India ready for more cross over films

MUMBAI: With Lagaan getting nominated for last year's Oscar, and Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding winning the Golden Lion, the question has arisen: are we ready to invade the international market? Are we finally making films that have 'crossed over' or can 'cross over' to the West or the international market?

Filmmaker Govind Nihalani let the field open with Dev Benegal whose two films English August and Split Wide Open had succeeded in making the international market sit up and take notice. Benegal spoke about how important it was to keep the three key ingredients in making a crossover film in mind - story, location and context.

He felt that there was no point in being different just for the sake of being different and some differences should be left at just that - differences. He was of the opinion that the greatest exports of India have neither been IT experts nor any other software technology but our stories and story-telling abilities. He quoted Farrokh Dhondy who feels that "stories are us". He said that our stories have it in them to travel across borders and frontiers.

He also echoed Shekhar Kapur in that the film market is soon going to emerge as the strongest one with the maximum revenue generating capacity. So the next time a Spiderman takes off his mask, he could be an Asian actor! Last but not the least, he said that our stories are the true frontiers and they also are sans frontiers.

Next in line was Ram Madhvani whose debut film Let's Talk created quite a stir recently in the film market with is unique approach. He cited examples of how our cuisine has traversed the globe with great success and that it could be replicated with our films too. He raised a few questions like if our food has traveled from ethnic cheap to designer chic then why can't our cinema tread the same path? Can we ever be mainstream or just remain art-house cinema?

Rahul Bose made a passionate speech keeping certain ground realities in mind. He for one described a truly crossover film as one which crosses over into the major markets of the world and by that he meant when a film gets distribution in the US, Canada and UK, would then be it described as 'truly crossover'. He also said that showing at international film festivals and coming back with a clutch of awards is not crossover. He strongly stated that language is no longer a barrier for a film to be accepted. You no longer need to make your film in English to appeal to an international audience.

For the future, he said that today it's early days and we as a film market have some way to go for one Lagaan doesn't make a summer. He said that just because Lagaan was taken into its fold, the western audience won't just accept any and every film, especially our by-now-famous song-and-dance routines.

Lastly, for a film to really cross over, a filmmaker needs a good international sales agent who can pitch your film at the right places at the right time and that's something every Indian filmmaker who wishes to have a greater reach should take note of. And most importantly, at the end of the day, he urged all those who aspired to make films to make it just the way you want.

Ashutosh Gowariker who Nihalani described in one word as Lagaan felt that Madonna sporting bindis and henna tattoos, Nicole Kidman gyrating to a 'Chamma chamma' and films like Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding making the international market to sit up and take notice definitely indicate that India is poised for bigger things as far as cinema goes. He also though expressed a doubt if our cinema has actually, completely achieved its true potential. He believed that any maker cannot plan a crossover film just like that just like one can't plan a hit film. He said that with the future looking brighter with video on demand, the paper-view mode of exhibition and convergence, Indian cinema would only get better. All said and done, he felt that we have to make films that have a strong cultural identity and only then will they appeal to the rest of the world.

As a distributor and dealer in Indian films, Robert Jones also expressed a need for filmmakers to keep their home address in mind before they ventured out to make crossover films. The success of which will be known only after finding out whether Indian cinema can actually sustain a minimum level of business. Among other things he mentioned that audiences in the west look at other countries for a different experience in narrative style, culture and so on and therefore it was extremely important for filmmakers here to make films with a strong, national flavour. The key lies in not imitating but innovating.


The session: Panel discussion on Films sans frontiers

Moderator: Govind Nihalani

The speakers: Filmmakers Ashutosh Gowariker, Dev Benegal, Ram Madhvani, actor-director Rahul Bose and Robert Jones.

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