Two interesting Bollywood based events were organized for the first time in the city of Newcastle; the first was a film festival titled, “Bollywood 101 Film Festival” and second “International Conference on Bollywood and Its Other(s)”. The Bollywood 101 Film Festival was held on 20th February and the International Conference on “Bollywood and Its Other(s) was held on 21st of February 2014.
The Bollywood 101 Film Festival being a community event aimed to bring the Bollywood aficionados in Newcastle for an evening with some key Aussie-Indian filmmakers along with some cultural celebrations. This film festival also marks a first of its kind of a get together around Bollywood cinema in Newcastle.
After the success of the Bollywood event, convener Vikrant Kishore speaks to Public Telegraph about the Bollywood event , its outcome and his association with Bollywood industry
How do you come up with the idea of this event?
Since Bollywood Cinema is my research area, therefore, I am trying to work towards developing it as a research subject in the University of Newcastle. Fortunately, I have received a great support and encouragement to include Bollywood as a research focus in the School of Design, Communication and IT, University of Newcastle. The Head of School, Dr Anne Llewellyn and the Discipline Head of Communication Dr Phillip McIntyre have been very supportive. We were successful in forming a Bollywood Research Unit under the Hunter Creative Industries and Technology Centre (HCIT) of the University of Newcastle last year.
I wanted to organize an international conference where academics and filmmakers could gather and discuss and make paper presentations about the 100 years of Indian cinema, specifically Bollywood/Hindi cinema. The idea for organizing a film festival was aimed towards bringing together the Indians and Australians interested in Bollywood cinema in and around the Hunter region, and thereby also to let everyone know the new research focus and community events around Bollywood and Indian cinema that we plan to organize on a regular basis in and around Newcastle. These were the first two events of HCIT since its formation last year.
How was the response for the ‘Film festival and the Conference’?
The response for both the events have been phenomenal… for the Bollywood 101 Film festival all the 400 tickets were booked. For the Bollywood and its Other(s) Conference, we received more than 50 submissions for paper presentations, out of which we invited 40 experts from the academia and media industry to participate. This has been the biggest gathering for any conference focusing on Bollywood cinema in Australia. Therefore, we are really happy with the kind of response we have received for both the events.
Can you brief us about the Film festival and ‘Bollywood and its others conference’?
The Bollywood 101 Film Festival had an eclectic mix of films that showcased two mainstream films and two documentaries. The mainstream films were – I Am Megha directed by Onir and co-produced by Sydney based media person and photographer Raj Suri and the 2010 Bollywood blockbuster Raajneeti directed by Prakash Jha. The short documentaries were – Indian Aussies: Terms & Conditions Apply, which is a short documentary by well-known filmmaker Anupam Sharma exploring the width and breath of culture, education, and identity amongst Indian Aussies. The second short documentary Dancing to the Tunes of Bollywood– a research based film that I recently completed; this film explores the use of song and dance in Bollywood cinema.
The “Bollywood and Its Other(s) Conference” on 21st February saw the participation of many known academics and media persons from Australia and India. The Keynote speaker was the Indian-Aussie filmmaker Anupam Sharma, who led the conference into deeper discussion on the meaning and purpose of Bollywood as an industry. Raj Suri chaired the session on the Australia-Bollywood connections, which had Aman Raniga, Anupam Sharma and Annette Hubber in the panel.
Kumud Merani led the discussion on Women in Bollywood cinema, with Anita Barar and Saheen Ahmed in the panel. Filmmaker and producer Sandeep Verma moderated the discussion on Bollywood dreams and branding with Alex Singh, Christopher Raja and Amar Sran in the panel.
Dr Amit Sarwal led desire and Crime Session with Shruti Nagpal, Abbas Zaheer and Dr Vikrant Kishore in the panel. Bollywood as Soft Power session was chaired by Dr Phillip McIntyre with Yask Desai and Savitri Naidoo and the panel on Bollywood and its cinematic others was led by Dr Susan Kerrigan with Parichay Patra and Dr Amit Sarwal in the panel.
While Sarwal spoke on the linguistic politics of the industry and the emergence of ‘Hinglish’ as a medium, Patra concentrated on the trials and tribulations of the New Wave exponents of the 1970s who continued to make films in Hindi outside the mainstream industry. Lucky Singh presented some interesting observations concerning the challenges and opportunities for the Indians in Australian media. Nalin Sharda chaired the session on Bollywood in Australian Media & Community with Kumud Merani, Shveata Chandel Singh and Manju Mittal.
The highlight of the conference was the plenary meeting and Q&A session conducted by Vikrant Kishore on the “Similarities and Differences between Hollywood and Bollywood” with Jeffery Julian, a Hollywood futurist who worked with Steven Spielberg in the blockbusters like Minority Report. Julian currently serves as the creative director for research and innovation clusters at the University of Newcastle.
