How A Rooftop Bar is Ushering a New Film Viewing Culture in India

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How A Rooftop Bar is Ushering a New Film Viewing Culture in India

Priya Bhattacharji, spoke to Nikita Naiknavare, founder of Lost the Plot. a unique rooftop cinema and bar that aims to change the way we watch movies

To watch a movie and grab a bite are the most obvious options to ‘hang-out’. Club them together, host them in a picturesque venue and you have a social event in offing. The appeal of differentiated experiences, an articulation of identity and a chance to meet strangers with shared interests have made pop-up cinema and curated screenings a raging trend.

Conceptualising such screenings demands both, stellar ideation as well as managerial skills, but to establish a novel eco-system for independent cinema through such screenings takes passion. Lost the Plot (LTP) is one such example. A rooftop cinema and bar, it has fast-tracked from a ‘hang-out’ alternative, to a much sought-after alternate for independent filmmakers to screen at, and interact with active audiences. Nestled in Aundh (Pune), LTP’s airy, scenic ambiance serves as the perfect foil to stifling multiplexes and film-fest hurtles. In India, it serves as a rare example of an urban community cinema model done right.

LTP’s progression seems to have left its founder, Nikita Naiknavare, pleasantly surprised. “It has evolved tremendously from how I first envisioned it. I had originally thought of it as an add-on entertainment option in India. You know, taking our national escapism to another level by putting the film viewing experience outdoors, adding a sense of nostalgia to it and providing a space for people to end their daily routine on a truly ‘chill’ note. I found the pace of life in urban India very hectic where entertainment was a high pressure, frenzied sort of space rather than relaxing,”she says.

Lost The Plot

Dynamic curation and lively interactions have infused an unmatched vibrancy and edginess. So far, LTP has been fairly successful to challenge the ingrained habits of formula films, passive spectator-ship, and lifeless cinema halls. Naiknavare says, “as a concept today, LTP is akin to a ‘community cinema’, where we’re expanding the definition of a film exhibition venue from a ‘theater’, to an interactive, collaborative space that supports and not just displays the art form. The outdoors, the option of having a beer, the opportunity to connect with other movie buffs are all things we have going for us. We try and keep our programming diverse enough to attract a varied audience. ’”

She also says that, viewers are far more tuned into things than the system gives them credit for.”Especially Indian audience, with a social perception so refined that we pick up very quickly on social trends. Actors and stars are picking ‘risky’ roles, directors want to experiment. The lines between mainstream and indie cinema are blurring. People are getting used to watching interesting content. However, the setting is equally important. How we behave in groups is very different from how we behave in private. Audience would still be wary of watching challenging content in large-group setting theaters create. Take the same content to a smaller, more intimate and more ‘safe’ setting where you won’t be judged for indulging.”

LTP has a collaboration with Alliance Francaise de Pune, where every Wednesday they show French films that deal with complex relationships and unusual stories. These shows are almost always a houseful.

Nikita Naiknavare (left) in conversation with Kalki Koechlin at Lost The Plot

‘Knowing your audience’ is a key learning many Indian film entities can borrow from LTP’s endeavours. Today, LTP is recognised as a unique platform for film promotion and exhibition for the independent film scene with both amateur and award-winning directors in regular attendance.”Lost the Plot has blossomed into this cultural hot-spot. It has evolved to reflect the art form it supports—films made with talent, hard work and passion by different kinds of artists—writers, cinematographers, actors, musicians, designers not to mention the production teams behind them. We encourage connection and collaboration between like-minded creative people from different fields,” says Naiknavare.

LTP’s high responsiveness and connection to changing times has made it culturally relevant.What’s noteworthy is how daring it is for them to breed a new film-viewing culture in Pune, a city which is home to the most puritan Indian film institutions (NFAI and FTII) “There’s no denying these institutes are important. They are supported by the government and have easier access to excellent films and resources.But they also lack the drive to grow their audience base I feel. I live a couple minutes from both these institutes, yet there was never any inclination to attend the shows there until recently, I guess they preach to the choir instead of trying to introduce a wider audience to the magic of good cinema. That’s what we want to avoid at Lost The Plot,” says Naiknavare, she also says that, since Pune is a growing city that has new people pouring in for work from all over the country, it makes for a very interesting test market for new concepts. “It’s a challenging market where people are open to new concepts and encouraging, but are also laid back and not big spenders.” With the ever-expanding online movie-viewing bouquet,  Naiknavare considers, “the opportunity to talk and interact as a social currency that gives LTP an edge over such avenues.”

Live skype sessions with filmmakers are common practice at Lost The Plot

Since a lot of filmmakers are now open to a chance to meet and interact with their audience, LTP makes for the perfect location to do so. “In case they aren’t able to come in person, we organise Skype conversations. Our Skype interactions with Tillotama Shome for Qissa and most recently Vinay Shukla for An Insignificant Man are probably my favourite because they provided a much-needed insight to such thought-provoking, poignant films. The premier of Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak also remains close to my heart because it was our very first. It was a huge opportunity provided by Shiladitya Bora who was heading Drishyam Films back then. Having the cast in attendance was an absolute delight and speaking to the filmmakers on Skype was an absolute delight.”

Another prime reason why LTP is considered a viable venue is the extended running time it gives small-budget films. “We’ve created a platform where such films can be viewed after they have disappeared from the theatres. The theatrical model in India is so cluttered that by the time people get around to hearing about a particular film, it’s already out of screens. This is where a venue like Lost The Plot is useful. We provide longevity to films and share revenues with the filmmakers to keep the model sustainable for everyone involved,” says Naiknavare.

To counter the ‘niche’ label, Naiknavare delves on LTP’s road-map, “films are a great avenue for subliminal messaging. A corporate employee engagement program was launched this year. We handpick films and documentaries to conduct facilitated discussions around topics such as decision making, leadership, innovation and team building. The beauty is that we discuss issues that commonly occur within big organisations but at a thematic level referencing characters in the film rather than the people involved. The discussion remains objective while employees get a chance to understand how and what their colleagues and superiors think. We try and stick to classics or indie fare to retain that sense of discovery,” she says.

Lost The Plot’s community centric approach stands out

Probably sustained success lies in LTP’s community-centric approach, one that builds a sense of collective efficacy. “We’re in the process of putting together larger events, going beyond movies to include entertainment & activities which would bring the community together. At LTP, we take audience requests and feedback quite seriously. People like space, ambiance, and experience. We’ve eventually built trust in our programming choices. I want to use the space to grow the market for entertaining but intelligent films. For that, you have to win the audience’s trust. I once heard someone describe LTP as ‘the sweetheart of Aundh,’ so I guess we do play a pretty significant role in the community’s life”



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