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Where are 'Made in India' English films headed?

By Priyanka Khanna, IANS

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Dance Like a ManThe first Indian film in English - "Karma" - was made way back in 1933. Nearly 70 years later, there was a rare release of two English films made in Indian studios.

Both "Dance Like a Man" and "Let's Enjoy" that went on the marquees Friday represent the best and the worst of this genre that has, surprisingly, never made it big in India.

While "Dance Like a Man" by director Pamela Rooks is a well-crafted sensitive adaptation of Mahesh Dattani's play, the later is a wannabe takeoff of "American Pie".

"Dance Like a Man", which stars National Award winner Shobhana and marks the debut of Pandit Ravi Shankar's daughter Anoushka Shankar, is a sensitive film on relationships against the backdrop of the classical Indian dance form Bharatnatyam.

With slightly better handling, it could have been in the class of previous English films by arty filmmakers like Dev Benegal, Nagesh Kukunoor, Rahul Bose, Aparna Sen et al.

"Let's Enjoy" on the other hand belongs to a string of low-budget so-called Hinglish flicks that masquerade as "cool flicks" but are as empty of content as are Bollywood potboilers.

Made by Siddharth Kumar and Ankur Tiwari, the film stars Ashish Chowdhary, Aarzoo Gowitriker and Roshni Chopra. Saying the word "dude" a zillion times in matter of seconds is their idea of making a cool flick.

Prior to "Let's Enjoy", films like "Oops!", "Freaky Chakra", "Leela", "Split Wide Open", "Mango Souffle" and "Boom" have tried to replicate the success of Rahul Bose's "Everybody Says I'm Fine," Sujoy Ghosh's "Jhankar Beats" or the sophistication of Aparna Sen's "Mr and Mrs Iyer" and Nagesh Kukunoor's "Three Walls" but with no luck.

What began as a trickle with Dev Benegal's Indo-Anglian "English August" in 1994 turned into a stream with Kaizad Gustad's "Bombay Boys" (1998) and Kukunoor's "Hyderabad Blues" (1998), has now emerged as a new genre of home grown English movies in the Indian cinema.

The favourable box-office collections of "Everybody Says..." and Kukunoor's "Bollywood Calling" have led corporate houses to put their money and faith on the new crop of independent filmmakers.

Dance Like a Man"English is very much an Indian language," maintains Ghosh, whose "Jhankar Beats" was a commercial success.

Bose offers the same explanation of multiculturalism for the use of the language, "Everybody Says..." is set in a posh saloon in South Mumbai, thus it's a trilingual," he says.

Bose has his kitty full with slew of yet-to-be-shoot English movies like Anant Balani's ("Patthar Ke Phool") "Big City Blues", Bangalore-based Kavitha Lankesh's "Karmic Wheel" and New York University film graduate Sona Jain's "For Real".

Higher international acceptability is also one of the reasons more and more filmmakers are going for English. Actor Soni Razdan, who is making an adaptation of Manju Kapur's "Difficult Daughters", was quoted as saying "It'll do better internationally".

Some filmmakers like Ketan Mehta, who is making an epic on the first war of Indian independence - "The Rising" - and even Subhash Ghai are even going in for separate Hindi and English versions of their films. Mehta says it is not a crutch but a tool to reach out to an international audience. "It's time for Indian filmmakers to stand up and be counted," he has been quoted as saying.

There is, however, no love lost between the forbearer of the new uprising and the upholders of the old bastions. Many critics waste no time in labelling them as few wannabe independent filmmakers who could not make it in Hollywood.

Within the ranks, Benegal fells that "somehow 'English, August,' which I had intended as a satire, gave a few rich kids the licence to make poor, self-conscious, look-at-me-I'm-so-smart comedies. None of their movies has any contact with reality."

For these filmmakers, making a film for a multiplex crowd is about arranging for some finance, putting together a cast of chic ones, script the dialogues in English and viola - the film is ready.

However, these quick fix movies are doing a disfavour to the cause of Made in India English films and further reinforcing the stereotype that a good English film by an Indian can only be an arty affair and not fit for wider viewing.


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