Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan sang the praises of cheesy song and dance numbers and bell-bottom slacks Friday in an impassioned defence of Indian commercial cinema at the Berlin Film Festival.
In town to promote his 2007 blockbuster Om Shanti Om, Khan argued that the gratuitous musical numbers and melodramatic plot twists that often turn foreign audiences off his films were, for him, their greatest strength.
"It's kitschy. There's no denying that," he said. "It's a lot of colour. It's a little louder than loud. But that's the kind of people Indians are. "We do express ourselves a little loudly. We get angry louder, cry louder and laugh louder." <b1>
Om Shanti Om, which was showing out of competition at the Berlin festival, is a joyfully over-the-top parody of Hindi musical melodramas of 30 years ago, with cameo appearances by a Who's Who of Bollywood past and present.
Khan plays a struggling extra who dies attempting to prevent the murder of an idolised heroine in the bell-bottomed 1970s. The second half of the film sees him reborn 30 years later as a film star destined to recall his past life and seek revenge.
"We wanted people to know that our movies are like this and we're very proud of it," Khan said. "I would like to introduce different aspects of my country, without apologising about the fact we make a certain type of cinema." <b2>
Known as "King Khan" to his fans, the 42-year-old idol is still one of Bollywood's most bankable stars, with an appeal that extends far beyond India to the Gulf region and the South Asian diaspora in the United States and Europe. Rather than mainstream Indian films learning from Hollywood, he believes Western blockbusters should consider borrowing from Bollywood, and put storytelling before special effects.
"Cinema is on the brink of getting eaten up by technology," he said. "I love Spiderman, Superman ... but sometimes there is nothing beyond the special effects.
"Maybe our stories would be interesting to take on." Khan said he had no illusions about his prospects of ever getting a Hollywood role, and confessed no real interest in even looking for one.
"I'm 42 years old. I'm a little bit brown. There is no space or place for me," he said. "It's not like I land in New York or Los Angeles and Steven Spielberg's waiting for me. He's not."
But with mainstream Indian films receiving more exposure abroad particularly through high-profile festivals like the Berlinale, Khan acknowledges that his industry will be forced to make some compromises for the overseas market. Hindi films regularly run to more than three hours in length and foreign audiences are often thrown by the sudden switches to a foreign location for a song and dance routine that bears little or no relation to the plot.
"Our films need to be shorter and I can see the musical element becoming a little more logical," Khan said. "But we'll still wear the bell-bottoms. We like that."