When Railway Children, a Kannada indie docudrama depicting the lives of runaways, was slated for a December 21 release, Prithvi Konanur, the director of the film, was a worried man.
The Puneeth Rajkumar starrer Anjaniputra was also set to be released on the same day. In spite of Railway Children bagging a clutch of awards, including a National Award for Best Child Artist and the State Award for Second Best Film, it stood on shaky ground because it did not have a star actor and neither did the filmmaker spend a lot of money on marketing the film.
The film was partially crowd-sourced and has appeared in film festivals around the world including in California, Melbourne and Barcelona.
â€śIt was difficult to distribute the film. Multiplexes donâ€™t give you a guaranteed period of time when they screen the film and especially for a film like ours without star attractions, it takes time to attract audiences as we rely on the spread of word of mouth. So we donâ€™t know if the theatres will keep the film on from one day to the next,â€ť Konanur tells TNM.
The film was released in just six theatres across the state, which included two theatres in Bengaluru (PVR and Gopalan Cinemas) and one each in Udupi, Davangere, Doddaballapura and Dakshina Kannada.
Raju and Jolu from Railway Children
The response on the first day was mixed, making Konanur's worst fears come true as theatres dropped multiple shows of the film within two days.
â€śThere were seven shows in Bengaluru on Friday but now theatres have reduced the number of shows to two. If 30 people attend a screening, then I have confidence that the film will continue to be screened the next day but we had a difficult start to the weekend,â€ť explains Konanur.
However, audiences for the film improved on Sunday which saved the film from being discontinued in theatres.
"Commercially, it does not make sense for theatres to screen the film but since it is the winner of several awards, we are going to continue screening the film this week. I do not think it will be screened after that," says Sugandhar, who manages Diana theatre in Udupi.
However, he believes that other theatres will not be as benevolent.
"Other theatres did not pick up the film because they think only in terms of the commercial part," he claims.
Railway Children originally premiered at the Mumbai International Film Festival in 2016 to critical acclaim. It was the only Kannada film among 26 films selected for screening at the Panorama Section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa.
It also earned international recognition when it was showcased at the International Film Festival for Children and Youth held at Zlin in the Czech Republic in 2017 and won the coveted Ecumenical Jury special mention at the festival. It has also been screened at several film festivals around the world including in Chicago and Melbourne.
The film explores the life of a 12-year-old runaway who falls into the hands of a gang involved in illegal businesses. Manohara K, who earned the National and State Awards for Best Child Artist is the protagonist of the film.
â€śMany are appreciating Manoharaâ€™s performance and I have to say that in many scenes, I let the two boys improvise the script. I told them this is what we should convey and let them tell the dialogues in their own way,â€ť says Konanur.
The film produced by Udupi based Tindrum Beats continues to be screened in a handful of theatres across the state but Konanur is not too confident of the film staying in theatres for longer than a few days.