Bollywood cinema crosses borders
"He went to win a war, he won their hearts..." is how Hindi cinema's biggest film of 2004 "Veer Zaara" describes the character superstar Shah Rukh Khan does.
By Priyanka Khanna, IANS
The film by popular Hindi cinema's most successful moviemaker Yash Chopra marks the beginning of the end of anti-Pakistan films that Mumbai-based studios have been churning out for years.
Industry watchers are hopeful that the positive message of the Shah Rukh-Preity Zinta-Rani Mukherjee-starrer will help Islamabad finally lift the nearly four-decade-old ban on screening mainstream Indian movies in the country's cinema halls, an idea they have been mulling over for a long time now.
"I don't make political films, I make films on love and that is a universal theme," said Yash Chopra, director. "No one benefits from Pakistan bashing and I don't think the Hindi film industry is into Pakistan bashing," said actor Shah Rukh Khan.
A change of heart is accompanied by an equal exchange of business. Pakistan is one of the biggest markets for Indian film DVDs and VCDs. With chances that Indian distributors and producers might finally be able to secure rights to open films in Pakistani theatres, Bollywood is not willing to take any chances.
The chairman of Pakistan film censor board Ziauddi Khan recently said that a summary for allowing Indian films' screening was being sent shortly to the federal cabinet for approval.
Besides Pakistan, Bollywood needs to start looking Eastwards where it has better chances than pinning hopes on box-office success on Western shores.
In China, Bollywood concerts held recently have been an amazing success. And now films like "Kal Ho Na Ho", "Lagaan", "Saathiya", "Bhoot" and "Main Hoon Na" were among the 20 films screened at a festival in China throughout last month.
Almost five decades after Indian showman Raj Kapoor won Chinese hearts and created awareness of the magnetic power of the song and dance of Indian cinema, films from India are once again conquering the virtually impregnable Wall with a festival.
Other films screened at the festival were "Autograph", "Dhool", "Gilli" and "Virumaandi" in Tamil; "Vamsham", "Tagore, "Lakshmi" and "Narasimha" in Telugu; and "The People", "War and Love" and "Velli Nakshatram" in Malayalam. In addition, Kannada films like "Mala", "Excuse Me" and "Durga" and National Award-winning Bangla films "Chokher Bali" and "Bhalo Theko" were shown.
Similarly, there will also be a separate segment devoted to China at the International Film Festival of India slated to be held in Goa.
Though China has imported several films like Hrishikesh Mukherjee's "Anand", Dharmesh Darshan's "Raja Hindustani" and Shekhar Kapoor's "Bandit Queen" in the past years, there is no mechanism for releasing Indian films in theatres. "Lagaan" was the first film from India in recent years to be released in a theatre in that country.
Recent years have also seen a surge in popularity of Indian films among the Chinese people who are seen as obsessed with the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.
Indeed, the entire Asian cinema has been too caught up with the West. "India is the only country in Asia with a strong domestic box office. Local cinema has collapsed in other Asian countries after the quota system was given up," says Philip Cheah, director of the Singapore International Film Festival, adding that Indian cinema has come of age and in the past three years "there has been a hysteria about Asian cinema in the West".
"Indian cinema created a buzz in Japan two years back. It has also done well in film festivals abroad," he points out, adding "in terms of box-office revenues, however, all Asian countries seem to have lost out to Hollywood".
Arguing that Asian cinema can be promoted only by creating an appreciation for it in this part of the world, Cheah has some pointers for Indian government when he informs that in Singapore the authorities are going all out to encourage film production.
Participating in a 16-day international film festival in Dhaka from Dec 1 that will showcase over 120 films would be a good start to make inroads Eastwards even as Asian cinema's influence in world entertainment map expands.
A sure pointer that Asian Cinema has found its place under the Sun, is the appointment of Hindi film director Ashutosh Gowariker as a director on the Oscar jury.