Blue, white and paisley

Bollywood came to the Holy Land last week, as a delegation visited the Jerusalem Film Festival to strengthen ties between Israeli and Indian cinema.

Vinod Kumar, and Gilli Mendel 311 (photo credit: courtesy/JFF)
Vinod Kumar, and Gilli Mendel 311
(photo credit: courtesy/JFF)
‘We are looking for Indian stories that will appeal to an international audience,” said Vinod Kumar, the director of Nirvana Motion Pictures, a Bollywood film production company (as well as the head of several other enterprises, among them several high-tech companies).
He was visiting Israel as part of sizable delegation from Bollywood at the 28th Jerusalem Film Festival, in a seminar sponsored by Project Interchange/AJC (American Jewish Committee). Kumar was on his way to introduce a screening of his latest film, Gangor, which deals with the exploitation of tribal women in rural India. While the stereotypical Bollywood film is full of singing, dancing and romance, Gangor is serious and very sincere in its plea for the world to take notice of the most vulnerable women in the subcontinent.
“Gangor is the first official co-production between India and Italy,” he said of the film, which was directed by Italo Spinelli.
“And we are hoping for many more co-productions with other countries.”
He is especially excited about the possibility of coproductions with Israel.
“Israel is a land of entrepreneurs,” he said with obvious admiration over coffee in the lobby of the Begin Heritage Center. “I hope this is the beginning of a period of broader ties between the Israeli and Indian film industries.”
While in Israel, Kumar had several meetings with Israeli producers, and he was optimistic that film projects might come out of these contacts, some of which were quite informal.
“People have been coming up to me with scripts,” he said.
“I understand that Israelis travel a great deal in India, after the army and so forth. There are so many possibilities for cross-cultural scripts; we have an Indian Diaspora around the world of 20 million people, many of whom would be interested in co-productions.”
The delegation included Supran Sen, the Secretary General of the Film Federation of India; film producers Sundeep “Bobby” Bedi, Vivek Singhania and Shirish Kunder; directors Tilak Raj Magan and Abhishek Sharma; actor Aftab Shivdasani; and Priya Tandon, the AJC’s representative in India.
THE APPETITE for serious Indian films, not just formula Bollywood musicals and farces, is growing as audiences become more sophisticated, members of the delegation said.
The growth of multiplexes, which have come to India relatively recently, is actually a boon for more ambitious filmmakers, Kumar said.
“When you have smaller auditoriums, as you do in a multiplex, then films that appeal to a better educated audience can be shown. These films wouldn’t have been released in a bigger theater.”
Director Abhishek Sharma said he thought films could be a vehicle to encourage tolerance among groups that have been in conflict, citing his own 2010 film Tere Bin Laden as an example.
“It’s about a Pakistani journalist who has been trying to get a visa to the United States and can’t get one, so he makes a fake video that is supposedly from Bin Laden, as a way to get the US,” he said. The good-natured spoof, which was conceived and made before Bin Laden’s murder, was a hit in India.
“It was banned in Pakistan,” said Sharma. “But it was a big hit on the pirated DVD market there.”
As a political spoof, “it brought people together.”
The lead actor Ali Zafar, one of the most popular singers in Pakistan, has become popular in India as a result of the film’s success and was voted one of the top actors in Bollywood in a recent poll.
“If Indians are enjoying the work of a Pakistani actor, it helps change the hostility between the nations,” said Sharma. “There is so much color and richness in Bollywood; that’s just a fact of cinematic life.”
Reflecting on the difference between his work as a tech entrepreneur and a film producer, Kumar said, “When you’re writing computer programs, your work ends with some logic. But with cinema, your work is done when you find something that moves your heart.”