‘The good thing is the journey has begun’: Anupam Sharma on the next steps for the AIFC

Anupam Sharma winning Best Feature Documentary award at the Newcastle International Film Festival in the UK.

Australian film projects made in collaboration with India have the potential to deliver on issues the industry is “constantly talking about”, according to Australia India Film Council chair Anupam Sharma.

The veteran director is hoping to further bilateral film links between the two countries through the newly-formed council, building on an association seen through India-centric projects such as Lion and Hotel Mumbai, as well as the 2012 Australian Bollywood adventure, From Sydney With Love.

Speaking to IF, Sharma said were clear reasons why Australia and India had “huge potential”.

“In Australia, whether it be Screen Australia, Screen NSW, or other associations, all of us are constantly talking about three things – private investment in our industry, diverse stories, and a global audience,” he said

“And these three things are inherently there when you work with India for an Australian project.”

With more than 25 years experience as a producer and director, Sharma has served as both a participant and commentator on the relationship between Australian and Indian film.

His previous work includes 2015’s UnIndian, starring Brett Lee, and 2017 documentary The Run, about Australian Pat Farmer’s quest to run the length of India across 64 days.

As part of his next project – documentary Bollywood Down Under – Sharma will examine how Australia first came to feature in Bollywood films, providing the foundation for growing industry ties.

‘unIndian; director Anupam Sharma (centre) with Tannishtha Chatterjee and Brett Lee.

He said it all started with Bollywood films choosing Australia as a location in the late ’90s before India started to utilise Australia’s crews on projects filmed in India.

“So we had specialist crews – cinematographers, visual effects artists, special effects artists, armourers, stunt directors – flying to India throughout the 2000s to work on Bollywood films,” he said.

“So that was the next step, and then came a step further where you had all these Indian films that had Australia in their scripts and you characters talking about Melbourne and Sydney.

“These films were kind of directly promoting Australia, but they also were indirectly promoting Australia in the two big markets the Australian government was tapping, which was overseas students and tourism.”

From there, Sharma said the relationship shifted another gear, with the onset of “Bend it Like Beckhams for Australia” allowing for success in a new area.

“India-centric films such, whether it be Lion, Hotel Mumbai, UnIndian, or The Run, were Australian films, in terms of the writers, directors, and producers, but they were targeting India.

“Now, given our Producer Offset and the private investment we have received in the past two years for Australian projects that are India-centric, I think the next and most profitable stage that is yet to be tapped are India-centric Australian projects, or projects between Australia and India which are funded by investors out of India, UK and around the world.”

(From L-R) Nazanin Boniadi as “Zahra”, Dev Patel as “Arjun” and Armie Hammer as “David in ‘Hotel Mumbai’.

Such is the focus for the AIFC, which comprises board members Sheila Jayadev, Jomon Thomas, Deepti Sachdeva, Kartik Mohandas, and Vikrant Kishore, as well as vice chair Julie Marlow.

Upon its launch last month, the council received messages of support from dignitaries, diplomats, and film agencies, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for the Arts Tony Burke, Consul General Manish Gupta, AACTA CEO Damian Trewhella, and national chair of the Australia India Business Council, Jim Varghese, among others.

Sharma said while there had been prior demand for the council, he wanted to make sure it was done “the right way”.

“The idea came in ages ago, even before COVID,” he said.

“Someone said ‘let’s do an association’ and then Indians came in and said let’s do a media and arts association, but I was really particular because when you go to the community level, there is a very fine line between films as a hobby and films as a profession.

“As someone who has been in this space for 25 years, I receive half a dozen emails or phone calls every week from young Australians of South Asian origin – not just Pakistan, India, or Sri Lanka – asking for guidance, or an internship.

“These are people who desperately want to pursue it as a profession – they don’t want to be an accountant or engineer during the day and a filmmaker by night.”

It is these filmmakers the AIFC is hoping to guide through its Australian Film Dosti Series, a webinar platform where leading industry figures from Australia and India talk about the links between the two countries across different aspects of the screen sector.

The series starts next week with ‘Aus & India Film Relations: A Health Check’, with further sessions planned on investment, distribution, and exhibition.

Sharma said the council was “dreaming big” when it came to its future activities.

“Previously, there were initiatives [involving India], but they were sporadic ones,” he said.

“What we hope to do with this council is bring it all under one roof, so there is a level playing field for everything and we hope, with our individual contacts, if SPA or one of the other bodies has an initiative relating to India that they will want to work with us.

“I’m talking to some people in India who are so keen to support it that we hope within the first year to have a dedicated small pot of money to help Australians develop projects between Australia and India, even if it is $5-10,000.

“The good thing is the journey has begun so we’ll take it step by step.”

Find out more about the Australian Indian Film Council here.