Friday, September 25, 2009

Is East finally meeting West in Filmmaking?

Hollywood has been the traditional torchbearer of excellent cinema, with scattered gems thrown in from other parts of the world, but none able to match the mammoth American film industry in quantity served with excellent quality.


Let us name a few of these gems. Sergei Eisenstein from Russia, Akira Kurosawa from Japan, Jean Luc Goddard from France, Satyajit Ray from India and Abbas Kiarostami from Iran. England has also captured world attention by propping up brilliant filmmakers like Richard Attenborough and Danny Boyle. Among all these countries, India has the most fledgling film industry.

Though in terms of quality Indian cinema still has a long way to go, it is the biggest film industry in terms of feature films produced every year. More than 1000 films are made in the country annually, led largely by the Hindi film industry pseudonymed Bollywood, while the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada cinema follow along with other regional Indian film setups. No Hollywood film has been able to give severe competition to an Indian hit film in India. Movies like Titanic have had major successes in the sub continent, but such movies are few and far between. Many award winning Hollywood films are released here, to be watched by an elite audience, while the masses prefer to keep to their masala films.

The reverse is even more true for Indian cinema in United States and UK, where except for the Indian expat population you would find one in a million soul who follows Bollywood. However, in certain European countries Bolywood stars are quite popular. For example, Shah Rukh Khan, who was recently in controversy over his detention at a US airport, is much loved in Germany and the French government recently presented him with its top culural award.

slumdogMovies like Slumdog Millionaire have raised curiosity about India, a country of mystery and wonder for many. Incidentally, as I write this post Julia Roberts is busy shooting her new film 'Eat, Pray, Love' at a Hindu Ashram in Pataudi, India. Now while such forays by western filmmakers into India have been common, Indian filmmakers have usually shot expat stories in western locales, with hardly any local western element (a recent Bollywood movie Namstey London was an exception).

Now let me come to the point for which I have been trying to build up momentum. Even as Hollywood studios like Warner bros and Sony Pictures have just started investing in Indian films, the Indian film industry is doing a similar thing in America. India's Reliance Entertainment is investing heavily in the projects of major filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Nicolas Cage. Its planned collaboration cum investment with such Hollywood stalwarts is to the tune of $1billion.

Many years before these deals and collaborations, quite a few Indian film actors Aishwarya Raihave been roped in to do Hollywood roles, most notably famous among whom is Aishwarya Rai. Others include Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri and Gulshan Grover. Conversely, Indian movies have often roped in British actors, often to make them play roles in films displaying the colonial past. Things are getting more interesting as Indian movie budgets are going up. A forthcoming Bollywood movie called 'Blue' has Kylie Minogue performing a song which also features the voice of Indian singer Sonu Nigam while she dances along with Indian actor Akshay Kumar. Some people hate this song titled 'Chiggy Wiggy...' as a waste of Kyie Minogue, while others are loving it. Here's the full thing from YouTube:

Coming back to Indian superstar Shah Rukh Khan, his new film 'My Name is Khan' is slated for a December release and deals with the issue of religious profiling in the United States. Fox Studios in a joint venture with Star network has decided to invest Rupees 1 Billion ($21 million approx) in the film for distribution rights.

So is the east finally meeting west in filmmaking?