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Short cut to Hollywood

Why is India so conspicuously absent from H'wood, asks Saibal Chatterjee.

entertainment Updated: Aug 23, 2005 17:21 IST

The showbiz world is a small place indeed. A celebrated Brazilian filmmaker has just directed an American studio remake of a successful Japanese horror flick, Dark Water. The film, starring the talented Jennifer Connelly, may have received mixed reviews and failed at the box office, but in Hollywood these days, such trans-cultural cinematic collaborations are commonplace.

Brazilian writer-director Walter Salles has been feted the world over for independent arthouse films as freewheeling as Central Station and The Motorcycle Diaries. Who would ever have thought that he could be roped in to helm a genre film one day?

If filmmakers from Brazil, Mexico, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and even Thailand can make strong forays into mainstream Hollywood, why is India, which produces the largest number of films in the world, so conspicuous by its absence from the American studio system? What is it that holds our filmmakers back: is it a paucity of talent or just an absence of genuine inclination?

Filmmakers like Shekhar Kapur, Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta are of course still very much in the fray. And now Gurinder Chadha is gearing up to film I Dream of Jeannie, her first Hollywood studio film. But none of these directors, despite an occasional Elizabeth, has yet achieved a real long-term breakthrough.

Hollywood is indeed a world without borders. It shouldn't, therefore, be difficult for anybody keen to expand his creative universe to break into its core. Just as much as it sends its products out to virtually every nook and cranny of the globe Hollywood embraces and co-opts directorial, acting and technical talent wherever it can be found.

Especially in demand of late are filmmakers from some pockets of Asia and Latin America. Nor is there any dearth of Hollywood directors who have their origins in non-Anglophone parts of Europe. In the early years, Hollywood's imports, many of them on the run from Nazi Germany, came primarily from Europe. But in more recent times, the LA studios have cast their nets wider and brought accomplished directors from other parts of the world into the fold.

The route is clear-cut: an arthouse success, often in a language other than English, catapults a foreign filmmaker on to Hollywood's radar. American audiences and studios noticed Shekhar Kapur after Bandit Queen, while Mira Nair burst on to the global scene with Salaam Bombay. But such developments have been few and far between from India's standpoint and, worse, even the ones that have occurred haven't yielded sustained results.

Contrast that with the dramatic progress that the likes of Sweden's Lasse Hallstrom, Hong Kong's John Woo or Taiwan's Ang Lee have made. Their successes in Hollywood, besides being personal triumphs, have given the contemporary movie industries of their respective countries a far larger global profile than what would otherwise have been possible.

Alfonso Arau built on the success of the Mexican drama, Like Water for Chocolate, by graduating to Hollywood films of the size and budget of A Walk in the Clouds. Similarly, Alfonso Cuoron, who wowed the world with Y Tu Mama Tambien (And Your Mother Too) a few years ago, has since directed the third instalment of the Harry Potter series and is now tipped to helm a screen adaptation of Yann Martel's Life of Pi.