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California proposes, Calcutta disposes

There is no reason why Calcutta, a city with a great filmmaking heritage, should not also benefit from the new opportunities created by the triumph of Slumdog Millionaire but, even at a time of cutbacks, shops which supply movie-making accessories should first urgently boost their stocks.

When Antara Bhardwaj came from her home in San Francisco to Calcutta while making a documentary on the innovative collaboration between the 64-year-old Kathak maestro, Pandit Chitresh Das, who divides his time between San Francisco and his Nritya Bharati School in Salt Lake, Calcutta, and the 28-year-old African American tap star Jason Samuels Smith — “Panditji is known to be the fastest feet in the East, Jason is known to be the fastest feet in the West” — Antara was dismayed to discover the lack of a basic film infrastructure.

Antara, 29, who did a one-year director’s workshop at the New York Film Academy before working for Jagmohan Mundhra as chief assistant director on Provoked and line producer on Shoot on Sight, is now producing the $250,000 documentary, Upaj (“it means improvisation”) with rights sold to PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) for national distribution in the US and airing in spring next year.

Quite apart from the five-member crew being held back by the typical Bengali attitude to life — “people are just laid back, there is no sense of urgency” — Antara found the shops poorly stocked.

“I had expected Calcutta would be relatively film friendly,” says Antara, whose wedding to her Calcutta-born and bred husband, Kingshuk Brahma, took place, incidentally, in Hawaii. “I went to Calcutta and was shocked to find out they don’t have basic film things. They don’t have any of the camera expendables — the accessories you need with your camera and lights — like your lens tissue, diffusion paper to soften the light. I spoke to quite a few people who work out there (and they said), ‘No, we just get all our supplies brought in from Bombay.’ This was surprising because the Calcutta film industry produces quite a few films a year.”

Antara, whom I first met in Cannes three years ago when she captivated an entire restaurant with the most mellifluous rendering I have yet heard of Ye samaa, samaa hain ye pyaar kaa from Jab Jab Phool Khile, believes the victory of Slumdog Millionaire will unlock doors for Indian filmmakers.

“I see a great door opening for all South Asian filmmakers as it is obvious that everyone is suddenly more interested in India,” explains Antara. “People are looking at what else will come out of India. Bollywood is already making an impact. It is good for my film also as it is about two traditional artists trying to preserve their heritage.”

Reign in Spain

Slumdog Millionaire is also riding “the India wave” in Spain, where fans of the movie are humming the tune from A.R. Rahman’s Jai Ho.

“India is the happening country and Bollywood is big,” says Bharatanatyam teacher Sohini Roychowdhury, whose dance troupe, Sohinimoksha, was invited to perform at the recent Slumdog premiere in Madrid.

“We danced to Jai Ho and Saya,” adds Calcutta girl Sohini (of Modern High School and St Xavier’s College), who has been based in Spain since 2005 with her banker husband, Sudipto Dasgupta, also a Xaverian, and their nine-year-old son, Rishi.

After the performance, Sohini and her Spanish, Jamaican and French dance pupils were rewarded with an appreciative hug from the director, Danny Boyle.

After the Oscars, the film, “which is not seen as poverty porn in Spain”, is pulling in even more viewers, both in the English language version and dubbed into Spanish.

Sohini, who trained under Thankamani Kutty and Kalamandalam Venkitt, has been dancing Bharatanatyam professionally on stage for the last 16 years and has choreographed it to Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Flamenco — one performance was at the Calcutta Club, while others have been in Europe. She called her group Sohinimoksha because “it’s my philosophy — dance represents the free spirit and cuts across geographical boundaries and religion”.

Rather like Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle would say.

Old school tie

Britain’s still old school tie, I am pleased to note. Past and present pupils of St Peter’s College, Oxford, have been emailing one another, happy that one of their own, Simon Beaufoy, who read English as an undergraduate, has just won an Oscar.

Cameron country

SHUTTERBUG: Some of Regan Cameron’s work

Photographs of Freida Pinto, who has made the March cover of the Indian Vogue, are likely to appear in editions of the glossy in other countries, I am told by Alex Kuruvilla, the magazine’s Mumbai-based managing director.

The photographs were taken by hot shot photographer Regan Cameron in New York 10 days before the Oscars, added Alex.

A New Zealander who shifted to the Big Apple after working in London, Cameron has said he is “consistently” called upon by the world’s most coveted celebrities who have wanted his personal professional attention. Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Kate Winslet, Liv Tyler, Lauren Hill, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Jade Jagger, Salma Hayek, and Catherine Zeta Jones have all been immortalised by his camera.

As Freida confided to me back in December in London, it was her ambition, having made the cover of Femina, to graduate to Vogue India.

“We have made her dream come true,” laughed Alex, as he prepared to rush off to Delhi last week to attend a party being thrown by Louis Vuitton in Freida’s honour.

The Slumdog lead actress is now much sought after by the big international clothing brands but I hope she will consider wearing the spectacular $10,000 silver chain outfit that the Calcutta-born designer Rishti Diwan, now based in California, wishes to gift her.

China syndrome

If you go to the shops in Britain, not everything is “Made in China” — not yet, anyway. In America, the opposite appears to be the case with very few things sold in the shops actually made in America. There was nothing for it but to seek refuge in the large Barnes & Noble branch in the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles which has an amazing number of books on all aspects of the movie business, including the dos and don’ts of script writing.

So that I can hand it over to my good friend Subhash Ghai for use at his film school, Whistling Woods International in Mumbai, I purchased a copy of the shooting script of Slumdog Millionaire. At $19.95, it wasn’t cheap but such expansive gestures are necessary for the good of future generations of would-be Indian screenplay writers.

Tittle tattle

The Home Minister P. Chidambaram has played into the hands of India’s enemies by suggesting that the Indian Premier League should be postponed, especially as the security forces will be needed for general election duty.

Unhappy at the success of the IPL, there are many abroad who want to use the pretext of the attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore last week, to bring India down a peg or two in world cricket.

This is why the show must go on. And given some of the eccentric political alliances being suggested, maybe we should get our priorities right and postpone the election.

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