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When Bahubali gets a National Award, it’s devastating: Adoor Gopalakrishnan

A panel discussion at Gateway LitFest saw filmmakers Anjali Menon, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Vasanthabalan and Bejoy Nambiar discuss Indian cinema, and the many struggles faced by non-Bollywood films

brunch Updated: Feb 28, 2017 15:58 IST
bahubali,regional cinema,adoor gopalakrishnan
From left: Anjali Menon, Subodh Bhave, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Vasanthabalan and Bejoy Nambiar in a session at the Gateway LitFest in Mumbai

In a space known for its elaborate music and theatre productions, and patrons that mostly comprise English speakers, it was a refreshing shift to hear snatches of Malayalam, Marathi, Bengali and Tamil conversations at the NCPA, Mumbai on Saturday. The third edition of the Gateway LitFest, which celebrates the diverse regional literature of the country, was being held at the iconic venue.

While the first day saw sessions on challenges in translation and the latest literary trends in Tamil and Bengali literature, it was a session centered on Bollywood that created a stir. Titled Bollywood is Not the Indian Cinema the panel discussion, chaired by Adoor Gopalakrishnan, featured actor Subodh Bhave and filmmakers Vasanthabalan, Bejoy Nambiar and Anjali Menon.

Gopalakrishnan, who’s credited with revolutionising Malayalam cinema in the ’70s, began by narrating an experience he faced quite often, while travelling abroad for film festivals. “When an immigration officer realised I’m a filmmaker, he asked me if I’m from Bollywood. I said ‘no, far from it,’” he said, lamenting the fact that most people outside India equated Bollywood with Indian cinema. He also called Slumdog Millionaire the most anti-Indian film. “It’s like a typical Bollywood film, made in Hollywood.”

The hour-long discussion saw the filmmakers discuss the challenges faced by non-Hindi films, including limited reach and skewed distribution strategies – these films are often relegated to an early morning slot in most theatres. Menon recalled the ’80s, when Doordarshan would air films belonging to different languages, with English subtitles every Sunday. “Visibility today is very limited. Today, the economy is decided on the basis of where the money is and the rest of Indian cinema suffers,” she said.

Vasanthabalan, whose films Veyil (2006) and Angadi Theru (2010) were blockbusters that were also critically acclaimed, said that Bollywood had lost its values in the race for commercial fame. “When I Googled the top 100 films in Indian cinema, there was not a single regional film,” he said. Here, Nambiar, the only Bollywood representative, piped in saying that he was a huge fan of Vasanthabalan’s works and actually saw Veyil on a pirated CD. “It was not available anywhere in Bombay. The only way forward is for filmmakers to fight for more space and access.”

Discussing inventiveness, Gopalakrishnan said that technology should not be the only asset in the march for progress. He drew attention to the significance of the National Award, and how it was instituted to award “high-quality films”. “When Bahubali gets a National Award, it’s devastating and sends a bad message to influencers.”

Bhave, who apart from Marathi, has also acted in Konkani, Malayalam and Bengali films, said that Bollywood’s recent interest in Marathi cinema was an encouraging trend. “Marathi cinema has always been content-driven, from the times of V Shantaram and Prabhat Film Company. John Abraham and Priyanka Chopra are going to back Marathi films,” he said. Gopalakrishnan said the great support the Maharashtra state government was extending to the films was laudable. “Marathi cinema is not just making waves in India, but also abroad. This should be an eye-opener for the other industries,” said the veteran filmmaker.

The session concluded with the panelists weighing in on ways to get over the overarching influence of Bollywood on Indian cinema. While platforms like Netflix and YouTube have increased access and helped generate more interest in regional cinema, Menon said that a big part of the responsibility also lay with the audience. “We have an empowered audience today – they can talk about the films, tweet, and start discussions. Why should we rely on just YouTube to celebrate regional cinema?”

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First Published: Feb 25, 2017 23:21 IST