Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bollywood Hollywood and Beyond

Whew... A bit of a delay with this post, and probably not much relevant anymore but since I wrote half of it, well maybe it will still hold some meaning for posterity: some of my thoughts about the "Bollywood, Hollywood and Beyond" panel that kick-started IIFA week in Toronto recently. The guests were (in alphabetical order): Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, Kabir Bedi, Lisa Ray, Ajay Virmani.

The panel was paired up with the Cinema Showcards Exhibition displayed at the Royal Ontario Museum through October, an exhibition that made me gasp in awe more than once (Whoa! They glued the photograph of the actress on the poster and then painted accents over it?? This is amazing!).

But back to the panel. The five speakers talked about their individual experiences with Bollywood and how movies are made there while trying to compare it to the best of their knowledge with other film industries. Kabir Bedi seemed the most knnowledgeable about Hollywood, while of course Javed and Shabana talked mostly about Bollywood. I'd put both Lisa Ray and Ajay Virmani in the "beyond" category as their experience lies mostly in Canadian films (even if filmed in India).

A lot of the talk as expected was about how Bollywood is changing and has been changing lately, be it in controversial areas such as copyright issues, or script writing (Kabir Bedi expressed his longing for writers like Javed Akhtar from the good old days), or simply in topics chosen for film making these days. Javed Akhtar was of course a gentleman and never once mentioned his two brilliant offsprings, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar, who are undoubtedly making their script-writing father proud, but sometimes I wanted to jump up and mention them, because while it's true that there are many inane scripts today in Bollywood, it's also true that there are some really good writers out there as well. So I will politely disagree with Kabir Bedi's lamentation that "they don't make them like they used to".

Also on the topic of the changes in Bollywood, Shabana made a fair point about seeing more and more working women in movies nowadays and congratulated Band Baaja Baaraat for their take on this underrepresented reality in today's Indian society. Independent career women have indeed been one of the most interesting developments in Indian films lately. She also spoke beautifully later on about female characters becoming more self-asserted and ideologies like "Main Chup Rahungi" (I will remain quiet) being left far behind. Coming from someone who has always been praised and idolized for her unconventional powerful women roles, this is indeed a great compliment to today's Bollywood.

Javed Akhtar in turn, being the joker that he usually is, counter-argued that the hero never does anything in Bollywood movies either. He had the audience laughing, of course, but I think the point made its way through regardless.

But the most beautiful thing that Shabana said in regards to parallel cinema and Bollywood was that parallel cinema is not gone, but rather it manifests itself in mainstream Bollywood which is something she had always felt was the right way to go about it. I personally salute this statement because it's a very well expressed reflection of my own thoughts on the Bollywood of the new Millenium.

Kabir Bedi then tried to bring the two main topics together and he spoke at length about the philosophy of film making in Bollywood versus Hollywood. Hollywood, in his opinion, does movies as a business or to win Oscars (which is also ultimately about money), so the bottom line is very important and this he tied into the pre-production work that gets done. Bollywood on the other hand is more casual: pre production goes at the same time as production. Indian producers, he said, are the most courageous in the world, because they put their money into something that is often not clearly defined and certainly not guaranteed to succeed.

Kabir Bedi also made an interesting point about Indians not being great planners, but in turn being fantastic improvisers. Knowing a thing or two about event planning myself, I couldn't help but snort at this comment that was meant to praise the creativity of Indian film crews because in my humble opinion there is hardly ever need for improvisation if things are planned right. Moreover, creative patch-work solutions are wonderful to get one out of a sticky unexpected situation, but they should not be the norm, they should stay the exception. So while I applaud along with Kabir Bedi the resourcefulness of a crew who can make an elephant materialize on the sets with only a day's notice, I continue to have more respect for the crew who, knowing months in advance from the script that an elephant will be needed, does all the work ahead of time to make sure the special guest will be looked after and delivered on time.

Of course, these are all generalizations, and surely not all film makers in India do everything last minute, nor are Hollywood film crews always prepared for everything, but when Kabir Bedi said "we are not planners but we are great improvisers" something in that rang very true and not in a good way.

I've decided to gloss over the part of Bedi's speech regarding film making in Europe because he didn't seem to have any idea what he was talking about when his whole argument was based on the statement that "Europe is divided by language". That may be so (though not sure exactly how that is different from India as a whole), but Europe also has a highly productive dubbing industry, which, paired up with NOT being allergic to subtitles ensures that people can watch movies from any part of the continent without being in any way held back by the fact that the movie was shot in a language they don't understand. At any rate, the point he was making his way towards when he brought Europe into the discussion was that Indian film makers should pay more attention to that market rather than focusing on North America, which is definitely something I am in favour of.

Last but not least, Ajay Virmani shared with the audience the trailer for Breakaway, a film that his son wrote and stars in. He has confidence that this is the type of film that both Canadian and Indian audiences can connect with. I suppose we'll see about that, but it certainly didn't seem too bad. The film is about a first generation Indo-Canadian trying to make it into the professional hockey world, a sport whiter even than tennis. Some of the lines fell flat for most of the audience, but a couple of them had everyone laughing, notably a point that one of the players on the team makes about the opposite team: "They're bigger, they're faster, they're stronger. And they're WHITE!" If you're expecting this movie to be politically correct, think again! But I for one am perfectly fine with that as long as it's funny.