The valedictory speaker at the conference was the renowned Australian filmmaker and producer John Winter (Rabbit Proof Fence, Black & White & Sex, Paperback Hero) who stressed on a never-ending dialogue between Australia and India in the field of film production.
The conference challenged stereotypes about Bollywood (in a wider consideration, non-Western cinemas) and unmythified the myths about the latter. We would like to believe that the possibility of an academic dialogue between the Australian and Indian film industries is not a distant dream any more.
What was the objective of ‘Bollywood and its others’ conference in Newcastle?
There were two main objectives of this conference:
- To introduce the criticality of Indian popular cinema (specifically Bollywood), which has so far been addressed as a cheap entertainer in the West. Even though a sizeable literature on Bollywood is in circulation, people located outside the discipline of Film Studies have rarely been exposed to this emergent area of scholarship. Our aim was to focus on the 100 years of Bollywood cinema and the changes that it has undergone over the years; in addition, to bring to the fore the various debates that surround Bollywood and the other cinemas of India.
- To analyze the growing importance of Bollywood cinema in Australia and how this exchange of cinema culture between Australia and India is leading to further understanding of Indian culture in Australia. Utilisation of Australia as a location for Bollywood films have resulted in the boost to Indian tourism in Australia, and it has also resulted in promoting Australia as a destination for higher education for Indian students.
It was such a huge event, and people from different parts of Australia participated in that, so what challenges you faced and what is the outcome of it?
The challenge was to make both the event exciting as well as thought provoking. For the film festival, it was about getting the right films to screen that would appeal to both Indians and Australians. For the conference, it was important that it should have a good mix of academics and industry experts to start a good discussion on Bollywood cinema and other regional cinemas of India, in addition a discussion on the growing importance of Bollywood cinema in Australia and how this exchange of cinema culture between Australia and India is leading to further understanding of Indian culture in Australia.
We formed panels of experts that would enliven the discussions and provide insights on the subject. We were able to get some key people on board, both from Australia and India, thus making each of the conference panels a mix of academics and industry experts to have an informed discussion that would help the understanding of the cinemas of India and the consumption and reception of Indian cinema in Australia.
The outcome of both the event to sum up in one word would be “Fantastic”.
Did you have speakers from other countries as well?
Yes, we did have speakers from India, Shruti Nagpal from VIPS, Delhi and Shaheen Ahmed from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Many speakers could not make it to the conference due to visa or funding issues, but were able to send their paper to be included in the conference proceedings, such as Prof. Farhat Bashir Khan from MCRC Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, Mrunal Chavda from the University of Exeter, England, Masrufa Ayesha Nusrat from Bangladesh, Madhurjya Kotoky, and Meraj Ahmed Mubaraki from India.
Will there be any impact of this two-day event on the Indian-Australian relationship?
Well it is too early to start talking in terms of any impact, I would rather say that the film festival and especially the conference has started a good discussion point among the Australian and Indian academics and media persons about the film and media relationship between India and Australia and how this can be made much more fruitful and conclusive for both the sides.
Especially, the Indian-Australians are keen to explore the avenues where there can be much more collaborative projects between Australia and India, as well as, projects undertaken by Australian media that also focuses on the growing Indian diaspora.
As the conference was not limited to academicians and large number of speakers from other backgrounds also participated. So what was the main idea of bringing people from different fields together for this conference?
I believe that having a conference especially on subjects like media and films cannot be complete without the participation of the actual practitioners themselves. The filmmakers and media producers bring with them a wealth of knowledge that the academics should take note of and utilize the expertise of the practitioners in their research work.
This not only fosters good understanding of the various perspectives both in terms of academia and film practitioners, but it also provides a good networking opportunity for the two to collaborate in research based projects.Do you think, more such events frequently will bring the Indian and Australian film industry closer?
How would you characterize India’s Bollywood journey? What is your favorite film?
India’s cinematic journey cannot be explained in few words… it is a whole thesis in itself but to sum up in few words: Hindi Cinema, which is popularly known as Bollywood across the world, has been able to retain its own local flavor and unique approach to filmmaking, predominantly because Indians across the world want to see their own stories set up in a large canvas. If there are films being made in the typical masala style, then there are serious films made on social and political issues as well.
There are also many young independent filmmakers who have been able to make their mark by making films in the subject they believe in… thus, I find Hindi/Bollywood cinema has entered a very interesting time, where it is being challenged for its repetitive style of filmmaking, and newer forms of storytelling is being explored. Filmmakers are also moving outside of Indian metros and locating the narratives in small towns and villages, as well as, telling the story of the Indian diaspora set in various international cities.
I can’t name any single film as my favorite. There are too many films that I love. I would rather pick few mainstream Hindi films from each decade, which I have loved either for its good storyline or entertainment value…. I wouldn’t mind watching them again.
