The Bollywood aesthetic has been on the Western fringe for years, but pics like “Monsoon Wedding,” “Bride and Prejudice” and even “Moulin Rouge” and “Vanity Fair” have fueled filmmakers’ crossover dreams.
Indeed, in the past few months, films such as “Kisna: The Warrior Poet,” “White Noise” and the long-gestating “Marigold: An Adventure in India” have all attempted to eschew the Bollywood formula of romance, melodrama and resolution in six songs. “Kisna,” directed by Bollywood vet Subhash Ghai, is the 1930s story of the unspoken love between a British woman and an Indian man who escorts her to safety during a tumultuous period in India’s fight for independence.
Bobby Bedi’s latest film, “American Kaleidoscope,” takes place in a call center.
“The prime motivation to do this film is because of the current interest (in call centers) and the freshness of the story,” says Bedi, who’s taking the movie to the Cannes market. “This will probably get people into the theater the first day, then after that if they like the film they will see it again.
“Films like ‘Fire’ (and) ‘Bandit Queen’ were all on the fringes of the crossover phenom, so it’s a matter of time before we hit the benchmark,” says Bedi, who predicts that newcomers will have more success at crossing over than Bollywood vets who are more steeped in its tradition.
Pics such as “American chai,” “American desi” and “Bollywood/Hollywood” probe the immigrant experience, with an English-lingo soundtrack.
Yet even as the filmmakers reach for the mainstream, many of their films are still stuck in the ghetto of expat theaters or relegated to film festivals, arthouse releases or homevid.
Some films have made it to the multiplex. Actor-director Rahul Bose says he was encouraged by the success of his “Everybody Says I’m Fine!” to make another such a movie. “Everybody” is the story of a hairdresser who can read the minds of his clients as he works, but one day he falls in love with a female client and is unable to hear her thoughts.
The movie played at arthouses and commercial houses, including the ArcLight in Hollywood. “We got rave reviews from the people in L.A. Times, Variety and San Francisco, while the New York Times reviewer trashed the film,” Bose says.
Variety’s Ken Eisner said the film “is too stylistically scattered to appeal to all tastes, even on the fest circuit, but its unique combo of slick art direction, sweet romance, supercharged eros, low comedy and out-there melodrama — mostly spoken in the language of Hollywood — could platform nicely out of arthouses and into crossover land, starting where Indian expats live.”
Helmer Gurinder Chadha, who in the past had scoffed at the “crossover” term, calling her films “British,” told World Movie Magazine, “I wanted to update the Bollywood genre with my own vision and the way I see the world, which is much more international than nationalistic.”
The result was “Bride and Prejudice,” one of the most anticipated crossover films of the past year; it earned over $25 million worldwide by the end of April. Its star, Aishwarya Rai, has been making the rounds from “The Late Show With David Letterman” to “60 Minutes” to “Oprah.” Her next film is “Mistress of Spices,” set in San Francisco and directed by Chadha’s husband, Paul Mayeda Berges.
Bedi says, “It’s only a matter of time when it becomes profitable. It’s a matter of getting a critical mass. Once that happens, half the films will definitely work and those will earn more money than all the regular Bollywood films are making today.”
Mira Nair, whose films have always aimed at the mainstream (“Monsoon Wedding,” “Mississippi Masala”), has said the only thing that will help make Indian cinema prevail in the global market is the quality of the product. “It is the only thing that will last.”
Shilpa Bharatan Iyer in Mumbai contributed to this report.