by Sherif Awad
It is very common to meet someone of Indian descent who speaks English fluently but it is a rarity to find that same person also equally fluent fluent in French, Russian, German, Italian and Spanish. !is is how Indian film producer Prakash Sharma caught my attention when we crossed paths in Russia last year. Like all the Indians I met, Sharma is down to earth yet most professional in his work as a film producer, financer and distributor. From his offices in Moscow, Geneva, and of course, Bombay, Sharma’s film practice is bilateral; he acquires the rights to foreign films for release in Indian cinemas while distributing Indian films worldwide, and even striking co-production deals of documentaries and narratives among divergent Asian countries. With an annual production reaching one thousand films plus, Indian cinema, which is as diverse as Indian cul-
ture, heritage and linguistics, has come to be followed throughout Asian nations, !e Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the independent nations that once comprised the former Soviet Union. In the Egypt of the 1970s and 1980s, we grew up watching Indian films starring Raj Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in theatres specifically devoted to Indian cinema. Sometimes Indian films, such as Sangam (1964), starring Kapoor, or Mard (1985) starring Bachchan, were subject to several re-releases to the point that they could continue to be played in cinemas for the whole year. Although the rise of multiplexes showing modern Hollywood productons affected the popularity of Indian cinema in the last decade, Indian films are reasserting their popularity in Arab countries, especially in the Arab nations of Asia, such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, where Indian immigrant workers are keen to immerse themselves in their national heritage on celluloid. Recently, the popularity of
Indian cinema was revived through co-production, exportation, new shooting locations and tributes. For instance, Indian cinema was celebrated at the Cairo Festival four years ago with the attendance of the beautiful actress Celina Jaitly, and Indian star
Irrfan Khan, among others; A film like Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) starring Amitabh Bachchan, an icon of the past, and Shah Rukh Khan, an icon of the present, was shot at locales in India, England, and Egypt; Slumdog Millionaire (2008), an officially British production with Indian settings, won eight Oscar statuettes; My Name Is Khan (2009) that starred Shah Rukh Khan had American settings and was distributed in many countries by 20th Century Fox. Hence the appreciation simportance of bilateral film producer like Prakash Sharma who have learned to eloquently bridge the culture of his country with the world. !e success of Indian films at the international box offices have come about as a direct result of rich regional ticket sales. “Among a huge population of 1.21 billion, Indian filmgoers are cinephilias, as they have developed a visual culture throughout the years”, Sharma says. “Some of our directors never had an academic film education but they
were self-taught from watching films, Indian and non-India, or starting from scratch in a technical crew. !is is of course is in addition to the various film academies and schools across the various regions of India”. Indian cinema distribution has expanded worldwide, especially in the English speaking countries… Great Britain, USA, Australia, and New Zealand come readily to mind. Rising Indian filmmakers have tended to discover new
locations for their new films as they tackle new genres, despite their somewhat imitation of wellknown Western icons. With Indian star Saif Ali Khan, and the beautiful Kareena Kapoor, Sriram Raghavan directed the 007-inspired Agent Vinod (2012) that became the first Indian film to be shot in the Latvian capital of Riga. Indian cinema also created Ra One, a film whose main protagonist is an Indian superhero. !e film stars Shah Rukh Khan in the title role, a superhero who exempli-
fies characteristics that are a melding of attributes found in the American heroes depicted in both Marvel and DC Comics. Current Indian film production supports a similarly big music production replete with film musicals, lavish sets, beautiful costumes and exotic dancing. Certain to stir a sense of jealousy in Hollywood, it may be the catalyst that will revive Hollywood’s forsaken film genre. “Technology isan element being insinuated in new Indian films”, noted Prakash. “Recently, 3D productions of action and horror films which became prominent in the last coupe of years have inculcated Indian film. For instance Vikram Bhatt directed a 3D horror film called Haunted about a young man investigating a murder in a mansion that was rumored to have a paranormal presence. !at film went on to make USD $10 million at the international box office”. Indian cinema celebrates its centenary this year. In fact, a hundred years ago, Indian producer-director-screenwriter Dadasaheb Phalke, who is also known as the father of Indian cinema, made his debut in 1913 with Raja Harishchandra which is historically known as India’s first long narrative. Phalke’s inspiration for his picture came from a silent film about the life and passion of Jesus Christ. In realizing this milestone film, Palke also wanted to translate the lives of Indian Gods to the screen. Whether it was coincidence, or inspiration, Praskash Sharma is inspired by his Indian heritage and is currently casting a new project based on the Hindu philosophical and theological traditions of his formative years. “It is focusing on Lord Krishna who was always described and portrayed as an infant or young boy playing a flute in drawings and inside temples”, says Sharma, who is also curating many Indian film programs across the world to celebrate the great centenary.