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

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.


REVIEW: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ crackles with tension

Reese Witherspoon (left) and Kerry Washington in 'Little Fires Everywhere.' (Supplied)
Updated 1 min 38 sec ago

REVIEW: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ crackles with tension

  • Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington clash in picture-perfect suburbia

LONDON: As faithful period recreations go, “Little Fires Everywhere” channels the nuances of Nineties US suburbia with an almost unparalleled degree of affection. Set in Shaker Heights, Ohio, the eight-episode adaptation of Celeste Ng’s 2017 novel skillfully captures the cookie-cutter perfection of the white picket-fenced homes and playfully riffs on pop-culture motifs like “The Real World” and stereo faceplates. But while there’s some fun to be had in reliving the 1990s, the show sets up its far-more-serious storyline and tone from the cold open of the very first episode. Mother-of-four Elena Richardson (a stellar Reese Witherspoon) watches her sprawling house go up in flames and viewers are led to believe that troubled daughter Izzy is the main culprit. Over the following episodes, the show backtracks a few months to the point where free-spirited artist Mia Warren (a subtly intense Kerry Washington) and her daughter Pearl move into town, starting a chain of events that leads to the two families becoming intertwined, and to the titular blaze.

The two mothers clash almost instantly over their different approaches to life and parenting, while the arrival of Mia and Pearl (both black and ostensibly poorer than many of Shaker’s residents) also threatens to upset the carefully cultivated status quo enjoyed by the predominantly white community. The series sets its two leads up in direct opposition — so it’s fortunate that Witherspoon and Washington not only spark off one another with palpable dynamism, but also dominate when apart, imbuing their characters with very different (yet equally captivating) maternal ferocity. There’s some awkward, heavy-handed exploration of racial disparity in the late 20th century, but with limited running time, this discourse tends to get lumped in with the show’s other talking points — class, art, adoption and motherhood. On occasion, this propels the narrative along nicely, but there are times when it may have been better to slow down a little and get into the intricacies of some of the other characters.

Instead, the show delves deep into the two leads’ backstories, showing how their different experiences have molded them, and the writers and directors (including the late Lynn Shelton) spend what little time remains with their respective families. Much like Ng’s novel, the Richardsons and the Warrens are the focus, but the show leans even more heavily on Witherspoon and Washington. Thankfully, with actors so engaging, it’s a choice that pays off.