Helping the twain to meet

 

In the Oscar--winning film Slumdog Millionaire, a young Muslim man from the slums of Mumbai -triumphs over probability and his past to win a jackpot on television as the country watches.

 

In Los Angeles, a festival of Indian film is now offering its own modest jackpot to the scriptwriter, Indian or non-Indian, who best reflects universal themes inherent in -Indian culture. The goal is for that script to end up as a film, perhaps one that many countries will watch.


Hollywood has struggled in the vast Indian market. “It failed -because of the rich tradition India has had of its own -entertainment,” says Arnold Peter, an LA entertainment lawyer from Goa.

“The thought that you could just dub Mickey Mouse cartoons into Hindi didn’t fly there. Indians -really had choices and they chose to connect with content that they had a much greater -affinity with.”

Indian films, while -occasionally rallying US critics, have -barely aroused audiences in North America. British films with Indian themes, characters or settings have performed better.

Even as the industries draw closer, it’s too soon to see much evidence of a new Slumdog market effect, -although studio executives speak of it.

When Hong Kong movies found a broad US audience in the 1990s, the director John Woo shifted smoothly into Hollywood, playing into the market’s taste for the -action films that he had been directing for years. Some wonder why Indian film had no parallel US penetration.

Kaante, Sanjay Gupta’s 2002 -remake of Quentin Taratino’s -Reservoir Dogs in Los Angeles with Indian actors and Indian songs, bombed in the US. So did Lagaan (2001), the Oscar-nominated -Indian-British epic set around a 19th-century cricket match. And the US male youth market that -distributors target is unlikely to go to Indian thrillers or to Bollywood musicals.

 

US distributors have so far failed to market those musicals to the young women and families that might want to see them, says Chute, who hopes that those films will reach a US public.

 

“Movies with songs, movies with an epic feeling to them, that’s what I would advise them to do – not to try to emulate the West, not to try to do what people in Hollywood are -already doing, which lots of people in the US are already sick of,” he says.

Insiders point to Indian capital moving into Hollywood, citing -Reliance, which has infused cash into DreamWorks. (IFFLA honoured the Reliance head Anil Ambani in April.) But like the -Slumdog effect, the Indian capital effect hasn’t been seen in studio content yet.

Indian diaspora directors are also seeking funding in India, notes Peter.

 

“India, unlike many other places, has had a rich tradition in the -entertainment industry. It’s just a natural collaboration occurring that I don’t think would be possible with any other part of the world.

 

“It’s so much easier to do -business in India,” he adds. “In China, one the day the government is your partner, the next day they’re your competitor. Also, English is -widely spoken (in India) and it’s the -language of business.”

 

Peter offers a prediction: “I believe that in the next 10 years, one of the biggest Hollywood stars is going to be someone of Indian background, not necessarily born in India, but someone of Indian background.”

 

Peter cites the actress Aishwarya Rai in The Pink Panther 2 and the actor Kal Penn, whose film and -television career was rising when he left the Fox series House for a post in the White House Office of Public Liaison.

 

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