Britain jumps on Bollywood bandwagon

The success of 'Slumdog Millionaire' has sparked a range of new films with an Indian flavour

Andrew Johnson
Wednesday 17 July 2013 06:46

Britain's gone Bollywood, thanks to the runaway success of Slumdog Millionaire. Several British films either set in India or poking fun at the culture clash experienced by British Indians are scheduled for release, hoping to catch the same East-West audience that made such a hit of Danny Boyle's tale about a boy who wins India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

Slumdog Millionaire, made for around £10m, has so far taken £227m at the international box office, with a sizeable chunk coming from the Bollywood-dominated subcontinent. It also picked up eight Oscars, adding critical acclaim to its commercial success, and waking up producers to the potential of films that bring together the world's two great cinema audiences.

Studios are now looking to replicate its success. New films in production include Indian Summer, which is being filmed on location in the subcontinent. It tells the story of the last days of colonial rule and is directed by Joe Wright, who had a period-drama hit with Ian McEwan's Atonement.

"India is a fascinating, extraordinary place," Wright told Variety magazine. "What's happening there is going to affect us more and more, whether in film-industry terms or politically with what's happening in Pakistan."

Gurinder Chadha, who directed the 2002 sleeper hit Bend it Like Beckham, is currently making It's a Wonderful Afterlife, which is set in London. It stars the Indian actress Shabana Azmi – who is part of Bollywood's aristocracy – and is a comedy about a British Asian mother's attempts to marry off her daughter, which leads to a bout of serial killing.

Blame it on the Bhangra is another comedy about a British Asian girl trying to break into the macho world of bhangra dancing. It is being developed by Origin Pictures, which is run by the former head of BBC films David Thompson. He is co-producing it with the BBC.

Rafta, Rafta is another comedy set in an Indian community in the north of England, in which two newlyweds find it hard to consummate their marriage.

British films with Indian spice are nothing new. Bend it Like Beckham proved a massive hit for Chadha, but it was 10 years between her first hit – Bhaji on the Beach about a group of Indian women from Birmingham who take a trip to Blackpool – and Bend it Like Beckham. Now the films are finding a much warmer welcome from funders and producers.

"I think that a film like Slumdog showed that people are more open to experiencing different cultures in cinema," said Thompson. "There's a whole different energy about India. It's upbeat rather than miserable, colourful and light, which is what people are looking for rather than British grey skies.

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"People are fascinated with India, because of our past. What we're trying to do in Blame it on the Bhangra is make a film that crosses over for the two cultures. It's a dance comedy, done in a way to appeal to both audiences. The bhangra dancing will be a special kind, a synthesis of western dancing and Indian bhangra dancing, designed to work for both audiences. Comedy is what people want and a good way of bridging the gap between cultures."

It's not just the British who are taking a piece of the Indian action. Bollywood has also woken up to the potential of the East-West mix.

Kites, a high-budget Bollywood film shot in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and India will be screened at Cannes. It stars the Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan and the Mexican model and actress Bárbara Mori. It is described as an "action-packed, international romantic thriller" and the dialogue is in English, Spanish and Hindi.

But not everyone thinks the British films are accurate portrayals of India or the immigrant community.

Dr Gezim Alpion, who lectures in film and social sciences at the University of Birmingham, said that the films were patronising and stereotypical. "I have a lot of issues with films like Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice," he said. "Asian cineastes try to cater too much for Western tastes.

"It is the same mistake made by Slumdog Millionaire, which is appalling. I can't quite believe what I've seen in that film, in terms of how the whole of India is trivialised. It deals in stereotypes. There are so many lively places in India. Its culture is as diverse as Europe's.

"The stereotyping is appalling. Cinema is meant for mass consumption. Slumdog Millionaire is sending out the wrong message – that that's the kind of audience and film that we want. I think that what's missing is more sophistication."

The slumdog effect: India adds spice to Brit-flick plots

'Indian Summer'

Director: Joe 'Atonement' Wright

Plot: The sun sets on Britain's rule of India

Slumdog factor: 3. More of a 'Passage to India'

'It's a Wonderful Afterlife'

Director: Gurinder 'Bend it Like Beckham' Chadha

Plot: British-Asian mother finds it hard to marry off her daughter, comically leading to serial killing

Slumdog factor: 6. More 'Kind Hearts and Coronets'

'Blame it on the Bhangra'

Director: Paul Angunawela

Plot: Comedy about a young British-Asian girl trying to break into male-dominated bhangra scene

Slumdog factor: 9. Poor kid does good, probably

'Rafta, Rafta'

Writer: Ayub 'East is East' Khan-Din

Plot: Indian newlyweds in the north of England have trouble consummating their marriage

Slumdog factor: 5. No sex please, we're Indians

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