several prestigious films have opted for a straight-to-web release. The move drew fierce criticism from cinema owners who worried about the fate of theatres. As the theatre-OTT debate rages on, Bajpayee notes that exhibitors often underplay independent movies. "With regard to Bhonsle, we are in a better position on OTT than in theatres. I can't even begin naming the [independent] films I have done that have been treated like trash. Such films don't get buyers. If we manage a buyer, we don't get enough shows and are given obscure show timings. If I were to release Bhonsle in theatres, it would have been given a 9 am show. How many people go [for the morning show]? With films like Bhonsle, exhibitors need to be careful in how they support it. [Independent] films are not respected."
The actor believes the film is relevant at a time when racism is a global dialogue, and the pathos of migrants has exposed the prevalent humanitarian crisis in our society. "The local-versus-migrant issue is burning right now. What's happening in the UK, USA and even India, needs to be addressed."
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