To celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema, there was a production of Bollywood Carmen in Bradford. It had songs, dances, a (fake) elephant and a real Bollywood star. I spoke to the director, Indra Bhose, about it. Incidentally, Bhose came to India some years ago to shoot a series called Bombay Blue, which was about two British cops who come to Mumbai for a case and then get roped into working with the Mumbai police on local cases. I haven’t seen the show, but it sounds like great fun. Back to Bollywood Carmen…
In case you were wondering if there’s a scene in Bizet’s Carmen in which a character enters like Deol did on an elephant with an entourage of dancers, there isn’t. “The toreador in the opera, Escamillo, is the great hero,” said Bhose. “He arrives, the women all love him, the men all want to be like him. So we turned that into a Bollywood star who’s coming to town.” Bhose’s inspiration for AD [the Bollywood star] was Shah Rukh Khan. “I was watching a Bollywood award function and Shah Rukh Khan came in on a winged, bird-like creature,” recalled the director. “I saw that and I thought, I’ve got to use something like that.” Don José in Bhose’s version is a security guard called Don (Stephen Rahman-Hughes) who is smitten by Carmen and can’t handle being rejected by her. Rahman-Hughes sings a sad version of “Kolaveri” and visually, that song is one of the more striking scenes in Bollywood Carmen.
The lead character of Carmen also got tweaked. “Instead of being just a man-eater, she has an ambition,” said Bhose. His Carmen, played by Preeya Kalidas, is desperate to get out of Bradford, where she’s labelled a troublemaker, and make a fresh and glamorous start in Bollywood. The story of the aspiring Bollywood starlet isn’t one we hear too often and the dream of being spotted by a director — like Carmen hopes to be spotted by AD when he’s going past on his elephant — is one cloud castle that hasn’t crumbled over the past 100 years. Young women have done everything from college plays to commercials to showing up in a director’s room wearing next to nothing, in the hope that a director or producer will spot a heroine in them. Unlike the aspiring actress in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck By Chance, which was Bollywood’s attempt at introspection, Carmen has no illusion that acting talent will make her dreams come true. It’s a vicious business and she knows her womanly wiles are her best arsenal. So she uses them unabashedly. It works initially, but the tables soon turn on her.
You can read the whole piece on BBC Three’s Bollywood Carmen here.
Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce has woken up to the fact that Bollywood is a global…er, thing. Most of us knew this already, but s’ok. More amusing to me was how some, like Techdirt.com, assumed that because India has a largely successful film industry, it doesn’t need a lecture on piracy and copyright. Anyway, so this is something I wrote when the USCC released a statement saying it thought Bollywood may well be India’s next big export.
Obviously Techdirt isn’t familiar with the esteemed Bollywood traditions of either script doctoring or looking for inspiration. The former requires a writer to stitch together what is usually an unholy splatter of a story into something close to a coherent script. The description of the latter has changed over the decades. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it meant locking a writer in a hotel room that had a working TV and VHS/DVD player, with a stack of films to watch. These were usually Hollywood titles. If the producer and director were adventurous, a new script was cobbled together from bits and pieces of various films. Otherwise, the writer’s job was to put in VHS/ DVD, transcribe and translate what he saw while suggesting the modifications necessary to Indianise the story.
In the early 2000s, looking for inspiration meant going to Sarvodaya or Digital World in Bandra and asking for the latest foreign movies. This is why the first thing any reviewer does in India, even today, is figure out which older film inspired it. Curiously, I can’t remember the Indian censor board ever refusing to certify a film for not being original. It became more difficult to do this when foreign studios set up shop in India and a few of them went after the Indian remakes. These days, Bollywood has become far more open-minded. It’s not held against a scriptwriter if s/he has original ideas. Some of them even get made into films, provided a star likes the sound of the script. …
However, this isn’t the whole picture. For all the popularity of Bollywood, our blockbuster films don’t hold a candle to their Hollywood counterparts, either in terms of imagination or storytelling. The only thing we do better than anyone else is kitsch. Aside from a few rare examples, the plots in Indian commercial cinema – regardless of language – pole vault over logic with a nonchalance that Sergei Bubka would envy. Ok, so we can’t afford the kind of budgets that The Avengers and Man of Steel had, but where are our Love Actuallys andLittle Miss Sunshines? Why haven’t we been able to be part of a multi-national production like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or been able to capitalize on the success of Slumdog Millionaire? China, incidentally, milked the popularity of CTHD and since its release in 2000, Chinese films have earned billions annually at the US box office.
You can read the whole piece here.