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India Splendor hosts a quiet evening with the biggest superstars of Indian cinema.
Red carpet interviews with Mani Ratnam and Aishwarya Rai
Interviewed by Siddarth Puri
Q&A responses of Abhishek Bachchan
Moderated by Variety Asia at India Splendor
August 14, 2007
Transcription by Ada Tseng
Camera and video edit by Oliver Chien
APA: Last week [August 8, 2007] there was an article in the New York Times about Hollywood starting to invest in Bollywood. Are you concerned about this flux of Hollywood money now coming into Bollywood?
Mani Ratnam: No, I don¡¦t think so. I think the money can come from anywhere. It doesn't matter. As long as the filmmakers make the films they believe in, I think it's fine. There are no issues regarding that.
APA: Do you think that the money coming from Hollywood, from a Western standpoint, will change the types of film that are being made in Bollywood?
MR: I think money that comes in from the West really looks to make more money. They come there to make more money, not to change an ideology or a philosophy of a country or their art. So, as long as Indian films do make money, as long as they are profitable, I think Western money will come and just do that.
Aishwarya Rai: I don't know how equipped I am to be answering these questions, because at the end of the day, I can just have an opinion and share that with you. But I'm an actor; I'm not a producer. I don't belong to the finance department of our cinema. I don't belong to the distribution. So I guess I would be overstepping if I speak profoundly on this.
But if you ask me an opinion just about this whole interest of the studios from the West in our cinema, I think it's just a reflection of the fact that, thanks to you all [the media] speaking extensively about our cinema and the kind of support and the kind of audience that our cinema enjoys globally, has increased the awareness, has made the ears perk up and definitely got them ticking, and [people are] recognizing the potential of that incredible audience that exists, that incredible world of cinema that's flourishing. And I'm sure, in business terms, they're just investing in what they probably perceive as a possibly fruitful venture.
And that, I think is all positive. It's not taking away from the fact that we have been flourishing and doing very well on our own. But I think it's really a reflection that the world is getting smaller. We all are a part of a global community now in every field, be that medicine, be that media, be that engineering and technology. We really are a very, very important contributing factor with the global community and, so be it, even with cinema. So it's a good time.
Abhishek Bachchan: I don't think there's much differentiation. At the end of the day, we're all part of a creative family. It's just that we speak a different language. That's going to be our biggest boon and the biggest obstacle for us as well. At the end of the day, there's always going to be a glass ceiling for Indian films in the West, and that has nothing to do with anything else apart from the fact that we speak a different language. And the other way around as well. Now what's happening is that a lot of studios are coming from here to India and producing films. I think that's wonderful. They bring their expertise and their challenge. Why not? We've never been adverse to it. We welcome it, and we look forward to collaborating with them. I think it's a step in the right direction.
Mani Ratnam: I think the name Bollywood changed from being "Bollywood" to just Indian cinema or something like that. If it stopped being an apologetic second-hand hand-me-down, it'd be much better.
I think Indian cinema is growing itself. It's something that has withstood Hollywood all these years. It's maintained its own thing, so why call that "Bollywood" in the first place? It's withstood all this time.
APA: What would you like to call it instead?
MR: Naming is not my job, but it's called Indian cinema. You call French cinema "French cinema." Why do you want to call Indian cinema "Bollywood cinema"? It's really sad. It's really sad for Indians who call it that because you're already accepting that it's a hand-me-down situation. I don't think so. I think that it's Indian cinema. It has remained Indian cinema and it's growing. And I think it's time we grew.
Moderator: I wanted to talk about Bollywood...
Abhishek Bachchan: [correcting] The Hindi film industry.
Moderator: Do you resent that word?
AB: Yes, I do. Very much.
Moderator: This came up in an earlier panel [at India Splendor] with differing opinions. Tell my why [you resent the word].
