Not Just a Night at The Movies
FilmInk reports on the Opening Night festivities, which kicked off the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.
It goes without saying that Indian cinema does things very differently than what Western audiences are accustomed to; their colourful, bright films are usually of epic length, and it can turn a simple night out at the movies into a fun social event with more to offer than just a movie. Knowing this, the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne kicked off its inaugural year with a bang, giving audiences a peek at just how unique Bollywood is - and all this before the film had actually started.
One of the festival's highlights is Teri Meri Kahaani, a love story spanning three different time periods; the many song and dance numbers came alive as a troupe of dancers took the room by storm, doing exactly the same kind of colourful, complicated dance which everyone associates with a Bollywood film. They were quickly joined by the makers of the film: director Kunal Kohli, producer Vicky Bahri, and costume designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, all on hand to open up the festival and to promote the film.
However, the real stars of the night were the impossibly good-looking starring duo: Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra, who caused an uproar just by sitting down and waving at the crowd.
The traditional Hollywood model dictates that, in order for a movie to be made, a script must first be written and greenlit, with casting and other considerations coming once the movie is in production. Bollywood works the other way round: once they have an idea, producers have to get a star to agree to it, and then the movie is built around their personas - usually the script is written at the very end. The "star system" in India is huge enough to even dwarf the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and stars are such in every sense of the word, earning the adoration and devotion of millions of fans.
No surprise then that Kapoor and Chopra's appearance had such an overwhelming effect; a very small-scale version of Beatlemania.
The duo was gracious enough to address fans' questions, including many impromptu wedding proposals, off-the-cuff declarations of love, and requests for photographs. Many Bollywood stars are also very private about their personal lives, and these two are no exception: questions about what they do in their own time, or who designed Priyanka's dress - Sabyasachi, known as the "Versace of India", quietly gleamed with pride - or what she does to stay in shape, were met with casual laughter and asides.
The duo then joined the dancers to reproduce their moves from Meri Teri; with Kapoor being a trained dancer, his shaking hips nearly brought the house down. It is a testament to their popularity, and that of many Bollywood stars, that after they made their exit, they took half the crowd with them, being mobbed before even leaving the theater. Down to earth and friendly, they both showed a real, humbling appreciation for their fans, instead of hiding behind a wall of bodyguards, a marked change from your usual Hollywood premieres.
The Opening Night Film also turned out to be quite a change of pace for cinephiles. Kahaani, starring current Indian superstar and Festival Ambassador, Vidya Balan, is a thriller with no musical numbers in sight.
It's the story of Vidya Bagchi, a pregnant woman who arrives in Kolkata from London to search for her missing husband. She ends up uncovering a conspiracy involving shady government agencies; biological weapons; an unassuming, nerdy contract killer; and a Keyser Soze-like figure called Milan Damji, who everyone is looking for but no one has actually seen.
The main goal of a Bollywood film is to entertain, and this film does just that, by including a huge number of crowd-pleasing elements: there's action, suspense, a bit of romance between Vidya and the straight-arrow cop helping her out, drama, and even some off-the-wall humour (the steely contract killer is first introduced as an office drone being mercilessly berated by his boss). It's a full course meal, catering to all audience tastes, culminating in a Usual Suspects-style twist ending, which reveals it as a film about female empowerment.
In a typically male-dominated society such as India, seeing female roles that are independent and strong-willed is a rarity, and the work of actresses such as Vidya Balan have been a game-changer. Here, her character is looked after and thought of as harmless because of her condition, and she ends up turning the tables on everyone and having an incredibly sharp mind. A strong female role, as well as a role model.
This is just one of the ways in which Indian cinema has evolved, and also how different it is from what Hollywood has us accustomed to. The Indian Film Festival opened its doors to this new world of cinema, with its colourful, energetic dance routines, dazzling stars and eager-to-please filmmaking styles, making for a night out at the movies which was far more than just sitting down, eating popcorn, and leaving once the lights come up.
The Indian Film Festival runs in Melbourne (June 11-22), with Sydney (June 24-July 4), Adelaide (July 13-15) and Auckland (August 2-8) to follow. For more information, head here.