The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rani readies Black assault on French

London, May 20: Will Rani become the queen of France'

Well, she certainly has a chance of doing so after the announcement today in Cannes that Bollywood’s current number one star and her fellow actor in Black, Amitabh Bachchan, are to visit Paris to launch the film’s release in France. Sanjay Leela Bhan-sali, the film’s director, will accompany them to what is expected to be a colourful Paris premiere.

Indian distributors have been keen to mount a major Bollywood assault on the French ' and suspect Black might be the film to do it with.

It is probably on the strength of Black, acknowledged to be “a Bollywood film with a difference”, that Rani received a dinner invitation from the admiring Pervez Musharraf and his wife when the Pakistani President visited Delhi last month. Now, she has the opportunity to win over France.

The disclosure that Black is to be used as a sort of bridgehead for the Indian film industry to make serious inroads into the mainstream French market was made by Avtar Panesar, the London-based head of operations for the UK and Europe and the movie’s distributor.

Such has been the curiosity about Black, which has had a reasonably positive market screening at Cannes, that the Indian ambassador to France, Dilip Lahiri, has requested his personal DVD of the film.

Lahiri has been in Cannes to accompany S. Jaipal Reddy, India’s minister of information, broadcasting and culture, during his talks with French officials at the festival.

“The ambassador will be watching Black this weekend,” said Panesar.

Normally, Indian film stars don’t bother to come to France because the size of the Indian diaspora, compared with Britain, is small. But Rani, Bachchan and Bhansali will be in Paris in December for the Black premiere.

Panesar’s hope is that the French will be surprised ' and pleasantly so ' by the tale of a blind woman’s world and her complex relationship with her teacher.

“We have locked the deal with the French distributor,” said Panesar, who added that Black had also been sold to Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. “We will probably have a gala screening in Germany as well.”

Apart from Spain, where the film would probably be dubbed in Spanish, the other territories would take subtitled versions, he said.

One factor working in Black’s favour is that there was warm appreciation of the film when it was screened recently for the Hollywood film press in Los Angeles. There is no guarantee, of course, that French audiences, other than those already exposed to Indian movies, will take to Black.

“The film is very different from anything they might expect from Bollywood,” Panesar commented.

If Black succeeds in France, as Panesar believes it will, “it will further encourage film-makers in India to try something different. The courage is already there.”

Once, when Indian films were released in France, it was almost always at small suburban theatres where they would probably be seen by, at most, 1,000 people over the one weekend that it ran.

“What we are trying to do is get out of the ghetto ' we want Indians to come as well ' and show our films to a mainstream audience,” said Panesar.

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