AB: I think it goes back to why the name was coined in the first place. From what I know, it was actually coined by a journalist writing about a particular film that had derived its inspiration from Hollywood. There was a period of time when that was happening very often in India. It was looked down upon, and they thought it was plagiarism. They thought that we were not original. And it was coined as a barb at Indian films -- saying "we might as well call them Bollywood, because they're so influenced by or want to be like Hollywood." So it was actually intended as an insult, and unfortunately that word caught on.
It's not that we have anything against Hollywood [or] the film industry in the States, [but] the fact is we have our own identity. We're the largest film industry in the world. We have very talented people.... I disagree with the term. I don't blame anybody. I'm not going to jump all over you and start beating you up, which I would do in my films [audience laughter], because you used it, because a lot of people don't know why there's so much resentment.... If it emanated from something that was positive, maybe I'd have a different view on it, but it was intended as a slight.
Aishwarya Rai: I am an actor. I'm somebody who thoroughly enjoys her craft, considering I wasn't trained for it. I just jumped right in and kept learning with every day of experience, so I do enjoy what I do. And from the beginning, I made it very, very obvious in my choices. It obviously takes time for people to recognize, but in all the choices that I made, I was constantly trying to break away from preconceived notions that cinema needs to be compartmentalized to commercial and art, or regional and mainstream.
I thought I was breaking down all these barriers in the various choices that I made. That's why I did Tamil cinema in my first movie. It's not that I wasn't getting work in Hindi. I just believed in Mani Ratnam's cinema and I was happy to work with him. So that was my beginning.
When it came to working in Hindi movies, I've done a variety. I don't have a condescending attitude towards what is regarded as mainstream and commercial. I happily belong to it and enjoy it, but at the same time, yes I've also done work in movies like a Raincoat or a Chokher Bali, or even in the mainstream, I've worked in subjects like Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai which was a very typical Hindi movie. But if you look at the characters, at the time of the career that I did, I didn't care about working characters that were beyond my chronological age. I was not trying to play the young, cute girl all the time. So I tried to break all these preconceived ideas in various choices.
I came to work in English movies as well. So this whole term of doing "crossover cinema," I think all these terms are created by the media. But in terms of the work I do, it's just another subject. It's a director I'd love to work with. Yes, in another language, it being English. And I've happily just been a part of that movie. And that's the way I've looked at my work -- and probably that's why they've been Bengali, Hindi, Tamil, or English movies. It's just about having a more varied experience in cinema. That's my approach to my work.
When I did a subject like Provoked, it's a subject itself that obviously was fantastic. As an actor, it excited me. And I won't make any other show about it. On a humane level, it definitely needed a voice, and I was glad [to be a] part of a movie like this that would tell a true story to a wider, more receptive audience with me being in it, so I was happily telling the story of [not only] Kiranjit Ahluwalia but for all the Kirans out there.
Abhishek Bachchan: We try to make them laugh on a daily basis.... We tend to brush it under the carpet, but what we do for a living I think is a wonderful social cause. Because you bring in, for example, today 300 people under the same roof, and there's no thought to caste or creed or religion or social standing or economic standing. You just sit in a room, watch a film, [and] you're taken on a journey for three hours and you forget your problems. I think that's a wonderful thing to do for three hours, and if we could do it 24 hours a day, I think it would solve a lot of our problems.
The cinema world is one of the most secular places on Earth, and when you walk into this cinema hall, you forget about everything. You might be sitting next to a man who's sleeping on the street. I don't think we should deride what just films do by themselves.
Apart from that, there is a lot of work that one does. You reach out and try to pay back to the audiences for what they have given you, because we realize we are what we are today purely because of the audiences. And you try and do whatever little bit you can, and you often didn't do so. But we shouldn't forget that filmmaking and being a part of the movies, at the end of the day, is a great service. I think so. I think it's a gift that God has given us to go and just put a smile on someone's face for three hours and make them forget about their problems. I think it's a wonderful gift and the greatest social cause ever.
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Date Posted: 8/24/2007