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!).
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!
3 days ago