Cinema | Stargazer
Indian Cinema’s Global Origin
The soft power of Indian cinema
26 Jan, 2023
(From L to R) Anand Pandit, Gopichand Hinduja and Tabu
Shree 420 (1955) was the first Hindi film to be dubbed in Persian after the Hindujas bought its rights for ₹5,000. Screened at Tehran’s Kucha e Lalzar cinema, such a large crowd gathered outside that its star Raj Kapoor had to be escorted out in a prison car. In 1957, it was the turn of Nargis to be mobbed when Mother India was screened in Tehran. That in many ways was the beginning of Indian cinema’s global appeal. In 1964, Sangam, starring Raj Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayanthimala, ran for two weeks in London, three years in Tehran’s Hafiz Cinema, and a year in Cairo. Ramesh Sippy’s Sholay, 1975, ran for a year in Tehran’s Aasiya Theatre. The Hinduja family, which began its business empire with trading and banking from Tehran in 1919, thought Hindi cinema would be a good way to popularise India in Iran. They discovered the soft power of Indian cinema much before Joseph Nye coined the term, screening 1,200 Indian films globally between 1955 and 1985. Much of this has been recorded in a new book by veteran film critic Ajit Rai, Hindujas and Bollywood (Vani Prakashan), based on a series of interviews that the author conducted with several people in the know, including co-chairman Gopichand Hinduja, whose annual party at the Cannes Film Festival is the hottest ticket in town. As a young man, Gopichand took a personal interest in the movies and would even edit them himself to suit Iranian tastes. There is a story of how he edited Sangam from 238 minutes (the longest running time at that point) to two hours without telling Raj Kapoor, but got away with it. The popularity of Hindi films in Iran spawned a term of its own, “Hindibaazi”, which referred to the melodrama in Hindi movies. The Hindujas also financed several filmmakers who sometimes struggled to complete their pet projects, whether it was GP Sippy’s Brahmachari (1968), Raj Kapoor’s 1973 film Bobby (the filmmaker had gone broke after his 1970 epic Mera Naam Joker) or Manmohan Desai’s Coolie (1983), which was affected by star Amitabh Bachchan’s near-fatal accident on the set. The horrific case of arson at Cinema Rex in the city of Abadan in 1978, which killed 477 people who were watching the Iranian film The Deer, and the ensuing Islamic Revolution of 1979 put an end to the honeymoon between Indian cinema and Iran. The Hindujas, sensing the changing times, had already moved their business to London. Bollywood’s Persian adventure came to an end.
Looking for the Next Kantara
The culture of remakes, exchange of talent with southern cinema, stars from multiple industries working with each other are nothing new. But the scale is unprecedented, with A-list stars reaching out to the south for a second innings or a guaranteed success. That explains Akshay Kumar choosing Selfiee, a remake of Prithviraj’s Driving Licence (2019), as a vehicle to relaunch his stuttering stardom. It explains Shah Rukh Khan starring in Jawan, a movie directed by Atlee, surrounded by southern A-listers Nayanthara and Vijay Sethupathi. It explains Salman Khan excavating a 2014 Ajith hit, Veeram, to star in the forthcoming Kisi Ka Bhai Kisi ki Jaan. Some would call it collaboration, others would call it opportunism, in an industry that has traditionally not had a place for male stars from the south, whether it is Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth despite them being in some outstanding films. Several Bollywood producers are also betting big on the south now, especially Kannada films which are the flavour of the moment after the surprise nationwide success of Kantara and 777 Charlie. Kichcha Sudeep’s Kabzaa is another eagerly awaited release, with its shades of KGF. Anand Pandit, a real estate businessman-turned-producer based in Mumbai, says Kabzaa is the kind of action thriller he always wanted to make. It has a period setting, the star power of Upendra, Kichcha Sudeep and Shriya Saran, and a timeline extending from India’s pre- Independence era to the 1980s. Says Pandit: “The winner today is Indian cinema and not just regional cinema, and we in the Hindi film industry also stand to gain from this wave”.
Scene and Heard
After playing a police officer in Kuttey, in a role originally written for a man, Tabu plays a police officer in Bholaa, in a role that was played by Narain in the Tamil original Kaithi (2019). Must be the Drishyam effect, where Tabu’s role as the grieving mother and vengeful police officer gave the film and its sequel tremendous heft.
About The Author
Kaveree Bamzai is an author and a contributing writer with Open
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