Foreign-language films make inroads in India
Arun Pathak settled into his seat at a multiplex cinema in a north
Mumbai suburb to watch all 5.5 hours of French director Olivier Assayas’
epic film “Carlos”.
“I love cinema and where else do you get a chance to see these kind
of films?” said Pathak, a chartered accountant in India’s financial and
French director Olivier Assayas poses in Hollywood, California,
October 23. Assayas’ movie “Carlos” is being shown at the
Egyptian theater in Hollywood. The film tells the story of
Venezuelan revolutionary, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez Carlos. AFP
“The theatres don’t screen such films and I didn’t want to miss it.”
“Carlos” — about the the Venezuelan-born revolutionary Ilich Ramirez
Sanchez better known as “Carlos The Jackal” — was shown last week as
part of a French film festival, coinciding with a visit to India of
President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Assayas and stars including the British actress Kristin Scott Thomas,
who features in two of the seven films shown — “Crime d’amour” (Love
Crime) and “Elle s’appellait Sarah” (Sarah’s key) — were also present to
promote the event.
“I went to watch another film, ‘Of Gods And Men’ (Des hommes et des
dieux), and I couldn’t believe it. The theatre was packed,” added Pathak.
“Luckily I’d come early so I got a seat at the back, otherwise I
would have had to sit at the front.”
Original version or dubbed Hollywood movies have become increasingly
popular in India in recent years but packed houses for what could be
termed arthouse movies in languages other than English would once have
Indian audiences, however, are gradually opening up to “world
cinema,” as disposable incomes among the middle classes increase, more
multiplex cinemas spring up in cities and dubbing into indigenous
Internet downloads, a greater choice of films available at DVD rental
stores and undergraduate mass media courses, which include modules on
world cinema, are contributing to the rising interest, say industry
Sixty foreign-made films were released in Indian cinemas in 2009,
most of them from Hollywood, earning nearly 3.8 billion rupees (84
million dollars) at the box office.
The figure may be small beer compared with the overall 89.3 billion
rupees in revenue taken by the hundreds of mainstream Indian-made films
in the same period but analysts predict the market for world cinema will
“It’s very clear that a niche has been established but it’s growing,
albeit quite slowly,” said Meenakshi Shedde, a Mumbai-based film critic
and film festival consultant.
“There’s a huge interest in cinema outside Bollywood and it can be
monetised at some stage... People are willing to pay good money for good
films, regardless of where they are from.”
Unifrance, which promotes French cinema across the world, said the
third edition of the four-day festival was designed to appeal to India’s
vast cinema-going public, who are still fiercely loyal to homegrown
“We now wish to break into the mainstream commercial India market,
just like Hollywood has,” the state-backed organisation’s executive
director Regine Hatchondo told the Times of India newspaper.
Dedicated television channels, like UTV World Movies and Lumiere
Movies, in which the Time Warner group has a controlling stake, are also
helping to broaden the appeal of foreign arthouse films.
Clubs like the Enlighten Film Society, which shows classics of world
cinema every week at two Mumbai multiplexes, are being set up across the
“Enlighten... wants to break the myth that artistic films are boring
in nature,” the group, which was set up by a number of Bollywood
directors, says on its web site (www.enlighten.co.in).
“The culture of watching foreign language movies is missing in India
hence we want to spread the culture among the people of watching these
kinds of films, which will help them to understand various cultures.”
Anurag Basu, who directed “Kites” starring Bollywood star Hrithik
Roshan, told AFP in an interview earlier this year that he had no
opportunities to see foreign films growing up in a small town in central
India in the 1980s.
But he became hooked on cinema after seeing the 1942 classic
“Casablanca”, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
“After that I knew I had no other ambition but to direct a film,” he
said. “I feel if we get more and more films for audiences to watch, then
better ideas and new talent will spring up in our industry.”