Artistes making India proud at the global stage – Big Story

Sonam Kapoor Ahuja is going to attend and perform at King Charles’ coronation ceremony. Alia Bhatt has just made her Met Gala debut paying tribute to fashion icon Karl Lagerfeld in a creation by Prabal Gurung. Earlier in the year, Deepika Padukone graced the Oscars stage when she announced the Naatu Naatu performance from SS Rajamouli‘s RRR. The same night MM Keeravani and Chandrasekhar won the Oscar award for Best Song. Indian artistes from cinema have been making a serious impact around the world. It’s not a new phenomenon, the honours date back to costume designer Bhanu Athaiya winning an Oscar for her work on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Even before that, Satyajit Ray’s cinema had a profound influence on his foreign contemporaries like Elia Kazan and Akira Kurosawa. Even icons like George Lucas, Francis Ford Cappola and Martin Scorsese have admitted that Ray’s films have influenced their understanding of cinema. As audiences have recently rediscovered through Vikramaditya Motwane’s show Jubilee, back in the 40s and 50s Indian producers used to employ German filmmakers as directors, too. Indian cinema’s tryst with the global stage has been going on for decades and yet, it is always a matter of pride for any Indian artiste to represent the country at an international event.
In this week’s Big Story we look at this symbiotic and collaborative relationship between Indian artistes and foreign cinema. Why it’s important for Indian filmmakers like Shekhar Kapur, Anurag Kashyap, SS Rajamouli, Ritesh Batra and Chaitanya Tamhane to take their cinema to the global stage. Why it’s equally important for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Alia Bhatt to represent India at international fashion events and film festivals. Taking India to the global stage means the World takes inspiration from our art and culture. It is an important step in establishing Indian cinema as a global power.

The World is excited to collaborate with India

Indian artistes are slowly and steadily making a mark at international film festivals, fashion galas and awards shows. Alia Bhatt has just made her Met Gala debut and she’s also going to be seen with Hollywood star Gal Gadot in their upcoming film Heart Of Stone. Alia’s father Mahesh Bhatt speaks of the importance of making international appearances and says, “I see Alia’s visit to the MET Gala event as a precursor to the release of Heart of Stone which is a Netflix-priced asset that they are releasing somewhere towards the end of this year. So, I think this kind of sets the mood for her to be more visible in that landscape and then slowly build up from there.”

Sonam Kapoor has been given the distinction of introducing the Commonwealth virtual choir at the coronation ceremony of King Charles in England. Festival curator and director Meenakshi Shedde, who is invited on the Jury of the Cannes Film Festival’s Semaine de la Critique/Critics’ Week 2023 and works in programming for the Berlin and Toronto Film Festivals, says an opportunity to be at a Royal event is a fabulous chance. She says, “I think it’s lovely that Sonam Kapoor is invited to a high profile international event like King Charles’ coronation. She’s not performing there, but introducing musician Steve Winwood and the Commonwealth virtual choir. I myself had met Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2017, when I was Guest Curator for the India on Film organised by the British Film Institute (BFI) and others. It was a big moment for me. The Queen was very gracious and shook each guest’s hand with her black gloved hand as she personally welcomed them; and her smile reached her eyes. She had an amazing ability to make each guest feel special and welcome.”
A little over a decade ago, AR Rahman, Gulzar and Resul Pookutty’s Oscar wins for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire had put a definite spotlight on Indian talent. Meenakshi also explains that the honour of having Indians at international events goes both ways. The international platforms benefit from the presence of Indian stars a lot more. She says, “It works both ways. It is an acknowledgement of the individual artiste’s talent and global appeal, and also brings Indian eyeballs and media attention to the global event. The South Asian market is a solid 25 per cent of the world’s population, so having an Indian/South Asian icon brings a wider South Asian/global audience to the event, advertising, sponsorships, and more.”

Indian artistes have a Western appeal

The first time an Indian film made a big splash at an international event was when Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. It also saw Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai make an appearance on the Cannes’ red carpet. Devdas’ costume designer Neeta Lulla, whose work was also appreciated by foreign media reveals, “I think this whole phenomenon started back in 2003-04 when Aishwarya Rai went to Cannes again. At that time not many celebrities from other countries went to Cannes. It was mostly only Hollywood stars. Around 2015-16 the entire perspective of getting Indian films over to Cannes became popular. Aishwarya was always part of Cannes by virtue of the fact that she is a Miss World title holder. The fact that she went to Cannes by virtue of her global title and being a L’Oréal representative was important. And then around 2015-16 began a process where Indian films were promoted at Cannes.”

WhatsApp Image 2023-05-06 at 2.29.03 PM (1).

Mahesh Bhatt adds, “Cannes and Met Gala are prestigious events and the world keeps its eyes on these events. The international upmarket, glamour brands look for a face to represent them in our country, which has got a huge population and a growing sizeable upper middle-class that has an appetite for products manufactured by these labels. I think that is also one of the possible targets that Alia may be having to strike.”

