x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The Tarantino effect on Indian cinema

The Doha Tribeca Film Festival hosts a heavyweight panel discussion about the future of Bollywood addresses how best to take the industry global.

The filmmaker and actor Ashutosh Gowariker. EPA
The filmmaker and actor Ashutosh Gowariker. EPA

A film festival panel discussion might not be the usual platform for a conversation about obscure tropical diseases. But in Doha, potentially in another first for the city, a warning was issued about a particular ailment affecting Bollywood cinema: Tarantino Disease.

“You see shots of Tarantino constantly in Indian cinema,” complained Anupam Kher in a talk about Bollywood’s potential for international crossover. The veteran, in town with David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, which received its Mena premiere at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, wasn’t suggesting that Quentin himself was actually appearing in the films, but that too many Indian directors were trying to emulate him rather than focus on making films specific to their home audience and culture.

“With all due respect to the director, they start off making artistic films and the moment they’re noticed they want to straight away go with Anil Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor.”

Ashutosh Gowariker, the director of 2001’s Lagaan, which became a hugely successful and multi-award-winning hit in and outside of India, said that steps were being made to take Indian cinema beyond the traditional home audience and Hindi-speaking diaspora.

“In the past two years, the awareness and the desire to go global has really taken shape and more and more treaties have been formed, especially with France and Germany. And I think the outcome of that is going to be more cinema coming out that is catering to internationals.”

Gowariker suggested that with 1.2 billion people in India, the film industry was fairly self-sufficient and many filmmakers hadn’t previously bothered attempting to go outwards. “But now the process has begun where we are making concrete steps in targeting international audiences.”

But Kher argued that he thought there was “no need” for such global intentions, and questioned whether the films heading abroad would be culturally enriching or truly represent India.

“When we talk about Iranian cinema, it has made a mark because of the sort of movies that they make there. It’s the same when we talk about Korean cinema, maybe even Arab cinema. They have a major stamp of the kind of cinema they do,” he said.

“But in India, except for Malayalam or some original films, we don’t have a complete characteristic of Indian cinema. In India we’re larger than life. We always sing. We sing on life. We sing on death. We dance. We talk loudly. We eat well. That presents our cinema. With respect to French or European cinema, we’re not depressed people. We are happy, so we make movies about happiness.”

And as for actually focusing on producing films that would find a market international, Gowariker – whose Lagaan was arguably one of the biggest success stories – claims it’s a difficult thing to actually sit down and formulate.

“When I wrote Lagaan, I never felt that I was going to make a film that was going to cross over and travel to Brazil and to China. My target audience was Indian and I just hoped to make a good film,” he said.

“I still think that you cannot structure making something that will cross over, saying that you’ve got all the right ingredients. Or if we say we want to take one of the literary giants of India and take their novel and turn it into a film, it’s a very difficult thing to do. We do just need to keep making movies based on what your conviction is and what appeals to you.”

Just don’t say Quentin Tarantino. At least not in earshot of Anupam Kher.

aritman@thenational.ae