The chaos of India never changes, it just keeps going…and that never ceases to amaze me!” says 46-year-old Tula Goenka, associate professor of film and television at Syracuse University, US.
Goenka is in Mumbai with 11 of her students for a “Bollywood internship”, which she has tailored for them and claims to be the first of its kind. One of the students started working on director Aditya Chopra’s new film on her first day itself, while another is with PVR Cinemas for its new venture.
For someone who left India almost 25 years ago, the long gap has given Goenka new perspectives on an industry she has always loved. “Bollywood always intrigued me.”
With hands-on experience in film-making — she has assisted Spike Lee in Malcolm X, James Ivory in Surviving Picasso, and Mira Nair in Salaam Bombay and Mississippi Masala — Goenka came up with the idea of a month-long Bollywood summer programme because she wanted her students to learn more about the Indian film industry.
After a week’s orientation, the students attended lectures on Indian cinema’s history at Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods, with which “we have tied up”. They also visited the Film and Television Institute of India and the National Films Archive in Pune.
“Anything from India is Bollywood in the US,” she says. “I want them to know that Bollywood is just a part of the Indian film industry. It’s the Indian film industry, which is one of the biggest in the world. Not Bollywood alone.”
A five-month visit in 2003 culminated in a book — Bollywood and Beyond — which is due out soon. “It’s mostly about conversations with directors like Yash Chopra, Mrinal Sen and Prakash Jha, etc. I have tried to place them in a historical perspective.”
Goenka sees herself as a bridge between Hollywood and Bollywood. Bollywood is now more than just tinsel town. It is, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out recently, an industry whose growing importance as a “soft power” India can leverage.
Goenka, who battled cancer two years ago, says her experiences were deeply transforming. “I don’t sit back and complain. I told my doctor, this is yet another battle I have to fight.”
A mother of two, Goenka may have left India for greener pastures, but she acknowledges that the future lies back home. “I tell all my Indian students to move back eventually because the impact they can have in India, they can’t have elsewhere.”