| Australian actors of Indian origin outside Planet Bollywood in Sydney. (Reuters)
Australia, long a favoured background for Bollywood films, is also increasingly becoming a “remote backlot” supplying Indian films with special effects and post-production work.
A small, brisk film trade across the Indian Ocean is stimulating cinematic collaboration, where Bollywood’s airy surrealism collides with down-to-earth Australian innovation.
In fact, the collision of film cultures is becoming a two-way street with more than a few Bollywood-themed Australian films in the pipeline and acting courses for Indian-Australians considered too Indian for Australia and too Australian for Bollywood.
For the last five years Australia has been a hot location for Bollywood producers, with filming taking place everywhere from the urban heart of Sydney to the red outback at Alice Springs and the lunar-like landscape of the Pinnacles in Western Australia.
Around 80 Indian films, television series, commercials and music videos have been shot on location in Australia.
“Australia is a very favoured destination for Indian filmmakers because it’s got everything: snow, sea, dramatic landscapes, especially for filming songs where you want really surreal surroundings,” said Mitu Lange of Melbourne-based Black Cat Productions, an Indian film distribution company.
But Bollywood’s onscreen love affair with the Australian landscape is now being mirrored by an offscreen affair, where Australian special and visual effects houses are working behind the scenes on Indian film productions in Mumbai.
When leaping dolphins were illuminated against a full moon or bubbles serenely floated in front of the hero’s face in Dil Chahta Hai, that computer-generated imagery was produced by Queensland-based visual effects company Beeps. It also worked on Bollywood blockbuster Janasheen, meaning close to the heart, directed by Feroz Khan, who initially sparked off the Indian craze for Australia with his 1998 film Prem Aggan, filmed on location in Australia.
Bollywood’s growing appetite for extreme special effects is also pushing Australia post-production into new areas.
“Janasheen’s climax, a superbike race filmed on location at Victoria’s Phillip Island motorcycle racetrack, called for visual effects that aimed not so much for reality as for spectacle,” said Ian Maycock, creative director at Beeps.
“Our animators are so used to trying to fit into reality. With the superbike sequence, we were putting flames coming out of the exhaust (pipes) with sparks everywhere,” he said. “I told the animators ‘when you think you’ve got the sparks right, and they look real, multiply that by 10’.”
More recently, Koi Mil Gaya, the science-fiction musical that opened in August, featured a blue, three-foot alien produced by Bimmini Spl Fx in Queensland.
Lara Denman, part of the creative team which designed and built the alien, spent months in India and found the Bollywood film scene vastly different from the Australian experience.
“Here in Australia when you’re filming, it’s absolutely quiet, whereas over there you’ve got 50 people yelling in a foreign language in the background,” Denman said. “It was incredible, I laughed so much. It really brings out the best in a creative spirit,” she said.
Australia in turn has caught the Bollywood bug. The dancers and lavish sets of Australian film Moulin Rouge added a touch of Bollywood to the already extravagant film.
“What Bollywood provides is something which is colourful, exuberant, musical, a combination of all the genres,” said Anupam Sharma, head of Indian firm Films and Casting Temple.
“In Australia, there’s also the novelty aspect: it’s new and interesting, it’s happening,” said Sharma, who is to begin shooting his own Indian-Australian feature film later this year.
Australia’s former cricket captain, Steve Waugh, is reportedly looking for a director and producer to helm a film centring around the Calcutta-based children’s home, Udayan, and its leprosy-inflicted sufferers. Waugh will most likely play himself in the movie penned by an Australian.
But Bollywood’s craze doesn’t stop with filmmaking. Planet Bollywood restaurant has operated out of Sydney’s exclusive Double Bay since 2002, complete with its Kama Sutra bar and cocktails like the Sexual Karma Martini. Dinner on a weekend night is a Bollywood bash, with patrons treated to at least six hours of Bollywood films as they eat.