Ishqiya was a film fairly loved among Germans at the Munich film festival this month. Which is a mystery, given its cultural context. A young local fan Julia Wessel could help solve that mystery, or maybe not.
Julia knows a thing or two about Abhishek Choubey’s Ishqiya. She’s editor-in-chief of a film fanzine of a small town called Munsten: few hours’ car-ride from Munich. Her glossy, entirely in German, is called Ishq!
It sells a couple of thousand copies in her tiny district; bears Priyanka Chopra and the likes on the cover; is priced at 4.5 euros, about Rs 350, something even Indians won’t pay to read 100 pages of everything Bollywood. The sway of Mumbai’s mainstream movies among local Germans shows. But its organic origins, or even the preferred tastes, are confusing still.
Ishq ran a year-end poll among its readers to figure the most loved Bollywood movie of 2009. The winning film was something called Dil Bole Hadippa. This doesn’t surprise Julia at all. It would shock a lay Indian not on the payrolls of Yashraj Films or Rani Mukerji. Andreas Strohl, film historian and director of a quarter century-old Munich festival has certainly not seen Dil Bole Hadippa. Though I didn’t bother to ask. He did scan through several dozens of Indian movies to put together a dedicated Indian films’ section at Munich. Strohl curates this artsy film fete for his quaint Bavarian town every year. His city, you can tell, is as high on culture (films and otherwise) as it is on beer of the weirdest flavours. Munchkins (if we can call them that) can sit through minutes after minutes, observing sea waves flow in and out (nothing else happens in Abbas Kiorastami’s Five), and nod in quiet agreement still.
Though choices before Strohl are not known, the Indian films he picked up for these hardened fest junkies ranged from Natrang (Atul Kulkarni-starrer) and Rita (actor Renuka Shahane’s directorial debut) in Marathi, to DevD (Anurag Kashyap) and Luck By Chance (Zoya Akhtar) in Hindi. Each is a film loved back home, some entirely ‘Bollywood’, and many completely mainstream in their own ways.
Strohl didn’t know this at the time of making the selection, which suggests there is no such thing as the cursed Indian “festival film” anymore: Mani Kaul, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and the lot. LSD, Ishqiya, why, even Natrang and Rita, at once find major audiences locally, crack the crores, and catch a serious, art-house cine aesthete’s eye in the West. Commerce is no scary anathema to critical acclaim. Perhaps. German invasion
At regular theatres outside of the fest, Karan Johar’s My Name Is Khan had its special German release. It was edited to suit the adopted country’s movie tastes (Dil Bole Hadippa!, I suppose!). Johar’s Deutschland Khan has all the songs, but fewer scenes. Most of the film’s hurricane (Mama Jenny) sequences, I’m told, have been knocked out. Over 40,000 Germans have seen this blockbuster already, and they didn’t need Shiv Sena to point them to theatres. Shah Rukh Khan was enough.
SRK smiles from the latest, unusual cover of a semi-academic journal, The Film, Germany’s equivalent of a Sight And Sound. Director Dibakar Bannerjee passes it by, before lounging around Munchen friends of LSD. White dancers practice Bollywood steps for the festival’s grand finale night. An Indian film invasion of Germany appears somewhat complete.
Business between the two should follow. But co-production is still something new to Indians. Though several off-Hollywood movie credits in the world could pass off for minor lessons in geography, given the number of international tie-ups they go through for funding.
For instance, the finest films that I caught at this festival: Francis Ford Copolla’s brilliantly morbid drama Tetro; Carlos, a five ‘n’ half hour crackling ‘plot boiler’on the Venezuelan terror lord; My Father’s Sins, a touching yet chilling docu on Escobar’s son saying sorry to his dad’s victims….
We don’t need your money, says producer and festival veteran Sunil Doshi (Bheja Fry) at a panel discussion on film collaborations. Doshi rants and grumbles, he’s just had it with German financiers and filmmakers coming up to him with scripts on reincarnations. Some stereotypes, I suppose, are harder to break. There’s certainly an Om Shanti Om in the remaking here!
(The writer was invited to Munich film festival on a panel to discuss ‘Indian Cinema Today’)