Crossover film makers must retain 'Indianness'

MUMBAI: The panelists at the session on "Films sans frontiers" at Ficci FRAMES 2003 were clear that Indians must make crossover films that had clear, national identity and were rooted in one's own cultural soil without blindly imitating the west. The panelists included speakers: filmmakers Ashutosh Gowariker, Dev Benegal, Ram Madhvani, actor-director Rahul Bose and Robert Jones and moderator Govind Nihalani.


The general consensus was that crossover films can be classified depending on geographical barriers as well as cultural, financial and technological. Crossover doesn't only mean being invited for international film festivals and coming back with a clutch of awards. Crossover films can be rightly described so only when they get distribution in the world market - in the territories of US, Canada and UK which are the big players

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?

Nihalani let the field open with Dev Benegal whose two films English August and Split Wide Open had succeeded to make the international market sit up and take notice. Benegal spoke about how it was important 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.

Benegal 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 reiterated what Shekhar Kapur had

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. Madhvani's talk also was very unique in the sense that be begun his speech with a smart one-liner, 'Am I making a film for Goregaon (a suburb in Mumbai city) or GOREgaon (as in the village of the fair-skinned)?' He also felt that 'If Shekhar can, then why can't I?'

Madhvani cited examples of how Indian 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? At the end of it though he still felt that sitting in Goregaon one could still make a film that appealed to GOREGAON or the village of the fair-skinned.

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'.

Bose 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.

Last that for a film to really crossover, 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, Bose 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.

Gowariker 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 Jones 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.

However, the discussion ended on a note that film makers must make a film that they really want to make and not just cater to any one kind of audience' needs.

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