WhatsApp Image 2023-05-06 at 2.29.03 PM.

Commerce fuels art

SS Rajamouli’s RRR and it’s Oscar triumph put a spotlight on Indian films and filmmaking talent. Meenakshi Shedde reveals that such triumphs aren’t just an outcome of art, but firm commercial decisions as well. She says, “RRR won a Golden Globe and an Oscar Nomination for Best Original Song for Naatu Naatu. It was the result of a painstaking, expensive US-centred global campaign for the film. After connecting with Japanese and French VFX and gaming experts and audiences, the RRR team went to the US. Even after the film was released in theatres in the US and on Netflix, Dylan Marchetti of Variance films, Josh Hurtado of Potentate Films and others orchestrated a re-release called encoRRRe, an Awards-season campaign for RRR. This included an interview of SS Rajamouli at the Toronto International Film Festival, a retrospective of his films at the AFI festival. Several top US directors, who are Oscar members, watched the film and tweeted about it, including Anthonv Russo and Joe Russo, Jason Blum, actor Jessica Chastain, directors James Gunn, Edgar Wright and Christopher Miller, and writer Jon Spaihts – all voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—and including top Marvel directors like the Russo brothers — all gushed about Rajamouli’s film on social media. This has given rise to speculation whether SS Rajamouli will direct a Marvel film in future.”
She further reveals that the effort was to establish Rajamouli and his film as global contenders. Meenakshi adds, “The campaign was clearly to establish Rajamouli’s global presence and open up the possibility of global collaborations.”

Indian actors can create a global market

Actors like Om Puri, Irrfan Khan and Anupam Kher have led the charge for Indian artistes to collaborate with foreign filmmakers. Now Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone and Alia Bhatt are setting new benchmarks for Indian actors being cast in Hollywood films. Casting director Tess Joseph who is also an Academy Member reveals world cinema is fast becoming more inclusive with focus on representation from different cultures around the world. She says, “Internationally, when it comes to cinema and art, the world is becoming a smaller place with cultures intersecting. As a world we are watching screens together and the audience is global. This is the era of global inclusive storytelling. Internationally when we are casting, the blinkers are off – your talent and your ability to resonate with the audience is all that matters. Casting calls are bridging continents and characters are not being force fitted into specifics – it is the age of colour blind casting! A star and a newer actor can be vying for the same role and it is your craft, your willingness to audition, the combination of merit and opportunity that is the foundation of international casting. I have seen this across projects we have done – be it White Tiger, Foundation or Wheel of Time.”

WhatsApp Image 2023-05-06 at 2.29.02 PM.

Film analyst Kumar Taurani offers a business perspective on how Indian content needs to go global. He says, “If you look into the Indian market, our content has not travelled the world in terms of box office numbers. Only 8-10 % of revenue comes from overseas revenue. That needs to have a multiplier effect. Over a period of time, that will happen, lead by great Indian creative directors telling good stories and actors that are going global.”
He further adds that Indian content will need to be made saleable for global audiences. Taurani explains, “Indian film industry needs to scale up to a very big level and it has to go global otherwise there’s no point because in India too, we have seen movies traveling within states and doing well. Films like RRR and KGF have been substantial hits. I think it is time to go global and more movies will travel abroad because of platforms such as Netflix and Amazon.”

Tracing a brief history

The contributions of Aishwarya-SRK taking Devdas to Cannes or Shekhar Kapur transitioning to Hollywood have been important markers in India’s efforts to go global. Meenakshi Shedde recalls that the trend is a lot older. She reveals, “In modern context, Bollywood was first discovered by the Berlin Film Festival, that showcased Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se with Shah Rukh Khan in 1999 and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 2000. Two years later, his Devdas was at Cannes in 2002. And of course Shekhar Kapur has made films in both the UK and US. But these are milestones in a nearly century-long journey of Indian films being screened at international stage.”
She further reveals about the rich history of Indian films on the international scene, stating, “Debaki Bose’s Seeta (1934), starring Prithviraj Kapoor and Durga Khote, was the first Indian talkie to be screened at an international film event—the Venice Film Festival—where it won an honorary diploma. This followed the Indo-German co-production trilogy in the silent era—the Light of Asia, Shiraz and A Throw of Dice, all directed by German director Franz Osten, who worked for Himanshu Rai and his wife Devika Rani. The three later established Bombay Talkies, a major pre-Independence studio, at Malad, Mumbai. I hope we reach those glory days again.”
Mahesh Bhatt is hopeful that those glory days can make a grand return to Indian cinema, when he says, “The world has now changed and the young are looking at the world much beyond the horizon of the yesteryear stars.” Meenakshi Shedde provides a good parting shot when she says, “Even if it seems absurd, I would encourage these collaborations because someone needs to cast the first stone.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *