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Why Bollywood Should Take ‘Make In India’ Seriously Too

Going by recent trends, it works better than ‘Make in Switzerland.’

28/08/2017 8:47 AM IST | Updated 28/08/2017 8:47 AM IST
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There was a time when we needed to escape the realities of India on celluloid. Yash Chopra built an empire taking us to Switzerland, and the country still thanks us for the endless supply of tourists we send there to see those mountains that Sridevi lip-synced her way around. But in times of relative economic prosperity and now with access to global cinema and television, maybe it's time our filmmakers stopped selling the same escapist fantasies.

If you turn on the television and attempt to watch some previews of new films, you'll see a wide array of party songs (mostly remakes and remixes), foreign locales and designer brands. Almost all of it is heavily influenced by western culture, be it the sound and style of the music, the clothing or even the physical location.

In the first six months of the year, five Indian stories that were made in India were actually the most successful.

But now that all of this exists inside of India, does sending our stars and crew units abroad really add any new value? Seeing Siddharth Malhotra and Jacqueline Fernandez showing off their abs as they gallivant around sunny foreign locales—is this really what we want to see? Filmmakers will say yes. But another set of people matters more: the audience.

This year, five of the most successful Hindi releases (dubbed or otherwise) were prominently made in India: the blockbuster to beat all other blockbusters Baahubali—The Conclusion, Jolly LLB, Hindi Medium, Raees and Badrinath Ki Dulhania. The latter film was the only film partially shot overseas, but keep in mind, much of it was filmed in India too and with a storyline and plotline that was so quintessentially (arguably backwards thinking) Indian you barely remembered it was shot outside this country!

So, in the first six months of the year, five Indian stories that were made in India were actually the most successful. But are our filmmakers in general aware that what's selling these days is Made In India? With our government pushing this nationalist leaning agenda successfully to the masses, why isn't the film industry?

Is it out of protest? Is it because we are daring to tell stories that can't exist in India? Well frankly, it seems just the opposite. Indian-shot films like Lipstick Under My Burkha (which garnered critical acclaim and box office success) and Indu Sarkaar actually stirred far more controversy than films shot in foreign locales simply because they hit a bit too close to home.

Isn't it strange then to think that stories and concepts about Indians in India are the ones that are being scrutinised? While those that depict an unrealistic fantasy overseas filled with opulence and excess are accepted unquestioningly?

Given the way the box office has reacted this year so far, it's not a surprise that Toilet-Ek Prem Katha has trumped Jab Harry Met Sejal at the box office.

I don't really use the word "hypocrisy" in India because it's a given. With such a large population and segments of it segregated into such vastly contrasting lives and lifestyles, there is no way that everyone will agree and see things the same way. Yet while it is documented year in and year out that Sunny Leone is India's most searched for star online, people have objections to her adopting a girl child from India with her husband. Wasn't their daughter made in India?

I don't understand the fascination that still exists with selling the West to India when the metros and now even the smaller towns have become their own versions of it. Words like "mall" and "multiplex" are part of the mainstream vernacular. And now with access to the entire planet's film and television catalogue, are Indians really interested in seeing Hrithik Roshan turning himself Brazilian for an Indian film when they can actually watch Brazilian films with their stars?

After all, the majority of Hindi films shot overseas have English or Hinglish dialogues. They are as comprehendible as foreign films.

I used to wonder when I'd go to see an English film in the theatre, what exactly were the audience members understanding? Recently as I've been watching Hindi films, I've asked myself that same question.

My story that I chronicled in my book Holy Cancer: How A Cow Saved My Life is very Indian. In fact it's so Indian that most Indians are unwilling to explore or try the lifestyle I chose to save my own life. After my recovery, some friends of mine connected with the film industry suggested that I sell my book and turn it into a film.

For me, the integrity of my story getting even remotely compromised would change the entire narrative of my book. I can't be seen singing to a Jersey cow in Switzerland!

I'll admit I got a lot of interest in the material by producers and studios. But when they started to inform me that my story might change or that the integrity of the project would be better maintained if I took it to a Hollywood producer, I wondered—how exactly have we become so far removed from our own culture and traditions that parallel cinema/independent films are the only ones actually sharing Indian stories and the majority of big commercial films are spewing out stories that actually the majority of people can't relate to.

For me, the integrity of my story getting even remotely compromised would change the entire narrative of my book. I can't be seen singing to a Jersey cow in Switzerland!

All of this begs the question, when will the box office actually resonate well enough with the studios and production houses to create more Indian stories that aren't just made for the NRI star-obsessed crowd or for the metro multiplex crowds. Are they the only ones that matter?

It's a tell-tale sign when the most successful Hindi film of the year is a dubbed South Indian movie with a cast that's little known in the north. Now more than ever, content drives sales. Indian stories drive sales. In the next two weekends we will see how two very different films engage the audience. Given the way the box office has reacted this year so far, it's not a surprise that Toilet-Ek Prem Katha has trumped Jab Harry Met Sejal at the box office. But then again, who am I to question our top brand ambassador to the world Shah Rukh Khan and say what is "made in India?"

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