Bollywood king says new age dawning for Indian film

Indian Bollywood film director Rajkumar Hirani, left, and actor Ranbir Kapoor during a screening of the Hindi film ‘102 Not Out’ in Mumbai on May 1. (AFP)
Updated 12 October 2018
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Bollywood king says new age dawning for Indian film

  • ‘Before there was a belief that you had to have songs’
  • ‘Now people are completely experimenting with the subject matter’

BUSAN, South Korea; Bollywood box office king Rajkumar Hirani believes a new golden age is dawning for the Indian movie industry as filmmakers look outside the box to tell more varied stories.
“Before there was a belief that you had to have songs,” said Hirani, the man behind a string of Bollywood hits including the global sensation “3 Idiots.”
“Now people are completely experimenting with the subject matter.”
Even those directors who continue to include songs are also exploring “much darker themes” — and still enjoying massive box office success, he said.
A case in point is 55-year-old Hirani’s latest offering, “Sanju,” which the director has brought to this year’s 23rd Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, the largest of its kind in Asia.
“Sanju” is based on the real-life story of the rise and fall of Indian star Sanjay Dutt, who was born into Bollywood royalty but was jailed after being accused of involvement in the Mumbai terror attacks of 1993.
The director admits the project was a risk given the often-grim nature of the story, which includes gritty scenes of drug taking and its lead character’s descent into depression.
But the strong box office returns have convinced him that audiences want a wider range of options from Hindi language films.
“Sanju” has so far grossed $80 million, placing it third on Bollywood’s all-time global earners’ list, according to The Times of India newspaper.
“It’s very much a human-interest story about battling your demons,” said Hirani. “It’s a very different kind of film than I have done before.
“While I was making it, everybody thought it was a mistake.”
But Hirani said he was more confident the film might succeed after seeing the reaction of Dutt, who was released from jail in 2016, at a preview screening.
“He saw it three days before its release and I was watching him,” said Hirani. “He was crying and after that he sat at home and drank for three days, so I knew it had worked.”
As a director and producer Hirani has reaped box office gold with a diverse range of films, from comedies including “3 Idiots” (2009) and alien-on-earth hit “PK” (2014), to the sports drama “Final Round” (2016) and now on to “Sanju.”
Experts say the Indian film industry is on track for record earnings in 2018, after surpassing last year’s $2.1 billion mark by the end of the first quarter.
Across all languages, India now produces more than 1,000 movies a year — several hundred more than come out of Hollywood.
Increasingly these films are finding a global audience.
Hirani’s “3 Idiots” — the tale of three friends struggling with the pressures of getting an education — was a ground-breaker in terms of international box office success, with around $30 million in international takings.
Hirani said Bollywood filmmakers are expanding their own horizons as their audience grows, both domestically and globally.
But the filmmaker stressed he had found no magic wand for making great cinema.
“I don’t think there’s ever a formula for success in film,” said Hirani. “If there was, everyone would share it. I’ve been fortunate
“I guess one of the principles I work with is make the film for yourself not an audience. At least then one person will like it.”
“You can’t judge what the world will like,” he added. “If you laugh at the jokes you are writing, if you can cry at the emotional scenes, then hopefully the audience will too.”
But for all the guidelines, Hirani says, early on it’s hard to predict what the final product will look like.
“Every time you start a new film it’s like digging a new well. You are not sure what you might find.”
The Busan International Film Festival runs until Saturday.


Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 15 December 2018
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Called to the barre: Saudi ballet gets its groove on

  • Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet
  • A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old

JEDDAH: Ballet, one of the world’s most demanding art forms, is enjoying soaring popularity in Saudi Arabia as a new generation discovers its physical, mental and social benefits, and a Jeddah-based studio is at the forefront of the dance’s development in the Kingdom.
Sera McKnass, founder of iBallerina, said that the studio is shaping future ballerinas to be effective members of society.
“The goal is not only to pass on the art of ballet but also to raise up participants into healthy, classy and confident, caring individuals,” the 30-year-old Turkish-Lebanese master teacher said.
Ballet’s popularity is growing among different age groups.
“Mothers sign up their daughters to be trained as ballerinas, but now young adults have dreams of learning how to pirouette, chasse and jete,” McKnass told Arab News. “They come to iBallerina to start the journey and transform their souls and bodies, becoming stronger and more graceful women.”
Widad Al-Kibsi, a Saudi ballet instructor at the studio, said that people in Jeddah were now familiar with ballet. “It's now in most of the main gyms, and private or international schools in the city.”
The 20-year-old advises aspiring ballerinas to start at a young age. “It’s important to start early because improved strength and flexibility are easily acquired at a younger age.”
Ballet offers myriad physical benefits, she said. “It improves muscle tone and definition, elongates arms, and aligns the posture properly.”
Al-Kibsi said that while many Saudis saw ballet as an activity for children, “not a lot of them are aware that adults can also perform. They assume that you should be thin or flexible from the get-go. They don’t understand that with dedication and discipline, ballet strengthens and increases flexibility.”
Dana Garii, a 23-year-old Saudi writer, has been practicing ballet at the studio since February.
“I’ve been wanting to do it since I was young, but I couldn’t find the opportunity. When I found they have classes here, I just went for it. People asked me, ‘aren’t you too old?’ But that’s a myth. People think you can’t do ballet after a certain age, but you can start any time,” she told Arab News.
“Ballet is important to me. It’s more than just the physical aspects — it has taught me how to be modest, and that nothing hard ever comes easy.
“It has also taught me patience and how to take on difficult situations because it’s not only difficult physically but also psychologically. It has taught me how to overcome my fears,” Garii said.
A 13-year-old student at the studio, Oroub Al-Shareef, said that she began ballet when she was 4 years old.
“There was a TV show for kids about the mouse that did ballet (‘Angelina Ballerina’) and it inspired me. I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina,” she said.
“Ballet is very important to me. Dance is one of the ways I express myself and I feel at one with myself when I’m practicing.
“It’s a very hard thing to do, but it brings me so much joy.”
Saudi graphic designer Sara Al-Sabaan, 22, has also been practicing ballet since she was a young child.
“I started dancing in a ballet school in Guadalajara, in Mexico. Then I continued at the Kinetico dance school in Riyadh,” she said.
Al-Sabaan’s mother inspired her to take up the art form. “I’m following in her footsteps. She was a ballet dancer herself.”
The young dancer has watched ballet’s growth in popularity. “Dance classes were available when I was a child, but they have been most popular in the past decade.”
Practicing ballet is a form of self-expression, she said.
“I have danced modern, contemporary and classical ballet, and it affects me immensely. Not only is it a great physical activity, it’s also an outlet for self-expression through movement.”