1940s: Andaz (1949)
1950s: Mother India and Naya Daur, Pyaasa (all the three films were released in 1957)
1960s: GangaJamuna (1961), Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, Mujhe Jeene Do (1963), Guide (1965)
1970s: Sholay (1975), Kati Patang (1970), Deewar (1975), Namak Haraam (1973), Amar Akbar Anthony (1977), Kaala Paththar (1979)
1980s: Namak Halaal (1982), Arth, Gandhi (1982), Ardh Satya (1983), Arjun (1985), Ghulami (1985), Naam (1986), Parinda (1989)
1990s: Agneepath (1990), Hum (1991), Taal (1999)
2000s: Devdas (2002), Sarkar (2005), 3 Idiots (2009)
2010s: RaktaCharitra (2010), Rockstar (2011)
For how long you have been associated with the Bollywood industry and what are your experiences with it?
As an independent filmmaker, a journalist and an academician my association with Bollywood film industry has always been of an outsider.
As a journalist with Zee News, I had the opportunity of interviewing various celebrities. We had invited Hritik Roshan for our programme in 2000 just after the success of Kaho Na PyaarHai. Interviewing people like Manoj Bajpayee, Kunal Kohli, Tanuja Chandra, Sanjay Dutt, Emraan Hashmi, Neha Sharma, Neha Dhupia, Remo D’Souza, Longinus Fernandez for my film “Dancing to the Tunes of Bollywood”, was a great experience.
What is your best experience with the Bollywood industry?
The best experience was meeting Aishwarya Rai… she is absolutely stunning! But I am still waiting to interview Amitabh Bachchan, he is the ultimate Bollywood legend… and I hope this year I will be able to conduct a special interview with him for my next project.
You have many documentaries to your credit, so can you briefly tell us about some of your documentary works?
As a documentary filmmaker, I am interested in exploring the folk dance forms of India. I have been a student of Purulia Style of Chhau dance under the tutelage of Padamshree Nepal Mahato and Lalit Mahato. Chhau Dance is a mask based martial art dance form that depicts the story of Good winning over evil from various Indian mythologies such as Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas.
I have also led the teams of Chhau dance to various international folklore festival and Festival of India in Canada, France, Belgium, UK, Switzerland, Thailand, Netherland, Italy etc. Therefore, as a filmmaker, I wanted to tell the story of Chhau dance and other folk dance forms. I have made three films on Chhau Dance:
1. Dance of the Gods – explored the religious and ritualistic aspects of Chhau dance.
2. Dancing for themselves…Manbhum Style” deals with the life of two simple yet passionate and dedicated Chhau dancers and musicians Lalit Mahato and Lambodhar Kalindi.
3. World’s Music and My Dance: The final film on Chhau focuses on the group of Chhau dancers from the village of Adabana travel to France to participate in the various International Folk Dance Festivals in 2006.
What is your dream project?
The dream project is yet to take shape… but would love to do an Australia based Hindi musical…. Probably will start something in Newcastle next year. I shot two Bollywood style music videos last year in Newcastle, which have come out quite well…
You are passionate to promote Bollywood industry and this event speaks about your enthusiasm, so what are your plans for future?
I would like to promote Bollywood cinema as a focus area in terms of research in Australia. Also, I want Bollywood films to reach to a wider audience, rather than being focused only to the Indian audiences in Australia.
These two events, the Bollywood 101 film festival and the Bollywood and Its Other(s) conference, did provide us with an understanding about how Bollywood cinema enthuses and interests people from all walks of life in Australia. I am already getting requests from various quarters to make these two events an annual feature in Newcastle, which of course our aim was… so yes, you will see few more events around Bollywood cinema in Newcastle and the Hunter region, be it a film festival, a Bollywood cultural evening, a Bollywood themed gathering or a round table discussion on Indian/Bollywood cinema at the University.
How is the response of the students towards Bollywood? Is there any plan to introduce some Bollywood related courses as well in the University?
Bollywood has intrigued many students, and they have been very open to working in Bollywood cinema. When I was teaching at Deakin University in Melbourne, we used to conduct a Bollywood Study tour, for which every year more than 20 Australian students traveled to Mumbai and Delhi to get a feel of filmmaking in India.
Last year at the University of Newcastle, I introduced a focused study on Bollywood Song and Dance in the Music Video course that I coordinate and teach. I along with Dr Susan Kerrigan introduced Bollywood Style Music Video as project for the course. The students were really happy to do such a project, which had an international collaboration aspect. Here is the link to that collaborative video that I did with my students :
MAHIYA AA BHI JAA (BOLLYWOOD STYLE MUSIC VIDEO)
I plan to continue experimenting with Bollywood style filmmaking in the Media Production courses that I teach. This year also I have plans to introduce some of the aspects of Bollywood cinema and to get some Bollywood style music video produced. If there are any dancers, choreographers, musicians who would like to collaborate with us on these music videos, they are more than welcome to contact me.