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Bollywood is zilch in Hollywood

By Subhash K Jha, IANS

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Aishwarya WallpapersIt's a sobering thought but let's get one thing straight -- barring Aishwarya Rai perhaps, no Bollywood personality has a market or even a remote chance of acquiring one in Hollywood because the prolific Hindi film industry just doesn't matter.

Hindi cinema is zilch in the US. "Let alone notice us, they don't even respect us!" moans a top official at Columbia-Tristar in Mumbai.

"The Indian market means absolutely nothing to Hollywood. Every time we try to generate interest in India when a new Hollywood blockbuster is released here, we fail miserably to get Hollywood's attention. I can't tell you how small I feel when I visit LA (Los Angeles) and try to talk Bollywood in Hollywood. They look at us as though we're zombies from outer space."

Back home, we're supposed to believe there's a growing clamour for Bollywood glamour in Hollywood. Or so the screaming newspaper headlines declare.

The front-page news about Aishwarya Rai signing on an international project with Coline Serreau and Roland Joffe has again raised Bollywood's hopes for recognition abroad. But both are year-old projects that have been in the pipeline since 2003, and that's where they remain. There has been no progress in either project.

So the enthusiastic headlines seem more like another desperate effort from Bollywood to be noticed abroad rather than a progress report on our headway outside the country.

"Chaos" is actually director Coline Serreau's 2003 French thriller about the relationship between an affluent housewife and a battered Algerian prostitute.

In the original, Catherine Frot and Rachida Brakni played the two pivotal parts. Now Serreau wants to remake "Chaos" into English with Meryl Streep and Aishwarya Rai playing the housewife and the prostitute, respectively.

But the project isn't expected to take off before the middle of 2005. In fact, Serreau hasn't even found a producer or a leading man for her English remake of "Chaos"! Serreau is yet to write the English script either.

Confirming this, Aishwarya's agent in LA Simone Sheffield says: "Both ladies (Aishwarya Rai and Meryl Streep) have previously scheduled films to complete before shooting 'Chaos'. We're planning a mid or late 2005 start to the shooting."

Elaborating on how Aishwarya came into the picture, Sheffield says: "In a meeting with Coline Serreau late last year, she offered Aishwarya the role opposite Meryl Streep and Aishwarya accepted. Both the actresses are officially attached to the project. Coline will write the English version of the script and get it to all concerned. Then a producer will be hired and the lead male role confirmed."

A long and time-consuming process!

Incidentally, both Streep and Rai are represented by the same agency -- Creative Artiste Agency -- in California.

The other Hollywood project "Singularity" featuring Aishwarya is not expected to take off before 2005 either. The film was to star Brendan Fraser. But he has backed out pleading that he wants to be by his pregnant wife's side when she delivers her baby around the time "Singularity" is expected to be filmed.

Director Roland Joffe is now committed to direct another film before he takes on Aishwarya and "Singularity".

Where does all this leave Bollywood vis--vis Hollywood? Practically nowhere!

Everyone from Vidhu Vinod Chopra to Dev Benegal has been talking about signing one or the other major Hollywood star for a 'crossover' work (Chopra met Dustin Hoffman and Benegal wants Ethan Hawke for a Mumbai-California love story with Rani Mukherjee). Nothing ever materialises.

Aamir Khan even employed an agent in Los Angeles after "Lagaan". Heard of Hollywood directors queuing up to sign him?

So is Bollywood doomed in Hollywood? Not quite. A glimmer of hope comes in the form of Gurinder Chadha's masala movie "Bride & Prejudice". If that works when it opens in October even half as well as the director's "Bend It Like Beckham", Hindi cinema will finally find a voice in the mainstream international arena.

Early signs are encouraging. The audience went wild when Gurinder Chadha had her first screening of "Bride & Prejudice" in the US. Says Chadha: "We played to a largely white suburban crowd in Clifton, New Jersey, in a multiplex. I'm thrilled to say the film went down like a storm, although one or two people felt the leads running through a fountain in slow motion was rather bizarre!

"I've much work to do to teach the world about the cinema of your land, but it was a great beginning with huge scores from people who've never eaten Indian food, let alone visited India."

Would "Bride & Prejudice" be that foot into the door that we've all been waiting for?


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