Jalsa , Mumbai Jan 3, 2012 Tue 11 : 30 PM
I was asked by Namrata Joshi of the Outlook magazine if I could pen some thoughts on the rising importance and visibility of Indian Films, not just within but outside of our country too. The original was pruned by the editorial machinery of the magazine, as is mostly the case, but here below is the way I wrote it. yes the pruned version was obviously better edited and reads well, but this was me _
On a lazy summer afternoon as I walked past the Montmartre towards the majestic Basilica of the Sacred hearts, commonly known as the Sacre-Coeur, situated on a hill, the highest point in the heavenly city of Paris, France, I suddenly heard the strains of a Hindi film song emanating from a human voice. I wondered first if this was some delusion that I was undergoing, for I was on a sabbatical after several years of continuous work, and such environs are most conducive to the cause, but I was wrong. It was indeed someone not too distant from where I was standing, not of my color, creed or nationality, with an expectant smile on his face, willing, I was certain, for some recognizable response.
After a few moments of staring at one another, we both moved across to each other, in a most film like manner, and with just a hint of appropriate embarrassment I asked him the obvious.
He was not French, only spoke it and spoke no English. He was a shade more colored than I was and through some rather odd and unique gesticulations finally was able to convey to me that he was from North Africa and loved Indian movies. The song was from Sholay and even with his North-African-French-Hindiised accent it was unmistakably the famous, “ yeh dosti, hum nahin todenge “!
It was the early 90’s and almost 20 years have gone by since that incident. I must admit I was not too surprised by it. For long years had we been hearing of ‘ Awaara ‘ and the Raj Kapoor mania in the Soviet Union and the adoration with great flamboyance of Shammi Kapoor in Beirut.
But these were destinations that were closer home – North and Mid Eastern geographically. Further West, apart from the dedicated and starved for Hindi film entertainment NRI, there was little knowledge or acknowledgement of our cinema.
In 1982-83 I went on a World Concert Tour to Europe, UK and the USA with Kalyanji – Anandji for a first time venture and played to packed audiences in some of the most prestigious venues, procured, after some very obstinate denials, where previously the likes of Sinatra and Elvis had performed. The audiences were Indian of Indian origin and from neighbouring lands, but not a single local among them. No one in the West knew of us. In fact soon after my marriage in 1973, Jaya and I were asked to do a friendly appearance at a concert in London being conducted by a popular group from Mumbai. There were just 5 people in the auditorium – 2 were Jaya’s relatives and the balance, ushers !That was then. Now within the last 15 years or so, the scenario has drastically changed. The overseas market has become one that is recognized as being one of the more lucrative. Our films are released in regular prominent distribution centres the world over, and our top stars are household names with massive fan followings.
Mehboob Khan took Dilip Kumar and his film ‘Aan’ to Hollywood in those early years to seek Western recognition, but came back after facing embarrassing comments from the biggest of director producers. The ugliest being –“ Mr Khan, your film just goes ‘on and on and on’”, a sarcastic pun on the title of his film !
Mr Lulla and his huge entertainment empire which goes by the name of Eros International, apparently started his early years in the distribution of our films overseas from Israel, where he and his brother would hand paint titles of Hindi films and stick them up at modest enclosures, to screen our films.In many of my interactions with the foreign media during those times, there was a chuckled cynicism and acerbic criticism of the kind of escapist fare that our films indulged in and ‘running around trees singing songs’ became a synonym for all Indian Cinema, barring of course the ones from Satyajit Ray.How and what brought on this present change, a change where dedicated western audiences appreciate and follow our films, needs a much larger platform to debate and discuss, but to me, as an interested observer, the reason has been one that really in the true sense, has got nothing to do with creativity or the quality of our cinema.