By the way, Russell Peters and Anupam Kher are in it. And apparently so is Akshaye Kumar, hopefully not for long. Sadly the trailer is nowhere to be found on youtube yet, so here's hoping it will surface soon!

Last but not least, I was not impressed with Lisa Ray beyond her breathtaking good looks, as she was talking about belonging to neither Hollywood (guessing she meant Hollywood North by that because to my knowledge she hasn't actually acted in Hollywood) nor Bollywood. Probably why she couldn't make any good points about either of them, but that's ok because she did leave me with a great quote that I will probably use a lot going forward: "For every statement you can make about Bollywood, the opposite is also perfectly true." And that's why I for one love it!

Isn't she a doll though? Just beautiful!


dustdevil liz said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, I hadn't see a detailed write-up of that panel yet, and I appreciate all of the opportunities to attend the IIFA's vicariously!

me said...

Re Breakaway: I'd rather watch Akki than Russell Peters. I was struck by the viciousness & bitterness of his comedic attacks on Bollywood films recently. I watched a youtube clip of him mocking and deriding BW and was left with an impression of real bitterness and a genuine contemptuous disdain. A Scottish-Indian comedian I enjoy, Danny Bhoy, has also poked fun at BW, but with a much gentler tone and without any sense of nastiness. Peters is a strong reason for me NOT to see this film, even though I'd love to see Akki in something a bit different.

Ness said...

I SO agree with you on the planning thing! Like seriously guys, just sit down and make a schedule and a props list. I work in a theatre. These things are important. And sure, if things go wrong, use your amazing improv skills to come up with a quick fix, but don't rely on that.

Nice write up - sounds like there were some interesting points raised (from some of the participants anyway!)

Mansi said...

"For every statement you can make about Bollywood, the opposite is also perfectly true." louv that!

Dolce and Namak said...

Liz, I am pretty sure I read a good synopsis of it somewhere, and for the life of me I can't remember where (it was neither nor bethlovesbollywood's blog, so I really can't figure it out). But Ms Totally Filmi has committed to bringing us some quotes from the panel since she was actually recording it, so keep an eye on her feed too. I captured maybe about 20% of what was talked about, and of course coloured it in my own interpretations, so I am also looking forward to a more accurate rendition.

@ Maxqnz: Oy! I know! I'm not a huge Russell Peters fan myself. I think he's funny sometimes but he also repeats himself A LOT (no really, how many times can some-a-body get hurt real bad??). But I can't really blame him for the BW related humour. He speaks to those people who *think* they know BW but actually don't, but really, if he were to speak about today's BW and what *we* know about it, no one would get the jokes. It's sad that people still hold on to this image in their heads about Bollywood, but I hardly expect a stand-up comedian to change that image. Quite frankly I really doubt R Peters has even seen a Bollywood movie from the past decade. And I was not impressed with him in the trailer either, but I am really hoping the story will focus on the main characters, and they're using him and Akki heavily for the promotion. We shall see :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Ah, Ness, I knew you'd understand :) Of course we agree completely on that. And indeed, some of the speakers brought up very interesting points, it's always a pleasure to see actors who have more to say than "Go watch my movie" and "Thank you to all my fans for their support and love". :)

@ Mansi: I know, right? That quote pretty much justified her entire presence there for me, so I really wanted to highlight it. :) Glad you enjoyed it too!

mm said...

Thanks for the write up. What strikes me most about it is the usual pretense that "Bollywood" is equivalent to "Indian cinema", and that the way they do things in "Bollywood" represents the way they do things in "India." I have been reading (and now hearing) since the 1960's from Hindi stars who either work in South Indian films are had their Hindi films shot in South Indian studios, how very organized, well-planned, and professional those productions are compared to Hindi productions, and also that they have better infrastructure and physical facilities. Why this difference should persist for the past nearly 50 years, when Hindi films/Bollywood has always had so much more money and recognition, is something I've never been able to fathom.

Here's the Breakaway trailer on youtube (there are lots of shorter trailers there as well):

On Russell Peters, I tried one or two of his comedy routines on youtube and was completely put off -- I couldn't even finish them. Then, I bought his autobiography for a young fan of his and read it myself first (for suitability), and darn if I didn't find him to be a fascinating person! I still don't care much for his comedy routines, though. :)

Dolce and Namak said...

Hey MM, yes, I keep hearing that too about SI movies being more organized. Good on them! And you're right, there may have been generalizations, but generally it was implied that everyone was there to talk about Bollywood, and they did use the word a lot. So I think the generalizations were more in the sphere of people (talking about Indians in general versus Indians in Bombay) than in the sphere of movie industries. I guess it's hard not to generalize in a situation like that, but I do agree with you that acknowledging other industries every once in a while would not harm anyone, especially if there are areas where they do better than Bollywood.

And LOL @ your Russell Peters comedy hate :) Yeah, I don't find him that great a comedian either. Maybe I should buy that book too :) I can't imagine it would have been easy growing up in an Indian household and telling your parents you want to be a stand-up comedian :D

We'll see how that movie goes. Fascinating or not, I'm still not convinced he's much of an actor :)

Nick said...

Hi DN, Here is the youtube video for Breakaway

Video 1
Video 2

Dolce and Namak said...

Aha! Thanks Nick! Good find! I will have to replace the link when I get a chance to do some edits on this post.
Many thanks!

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