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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 12:39 GMT
Indian film rocks the world
Maachis: Pulls no punches
Gulzar's 1996 film Maachis is a tough study of terrorism
As Bollywood films like Asoka start to invade the Western market, BBC News Online's Rob White spoke to two leading lights of Indian cinema.

"It's time to cross the boundary," says the great lyricist, musician, director and poet Gulzar, one of the legendary figures of the Indian cinema.

"We have been playing within our field. For a long time, I think there was a little reluctance because of the technical finish that our films lacked.

"Now we feel that the cinema in India is on a par with the cinema in the rest of the world, technically speaking. Now it's time to jump into the global mainstream.

"I hope the West finds good competition in Indian films."

Unprecedented

Gulzar was in London with another of Hindi cinema's key players, the director Shyam Benegal, to promote a new book, entitled Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema, to which each has contributed a chapter.

Trailblazer: A young Shyam Benegal on the set
Shyam Benegal has written a chapter in the new book

This lavishly illustrated study comes at a time when interest in the West all things Bollywood is at an unprecedented high, thanks largely to Santosh Sivan's film Asoka.

One of the last foreign films to enjoy a UK release as prominent and with such favourable British reviews was arguably Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - and look at what that went on to do at awards ceremonies around the world.

Benegal shares Gulzar's optimism over the prospects of Hindi films abroad.

"We hope that it will be the next big thing, and we hope that it will stay - it won't be the flavour of the season," he says.

"We are hoping that, sooner or later, people who are not necessarily south Asians recognise the Indian popular cinema as cinema entertainment, not just a curiosity.

"The point is, it is, and it can be, as entertaining as the cinema of the rest of the world."
Kareena Kapoor in Bollywood: Popular Indian Cinema
Yaaden: One of this year's biggest Bollywood releases

He makes the point that the domestic and UK releases of Asoka were timed to coincide.

"The Bombay film industry, or rather the Indian film industry, is a very large one. It's now kind of bursting at the seams because so far it has survived entirely on the national market.

"But I think because of the south Asian diaspora, that market has increased and spread in different parts of the world."

Mafia

On the vexed question of the extent of underworld involvement in Bollywood, he said he believed a "mafia" had a hold on a section of the industry.

But he pointed to Asoka as an example of a film untainted by criminal money. "I don't think it affects everybody."

Benegal's support for the popular cinema is gracious. After all, his own films are far removed from standard Bollywood fare.

The director is the leading figure of a movement known as the New Indian Cinema, which began in the early 1970s.

The new generation made films that did not necessarily adhere to the traditional forms of Hindi cinema, in which the use of song and dance, for example, is virtually compulsory.

Often, Benegal says in the book, the form of Bollywood films circumscribed the subject matter of the films themselves.

However, the distinction drawn in the West between so-called art house films - for the cinephiles - and the movies - for the popcorn-munching hoi polloi - is alien to the director.

'Insight'

"It's part of the same thing because the audiences are not terribly different," he insists.

"You can choose to go to a film one day because you simply want to be amused.

"Another day, you want to see a film that makes you think, gets you involved in a different sort of way - that gives you some sort of an insight into something.

"It's like when you talk about literature. You can have different kinds of literature. You can have books that are intended solely for you to read when you are on a train journey.

"Yet you also have other kinds of books that you want to read because you get something out of them."

Perhaps it is exactly this catholic, inclusive approach and lack of intellectual snobbery that is behind the remarkable rise of the new Hindi cinema.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Reviews
Epic Asoka loses its way
05 Oct 01 | South Asia
Bollywood suffers from US attacks
23 Feb 99 | South Asia
Bombay evicts 'gangster chief'
04 Nov 98 | South Asia
Bombay gets tough on gangsters
25 Jul 01 | Film
Cash boost for Bollywood
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