NRI filmmakers romance the screen

Shyamalan and Kukunoor are accepted as prominent contributors to movie making, writes Meeta Chaitanya.

india Updated: Mar 23, 2006 17:13 IST

At the recent Academy Awards ceremony aired live on a major network channel, an uncharacteristic but huge audience draw happened to be an ad film; an American Express ad directed by and starring the talented Manoj N Shyamalan.

The film was an American Express ad directed by and starring the talented Manoj N Shyamalan.

Equally, another film maker whose ties to Atlanta are well-documented, Nagesh Kukunoor has been making waves with his recent impressive cinematic rendition, Iqbal.

Though both these filmmakers are entirely different in not just technique but also treatment, thematic veering and genre; their growing popularity among Indian Americans runs parallel.

Unlike angst-ridden turnaround success stories and bombastic public cameos both these men have slowly and steadily contributed to the cinema experience in Hollywood and Bollywood respectively.

Their success lies in the fact that today, they are acknowledged in their community as outstanding contributors to the art of movie making.

The kind of movie making that appeals to the Indian intelligentsia and that experiments without demur with peripherals of 'real' issues.

Pondicherry-born Shyamalan became the highest paid screenwriter when after the unprecedented success of The Sixth Sense Disney gave him $5 million to write Signs.

Aside form his first film, Praying with Anger which was filmed in Chennai and is based on the pivotal journey, both literally and figuratively of an Indian-American to his roots, all his movies are based in the States, mostly around his home-ground, Philadelphia.

He doesn't overtly use his Indian legacy as a canvass, subject or inspiration for his art, however the vital strains of his core identity, at least as a filmmaker are apparent to the discerning eye.

Hitchcockian twists-in-the-tale and credited cameos may be his trademarks but they do not necessarily define his films.

Instead, the seemingly inexplicable connection between past, present and future; realistic comprehension, grappling and presentation of the supernatural within the framework of the banal and an underlying religious tenor are indeed more representative of his opus.

The Indian analogy is only too telling, if not obvious.

His knack for trite film editing and remarkable (if only a trifle winding) camera angles is in keeping with the overall ambience his films tend to live in.

No wonder his three thrillers, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs grossed over $1.3 billion worldwide.

Kukunoors' is a slightly different though equally remarkable saga.

With films like Iqbal; 3 Deewarein; Rockford and Hyderabad Blues he has re-written the rules of contemporary Indian cinema by overcoming constraints such as tight budgets, tighter deadlines and gruelling schedules.

Most importantly, he has challenged formulaic success capsules and tackled subjects as diverse as a nation's fascination with cricket and the amorality and ambivalences of crime.

He may have started out in 98 as the storyteller of an atypical but characteristic NRI Andhrite looking to renegotiate the terms of his life in India in Hyderabad Blues.

But over the years, this engineer-actor from Atlanta has managed to diversify his directorial knack by dwelling on pointed societal issues with unflinching incisiveness.

Audiences rewarded his courage and most of films have achieved either critical or commercial success.

Box-office records for Hyderabad Blues alone were healthy; it has featured in many international film festivals.

His distribution company NueNue Cinema Inc will reportedly distribute his films as also other independent films in the US.

Films are a passion for not just those who churn them out but also those that tune into the marquee to partake of the flight of fancy sometimes into Neverland, sometimes nearer home.

Shyamalan continues to enthral Hollywood playing by its studio rules even as he reportedly sports a silver charm containing Sanskrit proverbs.

Kukunoor plays with Indian idiosyncrasies with his own ironic gaze while shuttling between Atlanta and Hyderabad.

In both these dream makers one detects a fierce brand of innovative film making that is its own validation.

First Published: Mar 23, 2006 17:13 IST