“There were two cardboard boxes, one with cash money, and one with samosas,” says Mitu about her introduction to Bollywood film screenings in Australia. Usually held in community halls, these communal events were the only way to see films from one of the world’s leading film industries; not to mention, the spice shops distribution network of pirated versions of the films, which unfortunately continues to this day.
“If it was a big film, they could charge up to $25. If it was a smaller film, they would charge less. They just gave you a stamp on your hand and you would enter.”
It goes without saying that screening conditions were not optimal and that none of this money ever came back to the people who made the movie.
Mitu had come from India where she worked in the production sector and had a network of contacts that she could work with to change all of that.
I created a job for myself here so that I can keep my ties with India alive; I try to marry the two worlds. The natural step was to try and explore if we could integrate Indian films in the mainstream cinemas,” she says.
Facing initial pushback – “we did have a lot of knock-backs. I don’t really blame the exhibitors because all of them were very burnt. The films would not be classified, screenings would just get cancelled. It was not streamlined, and there were lots of issues which made everyone a bit weary.”
Eventually, Mitu connected with national cinema chain Hoyts. “They showed a lot of vision and were very open to trying it out.”
Success quickly followed, with the big hits including Chennai Express (2013) – .8million, Dhoom 3 (2013) – $1.75million, Dangal (2016) – $2.6million, Sanju (2018) – $2.4million, and Sultan (2016) – $1.35million.
Imitation is the biggest form of flattery, with numerous distributors now competing with Mitu for product, and even Hollywood studio Paramount releasing Padmaavat in early 2018, earning $3.17million at the Australian box office.
“Everybody recognises the impact that Indian films have and the kind of reach that they have,” Mitu says. “Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, all language films are screening at pretty much most of the cinemas in Australia.”
Apart from releasing Bolly films into cinemas, Mitu’s company also runs the popular Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, which attracts the biggest Indian stars to our shores annually; and the Indian Film Festival Sydney – Bollywood & Beyond. Significantly, Mitu is a strong advocate for female participation in the film industry, regularly hiring and mentoring women within her organisation; and more recently branching out into Australian production, with a successful release of Pawno and various projects in the pipeline.
“We would like to get into a lot more production,” says Mitu about what the future holds for the company. “We have been consistently producing short films and documentaries and nurturing relationships through our short film competition. But my dream is to produce series for Netflix and Amazon, because that’s a huge area that I think can be tapped into because they are looking for global, multi-cultural stories, and India is a huge focus for them. The Indian community here is very robust. The Australian film fraternity here is very strong. I feel like it would be amazing if we could marry all these things together and come up with some amazing film concepts or amazing series that we could then present to the world.”
Ironically, though, the current sentiment in the local industry seems to be conquering China rather than India. “I’m constantly puzzled by that,” Mitu comments. “I’m constantly puzzled by the fact that Screen Australia has no, to very little interest, in India even though India is the largest English content consuming country in the world. And MasterChef Australia is the number one non-fiction show in India. Yet, I don’t see any focused, aggressive, targeted missions or targeted programs with India.
“I mean, I’ll be the first one to say that India is a hard nut to crack,” Mitu says. “But it’s also a very rewarding venture. But it takes a lot of time.
“I feel very lucky that I’m in Victoria because the Victorian government is proactive and inclusive with all its strategies.”
After growing her company through a decade of successfully releasing films across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, running a highly successful film festival which brings the biggest Bollywood stars to our shores, connecting Indian and Australian cultures through film production, receiving the Jill Robb Award from Film Victoria in 2017 and appointed to the Film Victoria board in 2018, what does Mitu Bhowmick Lange consider her greatest achievement?
“I think the one highlight in my life is, of course, my daughter. I never thought I would be a mum, or even a good mum for that matter. I think that would be the biggest highlight.”
We had no doubts whatsoever.
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