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Spat over Slumdog Millionaire at Wharton

Last updated on: March 29, 2010 11:11 IST

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Suman Mozumder in Philadelphia

Can Slumdog Millionaire be an example of globalization of Bollywood films albeit in a small way?

Vidya Balan thinks so though music director Shankar Mahadevan disagrees. The two had a brief spat over the issue at the 14th Wharton India Economic Forum at Philadelphia. Over 500 members of the audience witnessed their arguments over the issue.

The two, along with actor Anil Kapoor, film director Rakeysh Mehra and Namit Malhotra, CEO of Prime Focus, were speaking over the weekend at a panel on globalization of mainstream Indian cinema, and the achievements and prospects of Bollywood entertainment industry.

The question was from the moderator, Aseem Chhabra, a noted film expert, as to why Indian movies that have been popular in the Middle east and other parts of the world like erstwhile Soviet Russia in the past are not popular in Europe or the US despite the fact that many of them have done well foreign festivals and have been appreciated by critics. In this connection he mentioned Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire that has been very popular, but not other Indian films and he wanted to why.

And, Mahadevan and Balan had differences of opinions on Slumdog Millionaire.

To the contention of the music director that Slumdog Millionaire is not an Indian movie, Balan shot back: 'Are you saying that this cannot be used as an example of globalization of Indian films in that sense?'

Shankar's answer was a firm no. 'This film could have been shot in Africa,' Mahadevan quipped. Not to give up, Balan said she believed it was an important step because the platform is what makes Bollywood films globalized.

'I can't see any film director coming from the West to an Indian music director unless he wants something special, something exotic, or something related to fusion music or some such thing,' Mahadevan said. 'I understand where it is coming from,' Balan shot back.


Image: Vidya Balan and Shankar Mahadevan
Video: Paresh Gandhi
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'The world wants to see India and they do not want to see an American idea made in India'

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Later during the question answer session director Mehra explained what it takes for globalization of Bollywood movies.

'To globalize Indian films you have to make more and more Indian subjects. You have to get more colloquial. The world wants to see India and they do not want to see an American idea made in India.

'There is no dearth of talent (in India). It is better if we can be cultural ambassadors. Money will follow. Our actors are getting accepted. It is just the content -- how as a country we can intermingle with the world, how many of us can have Chinese boy friends and Italian girl friends and how many of the parents will accept is the question. When we interact socially with the world, our movies will reflect that. It is not a problem," Mehra said.


Image: Rakeysh Mehra

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'I feel there is great future for Indian films'

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Incidentally, the movie also figured in purely academic discussions on India's prospect for growth and development when Naveen Jindal, Member of Parliament, said that India needs to achieve its goal of making the country slum free in the next five years. 'If we can achieve that, all the ills that we saw in the movie (will be gone),' he said.

Earlier, Mehra said in the Bollywood panel discussion that  there has been two great changes in the past ten years as far as Bollywood movies are concerned -- the exhibition of films through the multiplexes that ahs been growing and secondly in terms of finance for firm making.

'What has changed in the film making in India in a nutshell is that financing is now more structured as money belongs to the banks and financial institutions. You are answerability to the money is much more and contractual. The money has become cleaner and there is a whole lot of transparency in the industry,' he said.

'The glass is still half full or half empty. There is a long way to go in terms of accountability of the whole country, but it is much better and things are falling in place,' he said.

No different was the take of Kapoor who felt that the biggest change that has come is the growth of multiplexes and the availability of funding. I feel there is great future for Indian films," Kapoor said.


Image: Anil Kapoor

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'We cannot take a Kajra Re Kajra Re and put on to Rock On'

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Mahadevan felt that before the multiplex boom and reentering of good cinema, the Indian film industry, namely Bollywood, went through a big cloud of mediocrity.

'Ten to 15 years ago there were only mediocre scripts, terrible performances, bad music, double meaning of songs, and in that period people lost interest in watching films and stopped going to the theater and watched videos, if at all,' he said.

Mahadevan said slowly, intelligent film makers came back and made good films alongside multiplexes that have helped increase the breath of viewers even in remote towns and cities.

'But I think to some extent we are still suffering the injuries of the past,' he said.

In response to a question about music, he said while compositions of old-time musicians like O P Nayar were good and people knew what to expect from their compositions, today's film industry demands something different.

'Today we look at ourselves as designers of music that is suitable to a particular film. We cannot take a Kajra Re (from the film Bunti aur Bubli) and put on to Rock On. That is not done. I think (as musicians) we can achieve success if our music does not have a particular style (that is recognisable). We will be happy if people cannot recognize that this is mine or our music. Otherwise, all will be the same.'


Image: Shankar Mahadevan

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