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Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Italian Connection to Indian Cinema

Devdas (Sanjay Leela Bhansali, India 2002) George Eastman Museum
I recently read about the George Eastman Museum acquiring the world's largest collection of contemporary Indian cinema. The donation includes more than 700 Bollywood, Malayalam, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu films and 6,000 film posters. It's important to note that there are at least 25 different types of Indian film industries, with language being the main difference. Bollywood, the name to describe the Hindi language industry, is India's biggest, and based in Mumbai.

In 2014, this collection of Indian films was discovered in an abandoned multiplex in California. The prints had been shipped from India for release in specialized theaters in the United States. Unable to convert to digital projection, the multiplex abruptly closed in August 2013, and all of the release prints, posters, and projection equipment were left behind. If the Eastman Museum had not taken ownership of the material and provided an appropriate environment for preserving the collection, the films and the corresponding posters- plus a wide array of related audio recordings- would have been destroyed when the multiplex was demolished earlier this year. “The George Eastman Museum’s acquisition of such a massive collection of films is an event to be applauded by all those who care for cinema as an art form,” said Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, founder and director of the Film Heritage Foundation in Mumbai. “Having rescued all those prints from destruction is not only a heroic feat—it is a strong commitment to preserve and celebrate the beauty of Indian cinema as part of the world's cultural patrimony.

Visconti's "Il Gattopardo"
I've always been drawn to international cinema and I will never forget Madonna's introduction when presenting the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Golden Globes- "The movies that allowed my imagination to run wild, that made me believe that I could dream and think outside the box were foreign films made by the likes of Fellini, Visconti... So, there is nothing foreign to me about a foreign film". I strongly identified with that statement. This story of acquisition and the preservation of "foreign" films inspired me to search for an Italian connection to Indian cinema. My search did not take long. In fact, there are quite a few connections. 

The first film that came up was director 's 1964 "Rustom e Rome" staring Dara Singh, an Indian wrestler-turned-actor. So I guess it's no surprise that the film has a storyline about a wrester. According to IMDB, the story begins "when the kingdom of Jamah is attacked, the emperor is killed, his wife, Anam flees with her two infant sons, but ends up getting separated from them. She tries to kill herself, but Daresh Baba counsels her, brings her home and lets her live there so that she can look after his mother-less daughter, Shabana. Years later, Shabana has grown up and is in love with a young wrestler, Arsalan, who is Anam's son. Her other son, Firdaus, is still alive, and has been bestowed the title of 'Rustom-E-Rome' by none other than Shehzadi Ruma, who plans to marry him. Before that could happen, Firdaus is given a priceless knife and is asked to locate it's twin, and Shabana gets abducted by bandits. In the process of locating Shabana, Firdaus not only loses the knife, but also puts his, Shabana's and Arsalan's lives in jeopardy." I tried to watch this film but could not follow the dialogue. The costumes, however, are quite entertaining. If you'd like to watch this 1964 production, the complete version of "Rustom e Rome" is available on YouTube. 
 

I found a handful of contemporary Bollywood productions that were shot in Italy. Thanks to this comprehensive website, www.bollylocations.com, you could click on the title of the film to see the exact locations.

Napoli
Shaadi No. 1

Capri
Housefull

Gargano, Alberobello, Bari  (Puglia), Rome, Venezia
Bachna Ae Haseeno
-Watch the VISUALLY STUNNING music video for the title song, "Khuda Jane" here

 Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor in "Bachna Ae Haseeno"
Milano, Carrara (Toscana)
Ajab Gazabb Love

Milano, Venezia
Kambakkht Ishq

Pisa, Roma
Jeans

Verona
Rockstar

My search for Malayalam movies turned up Anish J. Karrinad's 2010 "Nirakazhcha" which stars Italian actor Vincenzo Bocciarelli along with Mamta Mohandas and Manoj K. Jayan. It's the story of an Italian painter who visits Kerala to recreate the magnificent Raja Ravi Varma paintings and falls in love with a beautiful local. The filmmakers call "Nirakazhcha" an Indo-Italian production promoting tourism and culture of both Kerala and Italy. I also found a Facebook page belonging to a distribution company that promotes Malayalam movies in Italy.

Vincenzo Bocciarelli and Mamta Mohandas in "Nirakazhcha"
My search for Telugu films in Italy led me to discover that a number of them were shot in Milano, including director Trivikram Srinivas' 2013 drama "Atharintiki Daaredi". According to a review written for IMBD by Aashray Dhanur, the story follows the Nanda family based in Milan, Italy- a very powerful family with a huge business empire. Raghunanda (Boman Irani), his son (Mukesh Rishi) and his grandson Gautam Nanda (Pawan Kalyan) manage their billion dollar business. Raghunanda asks his grandson to fulfill his wish of reuniting him (Raghunanda) with her daughter. In the past, she is asked to get out of the house for having married a pleader without their family's consent which leads to a heated and a shocking thing, which is later revealed in the film. Gautam promises his grandfather that he would reunite him with his estranged daughter Sunanda (Nadiya) who lives far away from them in Hyderabad. He decides to travel to India and bring her back. But as he reaches Hyderabad, he come to know that his uncle (Rao Ramesh) is at the airport who returns back to Hyderabad from Chennai. His uncle in fact has a stroke while driving back and Gautam takes him to a hospital and saves his life. In the hospital, he sees his aunt for the first time. He is asked to take up the job of their driver, in their house and enters into their lives. As the story unfolds he finds out that convincing his aunt to come back isn't easy and remains a stranger to the family. In the meantime, the story also shows his interaction with the doctor (Ali) who is appointed to take care of Rajasekhar. Gautam's interactions with his aunt's daughters Sashi (Samantha) and Pramila (Pranitha) also are engaging, funny and flirtatious. Various other characters (Brahmanandam, Kota Srinivasa Rao, Pradeep Machiraju, Subbaraju and many others) enter the plot as the story unfolds.

 "Atharintiki Daaredi"
Also in 2013, Italy's RAI television network featured a Sunday series in which the network aired a Bollywood film every week during the months of June and July. The selection was pretty impressive with some of the biggest names in Bollywood cinema including the adored Aishwarya Rai in "Bride and Prejudice". Released in 2004, the film contributed to Aishwarya Rai's international stardom. Directed by Gurinder Chadha, the film is a Bollywood-style adaptation of Jane Austin's "Pride and Prejudice" and was filmed primarily in English, with some Hindi and Punjabi dialogue. The film was released to positive reviews in the United States in February of 2005.

Aishwarya Rai (center) in "Bride and Prejudice"
From what I know about Indian cinema, the biggest similarities, aside from the beautiful actors and actresses, are the character-driven stories and stunning landscapes. Like Italian directors, Indian directors also take pride in their origins and use their profession as a way to showcase the beauty of their land. And also like Italian directors, they don't have much interest in special effects. Instead they'd rather tell a simple story about the complex relationships between people. These are the qualities I most appreciate about the cinema of both countries and perhaps is the reason why Indian filmmakers are drawn to the culture and landscapes of Italy.

For more information about the George Eastman Museum, visit them online.

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