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I remember watching Awara: Zhang Yimou

Lifetime Achievement Award recipient at MFF, director Zhang Yimou discusses Indian films, censorship in China.

bollywood Updated: Oct 20, 2012 17:37 IST
Sarit Ray

One of the highlights of the opening ceremony of the 14th Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), which began on Thursday, was acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou being honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award. In a little over two decades, Yimou has directed prolifically, making films that have come to define contemporary Chinese cinema (and the so-called Fifth Generation), with titles like Hero (2002), House Of Flying Daggers (2004) and Curse Of The Golden Flower (2006), to name just a few.

Between a long flight and preparing to go on stage, and with a little perhaps lost in translation (we spoke through an interpreter), we manage to get a quick chat. Off the cuff, he talks about the popularity of Indian cinema in China. He concedes, however, that the popular perception of Indian movies is that it “consists of song-and-dance films. Just like the perception of Chinese films is that of wuxia (martial arts warrior films).” Yimou reckons “it is the responsibility of directors (on both sides) to promote other genres of cinema as well”.

But ask him about the Indian films he personally likes and he picks a classic. “I remember watching an old Indian movie called The Tramp,” he says, referring, of course, to Raj Kapoor’s Awara (1951). However, more recently, “I enjoyed watching 3 Idiots (2009). It had a lot of new elements. Over the years, Indian cinema has changed a lot.”

Besides those in the martial arts genre, some of Yimou’s most memorable films include ones reflecting Chinese socio-political scenario. For instance, To Live (1994), which won a BAFTA, but was banned in the Chinese mainland for its critical stance towards government policies.

However, the situation must have improved since, for Yimou says, “There’s still a censorship system that all movies must go through. But there is no constraint on what subjects cinema can deal with.”

Yimou also directed the grand opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was such a hit that the Olympic committee sought his advice for the London ceremony. “I told them to pick a movie director.” They did. Danny Boyle (Yimou loves his work) came to direct it.

MFF 2012 diary

1 Bubble wrap
blooper Tina Ambani arrived on stage to present Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, with the Lifetime Achievement Award. After a brief speech, she turned around to pick up the award and turned right back because there was no one standing with the plaque. After calling out for it publicly, she spent a few seconds taking it out of the cardboard packaging as the audience watched. Then she walked to the edge of the stage, tossed the bubble wrap and then returned to hand the award. There was a lot of laughter muffled in that applause.

2 case of confused identity
Leander Paes was going about his evening at NCPA when veteran singer Ila Arun thought she’d say hello to him: “Hi Mahesh! How are you?” Even though the singer confused him with his former tennis partner Bhupathi, the sportsperson was well… quite a sport. He politely chatted for a bit.

3 the not-so-curious case of MR kher
Before the screening of the opening film, Silver Linings Playbook, starring Anupam Kher, the anchor had asked the audience to stay around for a Q&A after. By the time the film ended and the lights were turned on, half the crowd was out of the door, so Kher had to announce that he was totally okay if there were no questions.

4 Yeh haath mujhe
de De Acclaimed author Shobha De was escorted to the stage by a young man, whose hand she somehow refused to let go of while she walked up almost dragging him up with her.