I may be completely misguided and incorrect in thinking so, but in my opinion every time a country has been economically attractive to the West, everything about it becomes attractive. The banishing of the ‘control raj’, the opening up and the liberalization of the economy in India has provided great investment opportunity to the developed world, the first world. The commercial prospects and the value addition of consumerism has been one that the West has not been able to ignore. Once criticized for the expanse and growth of our population, the foreigner now looks upon it as the growth of the consumer and better sales. When a country improves its economic profile, when it begins to invite outside interest, every element of the country suddenly becomes valuable and popular. So, with liberalization came a deep interest in our politics, our food, our clothing, our music and … our films !
Time played an important role as well. The first generation NRI was now into his or her third generation local, who grew up in the social norms of his country by birth, developed friendships with them, and introduced them to the culture of their roots, i.e films. I seek pardon from the purists of the land when I maintain that, but films today have become our parallel culture and I am not so sure whether this has been good or bad for a country with a cultural history of over 5000 years !
Suddenly all our ‘singing and dancing around trees’ has developed cult following. The structure and expanse of our films, its exuberance and excitement in its stories and particularly in its propagation of poetic justice in 3 hours, has caught the fancy of not just the West but in every part of the world.
Rajnikant’s films do a better business than first day releases of a Japanese film in Tokyo. In Pusan, South Korea, ‘Black’ has been one of the largest grosser’s, larger than in some of the national regions too. Spielberg seeks investment in DreamWorks from an Ambani Reliance Entertainment. Our stars get looked upon as prospective casts in Hollywood productions and we see a generous star cast of the Hollywood brigade visiting us and even though it is polite, making statements of wanting to work in our productions. On a flight in to Cairo from Europe in 1990 as an invitee for their film festival, I came across an Arabic newspaper on board that was announcing my arrival and that my film ‘Mard’ was the most popular – it had been running for a year ! On landing, the reception was so overwhelming that for the first time in my life, my Immigration was conducted in my Hotel room – the mobs making it impossible for the customs staff to function. For a country that does not permit foreign films to run for more than a week or two, it was a wonder how this film of mine was in its 52nd. They told me the truth later. Every two weeks they would change the poster outside to show that a different film was on, when inside they were projecting ManMohan Desai’s classic. They were loving it for the anti-British element in the story !
Soon after, on the turn of the year I took a concert to South Africa, with a special request from the ANC, when it was just about to get liberated from its apartheid past. A 60,000 football stadium filled to capacity awaited the start of the show, 6 hours before the official timing. For once the much maligned Indian Standard Time received thunderous applause, for starting the performance before the official time ! The ushers, white South Africans at the stadium, when asked for their reaction to the multitudes that thronged the venue stated – ‘the only time we saw something like this was when Nelson Mandela was released’!!The stories are endless, not just for me personally, but I am certain for every Indian film star in our firmament, that has travelled abroad. The NRI population has grown and befriended the local and exposed them to our cinema – a cinema which has been different. They are attracted to the emotions, an entity which the West is often shy to depict or fall prey to. A community that once derided our cinema, now decorates Selfridges, the leading general store in London, with Indian Cinema as its theme for an entire month, when it wanted to honour our creativity and presence. Indian fusion music has mingled with the western style and has become a huge market. Indian restaurants are all over, our designs in clothing material abound in the most distinguished fashion parades. DC, our local entrepreneur in car design is sought to design the latest Jaguar sports model and shall very soon be involved in designing an Indian sports car indigenously. Talks are on for the taking over of one of the most historic film studios in Hollywood by an Indian businessman.
What else would one expect when every 6th , or every 6th and a half individual now, according to the latest census, is an Indian !!
The flavour has changed, not the cinema. We have continued to make the same escapist commercial fare and happy that we did not succumb to the many incessant demands of the West to alter our course.
The clientele for our films is not just restricted to Hindi cinema. Regional cinema – Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Malayalam, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bengali, Kannada, Bhojpuri, Assamese and many others have all received recognition among the regional viewers outside our shores as well. Recent Telugu films have had extraordinary collections of late.And all this because we were and are different. And yes, we are now economically liberated and of value.Amitabh Bachchan
It may be worth the while to perhaps end here tonight .. with love and more …Amitabh Bachchan