What not to do for global acclaim?

During one of the forums at the FICCI conclave earlier this week, two contrasting points of view were raised. One was of the opinion that the industry must try to deliver cinema suited to global consumer sensibilities. The other opinion was that it was best to make cinema for Indian audiences. This perhaps underlines the dilemma that Indian cinema sometimes gets into, mostly during that time of the year, when the Oscars are announced. But, this is not about the Oscars and how we repeatedly fail to crack that mystery. This is something more domestic, i.e. within the confines of Indian cinema.

Everyone loves international recognition, in fact that is the inevitable step after national recognition and every film maker should be aspiring for the same. But, it is the means of achieving that recognition which remains a tricky issue. It also depends as to whether a film maker wants to carry Indian cinema to a global level or is looking to make a name for himself or herself at the international stage. The latter is more of a personal achievement and we do have a

few names that have made it big at the global stage. The first name to come to mind in this respect has to be Shekhar Kapur who gave us the unforgettable Mr. India and since then moved on to Hollywood to make films like ‘Elizabeth’ which was truly international in its theme, casting and appeal. While the achievement of Shekhar Kapur in becoming an internationally accepted director who is considered capable of handling truly British themes like the life of Queen Elizabeth is absolutely fabulous, it also has to be said that it has done very little in taking Indian cinema to the global stage. Plainly because, the Indian film maker made a film that is fully and thoroughly western. Similar things can be said about the very much liked ‘Bend it Like Beckham’ which attracted the British audiences. Though it revolved around an Indian family settled in England and said a lot about the Indian way of life where women have to learn to make ‘rotis’ than play football, it was at heart an English film with some Indian flavor. Similarly, when actors from the Indian film industry are chosen to play roles in Hollywood films, it is only that particular actor who gets elevated to a global level; it changes nothing in the Indian industry. Aishwarya Rai has been moving in and out of Hollywood with a few films the biggest of which was probably ‘Pink Panther’, but other than getting her recognized, there has been nothing else.

It is pretty clear, films that cater to international sensibilities might get popular, but they cannot elevate Indian cinema. This analogy might be uneven; can an Indian cook get famous by making great pizza? Obviously not, because there would be thousands abroad who can do the same. Even Saravana Bhavan is a great example. It has branches spread all over the world, a brand recognized in almost all major cities. The reason for their appeal is simple; they have never deviated away from what they do best, offer south Indian food. A Saravana Bhavan in the USA retains its stamp because it serves idly and sambar. Had they chosen to serve burgers and rolls in order to ‘cater to an international population’ they would have been outclassed by Mc Donalds. The vice versa is also true, Mc Donalds could not have held on in India if they had muddled around with biriyani.

The answer is simple. Real global recognition comes only when we retain our individuality. Attracting an international audience is fine. But, Indian cinema will be victorious only when it is done by a film that is truly ‘Indian’ in every sense of the word, i.e. one that satisfies the regional audience too. Only when we start delivering films that are super hits in India and appreciated by the global audience too, can we say that Indian cinema has arrived at the international stage. To get that dose of global fame, we need not change anything; we only need to get better at what we are doing right now. If, in the search of international acclaim, films are made which forget Indian tastes and try hard to please the Oscar jury, Indian cinema will be lost in a crowd. Let Indian cinema remain truly Indian; let us not go in search of global fame, let it come to us. The time will definitely come.

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