Non-resident Indians are important to the Indian film industry not only as symbols and themes in storylines but also as a significant market for Indian films, according to noted director Karan Johar.
Johar, along with leading lights of the Hindi film industry were here as part of the "BAFTA Goes Bollywood" event, which included screenings, interviews and workshops with Yash Chopra, Preity Zinta, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Johar.
Several actors and directors stressed the growing importance of the non-resident Indian for the film industry. Shahrukh Khan told newsmen: "NRIs have been important to me", while Yash Chopra added: "NRI market is as good to us as the market in India and Britain is number one for us".
According to Johar, "We do not see NRIs as people who are separate from Indians. They are all Indians and in fact the NRIs are more Indian at heart than any of us in India".
The discussion on the subject - available on popular radio station www.nrifm.com - focussed on the NRI theme that was prominently portrayed in blockbusters such as Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayange (DDLJ) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham.
Explaining his unique relationship with the NRIs, Shahrukh Khan admitted that in many of his roles his character has been that of an ideal NRI son or an ideal son-in-law or an ideal lover. Yash Chopra said that his unique relationship with the NRI community began with DDLJ in 1995.
According to him, the time was just right - the age of video was declining; audiences were returning to cinema theatres; India was opening up and the NRIs were looking back towards their home country. In such an environment, DDLJ became a super hit.
Johar said: "I make films for Indians, whether they live in New York or Bihar. NRI is a status not an identity. For us they are all Indians."
Yash Chopra said: "Veer Zaara was the most important film of my life. It was the most authentic and positive depiction of both countries (India and Pakistan). Boundaries are man-made otherwise we are the same people; we have the same language, same family and same emotions."
The trio strongly defended the Bollywood style of filmmaking packed with song, dance and melodrama. Yash Chopra and Karan Johar said that such films have to be long and they cannot make shorter length films just for the sake of western audiences.
However, Shahrukh said: "Filmmakers tend to get emotional about this issue but I am more practical in matters of length. I truly believe we need to make shorter films."