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Hollywood stars head for India

Saibal Chatterjee explores Hollywood's new found love and respect for its poor cousin, Bollywood.

india Updated: Feb 21, 2006 19:33 IST
WIDE ANGLE |Saibal Chatterjee
WIDE ANGLE |Saibal Chatterjee

India has every reason to be excited with Hollywood actor Will Smith's visit. For whatever it is worth, the visit does push the country just a tad closer to the centre of the global showbiz radar. 

But are the positive noises that one half of the Men in Black is making about India in general and its movie industry in particular a sign of things to come? Or do they merely represent the polite posturing of a visiting celebrity? Smith’s Indian sojourn is much more than the column space it devours if it were to lead to lasting cooperation between Bollywood and the industry that he represents. It is not enough for these stars to shine bright on India; they must shine long. 

The indications currently available on the ground suggest that, with or without Will Smith, things are beginning to move in that direction. Indeed, if all goes well, 2006 could turn out to be the year of Hollywood in India.

A string of American productions is lined up for filming on the subcontinent in the course of 2006. While several Western countries have been wooing Bollywood producers in recent years in the hope of boosting tourist inflows from India, the reverse traffic has remained comparatively low.

The stray international films that have been shot in India in recent years have primarily been those that have been helmed by Indian directors like Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and Deepa Mehta. That apart, the world’s engagement with Indian movies has been largely confined to the participation of a handful of Western actors in recent Hindi films like Lagaan, Kisna – The Warrior Poet, Mangal Pandey – The Rising and Rang De Basanti.

A still from Aamir Khan's Laagan. The film was widely appreciated abroad.

The frame is now set to widen appreciably. Top-draw Hollywood stars like Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman are likely to descend upon India in the coming months as films featuring these A-list names begin to roll on various locations of the country.

The Michael Douglas film, Romancing the Stone, co-starring Aishwarya Rai, has been hanging fire for quite a while. It was announced amid much fanfare early last year but not a frame has been exposed since then. But now the film, believed to be a sequel to the action-adventure comedies Romancing the Stone and Jewel of the Nile, seems all set to get going.

Ageing action star Sylvester Stallone will be shooting portions of Rambo IV in India, probably in the rugged terrain of Ladakh. The plot of the film has the angry ex-soldier heading for India when a bunch of racist thugs hounds his family back in the US.  

But probably the most eagerly awaited film of the entire upcoming lot is Shantaram, a screen adaptation of the autobiographical bestseller by Aussie man-on-the-run Gregory David Roberts. To be directed by Oscar-winning Australian director Peter Weir, the film will be shot in Mumbai and on handpicked locations in the Andamans. Superstar Johnny Depp plays the protagonist.

Veteran actor Morgan Freeman will be flying down to Rishikesh and Hardwar later this year for the shoot of Moses Tate’s War, a film that deals with a campaign to save cows. Can cows and India ever be separated?

Religiosity does play a key part in most foreign films that are set – or are sought to be set – in India. Remember Jane Campion’s Holy Smoke, starring Kate Winslet and Harvey Keitel? It was about a White girl who gives up her cushy but empty existence as she falls under the spell of an Indian holy man.

In real life, too, India has begun to cast a spell on North American entertainers. Indeed, the renewed interest in India probably has something to do with the fact that an increasing number of Western pop and movie idols are turning to Oriental religious and spiritual practices.

All that might be a source of joy for the individuals involved, but from the point of view of moviemaking in India, the important question is whether the growing spiritual bonding that seems to be happening between sections of Hollywood and India can translate into greater give and take between the two movie industries, one the most powerful, the other the biggest. The marriage has the potential of yielding rewards all the way.

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