| Here I come: Aishwarya at Cannes. (Reuters)
Cannes, May 16: Ingmar Bergman couldn’t be contacted for comment, but apparently Swedes think Bollywood is, well, quite an item.
Why Swedes alone, all of Europe wants to get into bed with Bollywood. At least that’s what it looks like at the Cannes Film Festival where climbing into someone else’s bed is an important part. Despite the relatively limited number of really good new Indian films being screened at the festival, Bollywood seems to have penetrated cinema’s last frontier, the Continent.
Most countries, including France, Germany, Italy and even Sweden ' a minority would say cinema doesn’t exist beyond the boundaries of these nations ' are anxious to do collaboration deals with Bollywood. Last night, though Sweden has a population of only nine million, the Swedish film authorities held a Bollywood night. Present at the party was the tall, imposing figure of Ase Kleveland, who, though a Norwegian herself, is CEO of the Swedish Film Institute.
She said: “India is a superpower when it comes to cinema and it is interesting to see now how films from India are gaining an increasingly large audience in Europe and in Scandinavia.”
Such reverse flow would seem strange to Indians who in the past have waited anxiously for the next Bergman release on the film society circuit. One of world cinema’s greats, who made such classics as the Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, Bergman has taken exile from films.
There is no reason to suspect his decision has anything to do with the growing audience for Bollywood films in Sweden.
Kleveland said Bollywood films get exposure even in mainstream Swedish theatres.
“So many things are influencing the way we look at another nation ' today the image of India is very different from what it used to be. You know today that India is rapidly developing ' there are so many educated people, so much research, technology. This is very important. The way we know India today makes us more curious about India’s culture, art, all of it. I myself hope to go there in the autumn.” Similar stories are being reported from other European countries.
One reason for Europe’s increasing interest is that western governments and film authorities believe there is financial advantage for them in making co-production deals with India. One of Kleveland’s assistants said: “We know Bollywood crews go to Switzerland all the time. So we want them to come to Sweden. We have exotic locations. We have a group of producers from India coming to Sweden this summer.”
But when Bollywood gains acceptance in France, business interests can’t be the reason, can it' After all, films are not comparable to the Airbus, which the French were so keen to sell to Air-India but lost out to Boeing.
Sonia Rannou, an Indian who lives in France where she has been promoting Bollywood, said: “France is a country where people need to have intellectuals to tell them what is the trend when it comes to cinema. People are very choosy.”
Rannou said: “Bollywood was once punished because people were stuck with Satyajit Ray in films and Ravi Shankar in music and they did not know there was anything else until Devdas came to Cannes and Lagaan was nominated for the Oscars and then they thought, ‘Wow! There are other types of films in India!’”
Fellow countrymen and women of Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, the French masters, are just realising what they have missed. Worry not ' Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and Mother India were released in France last year, to be followed recently by Sholay and Kal Ho Naa Ho, she said.
Audiences are discovering that “there is Bollywood, there is very good Bollywood, there is interesting Bollywood. At the Pompidou Centre retrospective, we had 50 Indian films last year. Then we did a Bollywood day and had about 900 people”, said Rannou.
In Paris, Galeries Lafayette, which is a huge department store, is holding a Bollywood fortnight, just as Selfridges had done three seasons ago with a month-long event.
Had Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who made such masterpieces as The Marriage of Maria Braun and Ali ' Fear Eats the Soul, which won an award at Cannes, been alive, he would have learnt that his own country, Germany, is no exception. Germany, where all Hindi movies have to be dubbed, is taking increasing numbers of Bollywood films for theatrical release and for television.
An Indian at last night’s party, Mahendra Prasad, who has a paper business in Berlin, said: “The potential audience for Bollywood films dubbed in German is 80 million in Germany. Taken with Austria, and German speakers in Switzer-land and elsewhere, the total population is 120 million.”
This morning, Afzal Amanullah, director of the India international film festival in Goa, was taking an early morning run when he stopped briefly to tell fast walker Srichand Hinduja: “The Government of India yesterday signed a co-production agreement with the Government of Italy.”
With Italy, the land of Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni, Bollywood’s conquest of Europe would be complete. Europe, of course, has already fallen to Hollywood.