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Queen's lingo allure filmmakers

It began as a gentle trickle. Now, even mainstream Mumbai filmmakers are making films in English.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2003 19:41 IST
Saibal Chatterjee
Saibal Chatterjee

It began as a gentle trickle a few years ago with Dev Benegal's English, August. Today, post-Monsoon Wedding, it has assumed the proportions of something akin to a full-fledged surge. The urge among Mumbai filmmakers to make movies in the English language, hitherto a phenomenon largely restricted to the fringe of the industry, has gripped directors of a more mainstream variety.

It is no longer just the likes of Rahul Bose, Mahesh Dattani and Pamela Rooks who plan urban flicks in Queen's English or the lingo's indigenised version, Hinglish. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Tanuja Chandra and Mahesh Manjrekar, too, have jumped on to the bandwagon.

Bhansali, who is currently engaged in the pre-production of an ambitious period epic, Bajirao Mastani, is also known to be developing Black, an English-language film with Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee. Although little is known about the film's theme yet, it is believed to be an exploration of the dark and silent world of two Helen Keller-like characters that are both blind and deaf.

Ketan Mehta, after dabbling unsuccessfully with a series of pretty but muddled formula films, has decided to return to the turf on which he built his early reputation - serious, theme-driven cinema. On his anvil is The Rising, which promises to be one of the biggest international projects ever to be helmed by an Indian director.

Actor-turned-director Deepak Tijori, despite the failure of the predominantly English-language Oops, has already drawn up plans to launch one more film targeted at urban, English-speaking audiences. To be produced under the banner of Tijori Films, it will be directed by another actor-turned-filmmaker, Anant Mahadevan, whose own directorial debut last year, Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar, proved a damp squib.

Scriptwriter-director Tanuja Chandra's next film is a love story that pans out in the aftermath of 9/11 between a Sikh boy and Muslim girl in New York. The entire film will be shot in the Big Apple later this year. For the young director, it will mark a major departure from the neither-here-nor-there kind of cinema (Dushman, Sanghursh, Sur) she has made so far.

Mahesh Manjrekar's first English-language film is almost complete. A remake of his Hindi-Marathi hit, Astitva, It Rained that Night features Sushmita Sen and the director himself in the pivotal roles that were essayed by Tabu and Sachin Khedekar in the original film.

"I want to try my hand at a crossover film," says Manjrekar, who was a key member of the all-male cast of Sanjay Gupta's Kaante, shot entirely in Los Angeles last year. "I want to reach a wider, international audience," he adds.

A craving for international recognition wasn't, however, the reason why actor Rahul Bose chose English as the language for his directorial debut, Everybody Says I'm Fine. In a pre-release interview, he had famously said: "It was the script that demanded it as the film was about English-speaking people living in an upscale Mumbai neighbourhood." He had gone on to quip: "If you make a film about Sumo wrestlers, the language has to be Japanese. It cannot be French."

Surely, a subject like Astitva does not quite impose the same compulsion on an Indian filmmaker. Manjrekar explains: "I chose the Astitva theme for an English film because the subject - the status of a woman within a family - has universal appeal."

While the scramble to make Indian films in English is understandable in the light of Bollywood's continuing efforts to globalise its products and the dramatic mushrooming of multiplexes around the country, it might be a tad difficult to understand the phenomenon when one considers the lukewarm response that a string of urban Indian films in English have received in recent times.

Oops has bombed. Nagesh Kukunoor's Teen Deewarein, substantial portions of which have the key characters conversing in English, has fared no better. Barring Sujoy Ghosh's Jhankaar Beats, which used Hindi only in its musical numbers, and Aparna Sen's Mr & Mrs Iyer, which struck a chord with multiplex audiences besides scooping up a quartet of National Awards, no English-language film made in Mumbai in the past 12 months has sent audiences into raptures. For every Jhankaar Beats, there has been a spate of Freaky Chakras and Mango Souffles.

Be that as it may, the advent and growth of multiplexes has fuelled a culture of small budget, offbeat, urban films. And that has, in turn, emboldened an increasing number of Mumbai filmmakers to narrate their cinematic tales in a global language that is so often their favoured medium of thought and communication in real life. Indeed, when the whole wide world beckons, a film's language is bound to take on an entirely new inflexion.

First Published: Aug 27, 2003 12:28 IST