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'I like that guy Shah Rukh Khan... he's big'

entertainment Updated: May 06, 2008 12:29 IST
Hiren Kotwani
Hiren Kotwani
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

After debacles like The Village and Lady in The Water, he seems to be on familiar ground this time around. His forthcoming The Happening isn't the only reason for him to be in the country. Apart from promoting his next supernatural thriller, the Indian filmmaker in Hollywood is due to receive the Padma Shri later this weekend.

Over orange juice to beat the summer heat, here's Manoj Night Shyamalan in a q and a with Hiren Kotwani

You've never included India to promote your earlier films. Why now?
It's a double occasion, so to speak. My first film with an Indian company and my first Indian award. I've never been so far up north before. Although I've been to Madras, and couple of places down south where my family is based. Feels like the perfect time to come here.

Congratulations on winning the Padma Shri.
Oh, thank you. Honestly at first I didn't get what it was. I've been getting calls for awards, asking me to come to Sri Lanka, Singapore.. but I can't go to all the events due to work, family.

So when my office got the call about the Padma Shri, my staff was like, ‘Oh, you've won an award.' But when there were too many congratulatory calls, I was like, ‘what happened?'

<b1>It was only after my family and friends from India told me about the Padma Shri that I looked it up to find more details about it. That's when I decided that I must be there to receive it and got in touch with the government officials and was told it would be in April.

I was tied up with The Happening then, so I was disappointed that I probably might not be able to make it. Fortunately, it's happening this month and it feels great.

You're known for making films with a supernatural connect. What new aspect is dealt with in The Happening?
I wanted to make a film like The Birds. I had an idea, worked on it, the story turned out fine and I got started with it. The film is scary... strange things happening across the globe.. in a small place in the US too. The protagonist doesn't know how to deal with the problem.. the rest sums up the story .

Making movies of different genres is good for the audience and the critics too - you can't judge a person just by one particular genre or film.

Why Mark Wahlberg for The Happening? One thought you might have worked with Bruce Willis or Mel Gibson again.
Mark is someone I know as a friend.. he's very sweet, charming and funny. He doesn't seem the kind of guy you see in the movies. He's grown beautifully as an actor and I felt this was the perfect time for him to do a film like this.

I told him I'm making a movie like

The Birds

and if he would like to be in it. He was thrilled about the idea and that's how we took off.



Apparently, you had a tough time getting a producer after the debacle of

The Village

and

Lady in the Water

.


That's incorrect. Every company in the world wants to make a movie with me. It's not like I go to a studio with an idea and sell it before developing it. I meet people with the screenplay, saying this is the movie, do you want to make it?

I don't want to be hired to first develop an idea and see how it goes, before making it or even work on an idea that doesn't eventually get made into a film. I met Ronnie Screwvala for

The Happening

- five weeks later, he wanted to make the movie.



Most of your movies are based in and around Philadelphia. Why haven't you ventured to shoot in other locations?

You'll have to ask my dad that. He chose the place after moving to the US. As it turns out, Philadelphia is perfect. It has history. My dad once met a palm-reader who told him that his name would be world famous.

He didn't see the positive side and I was like, "Am I going to end up doing something nefarious? (Laughs) Very often, my name is on the movie posters on the highway, and I tell him, ‘See!' Not that we thought this would happen.

Bollywood is said to be big in the overseas territories. What's your perception of Indian movies abroad?
Indians have become cool. Anything Indian is cool right now. If you see the magazines I get in the mail at my office, most of them are about Indian stuff. Indian restaurants are becoming hip.. so is the culture, styling, everything.

<b3>When Americans watch Bollywood movies, they think, ‘Isn't that funny?' but not in a manner of looking down at it, but purely as walking the middle path, between art and entertainment, more of the latter.

Why do you think Indian movies fail to make the grade at the Oscars?
Well, because it's an incredible industry, the vocabulary is straight up entertainment. We need to break that feeling.

We need to make them see Indian cinema the way they see European or Chinese cinema. Yes, everyone is aware of Bollywood, it's growing at a good rate.

As of now, they believe the market is about people who want to see some light movies with fun, song-dance, romance, comedy, action.

The films are black and white in terms of ideas and plots. As the middle class grows, the divide will merge and the subjects will delve into more complex issues. I guess then it will be easier.

What would you say if told that your work inspires filmmakers here? Reportedly, Nagesh Kukunoor's Eight by Ten is said to be based on your The Sixth Sense.
I get very affected when I hear someone speak in my voice. It sometimes happens that when you read a book, something attracts you.. forms a connect. Likewise with a film, when you see something and want to explore a similar route.. there's a connect.. and you want to adapt it in your way .

I don't know about any film being inspired by

The Sixth Sense

. But may be when it releases, I'll check it out and then probably I'll be in a better position to comment on this.

Do you watch Hindi movies a lot now?

Not all that much. I've kind of started recently. I'm sorry I can't name any, but my wife is better at remembering their titles and the cast and crew.



The last one I saw, it had big stars and was rather enjoyable too. I wish my wife was here to help me with the names..



Have you seen any film lately that made you cringe in your seat?

I watch the best films. (Laughs) So I never felt the need to cringe in my seat while watching any of them.



How is your family finding the trip? What do they think of the Hindi movies?


They're enjoying it here. It's good. As for what they think about the movies, they feel the same.



Any favourites?

If you were to sign Hindi movie stars for your film, who would it be?


I like that guy Shah Rukh Khan... he's big.. He's a marvelous actor.. like Tom Cruise is in the U S.