Berlin Film Festival shows Indian films

June 24, 2014 08:56 AM

By Schavan Riaz

Every year the prestigious Berlin Film Festival screens an Indian film in a country that is, surprisingly, mad about Bollywood. The fascination started in 2005, when Karan Johar's 'Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham' was broadcast on national German television, dubbed entirely in German, playing itself into the hearts of (mostly) German women. Things like singing, dancing and Shahrukh Khan, opened up a world hitherto unknown to them and the festival caught up on this instantly. 
This year, the programmers adopted a slightly different approach. Berlin became the venue for the world premiere of Imtiaz Ali's 'Highway', a film that was far removed from the usual stereotypes that one reserves for Bollywood films in the west. 
Alia Bhatt spoke about what she learnt from acting in this road movie. "When you do a film like 'Highway', when you are constantly emoting, you do discover a certain part of yourself that you didn't think existed. An emotion bank that you didn't know that you had. Strength, patience and physical strength, things like that. So all in all I discovered quite a large amount." 
Every actress in India, it seems, wants to work with Ali, so it must've been a big deal for Bhatt to collaborate with him (then again, she's already worked with Johar and Anurag Kashyap). "I liked the story, but I have a feeling that I would have done it, even if I hadn't liked the story. Nothing surprised me (about Imtiaz Ali), but he's so down to earth. He's so simple. He's just here to make a good film. And he cares about good food."
Talking of the shooting process, Bhatt provided some valuable insight into the alleged 'no script' production. "No, (Imtiaz Ali) did have a script. But the thing is that since it's such a journey and because we were travelling so much, a lot of the scenes were inspired by the locations and the mood. We developed it while we were going." 
Randeep Hooda has had an interesting career trajectory, starring in Mira Nair's 'Monsoon Wedding' in 2003 but only recently finding his place in the film industry with better opportunities, 'Highway' being one of them. "Your work is sincere in everything you do. But once you associate with people who are more powerful or popular, then your work reaches out to more people. Deep down inside, every artist feels that his work should be seen by a maximum amount of people possible. So that's a big change. In my second round, in this second stint of my career there has been a big boom. It increases your longevity for sure and your weight as an actor increases." 
I ask Bhatt whether people's attitudes had changed since she's become an actress. She has after all starred in '2 States' recently, a film that had 'bigger' names like Priyanka Chopra attached to the project at one time. "Do you mean like if they are nicer? I suppose there's a certain amount of careful behaviour around me, but nothing so drastic. It's just part and parcel of the business." 
Bollywood as a term has taken on a life of its own, meaning an entire genre of films rather than the Mumbai film industry. I'm interested in whether these actors saw 'Highway' as such. Hooda starts honestly. "In the west, Indian films are basically perceived as shitty, across the board. And what I would like people to take away is that there are people in India like Imtiaz, who can cut across barriers. And we do make a lot of good films also, not only song and dance films." 
So what are Bollywood films, I wonder? If Khan is Bollywood and 'Highway' is too, something has gone wrong, somewhere. In the west, Bollywood and parallel cinema are antithetical, a fact that these Indian actors don't seem to agree with. I probe further and Hooda elaborates. "I understand what you're saying, but 'Highway' is also Bollywood - I think the west should take that away from the film. There's a change."
I throw 'The Lunchbox' into the mix and ask them whether they think it's a Bollywood film too. Why that film? Because it has been running successfully in Europe, marketed as an art film. Both think for a while, until Bhatt speaks. "Well there's a whole different section, different type of films that people are making, that aren't song and dance, that don't have lip-sync songs. There are other films being made. So you'll get a new idea and know that there is a different side to Bollywood as well." 
Hooda's next film will be Salman Khan vehicle 'Kick', Bhatt will be seen in Johar-produced entertainer 'Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania'. Back to Bollywood for these two, it seems.

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