When celluloid dreams build cultural bridges

By S. Sarkar Source:Global Times Published: 2015-4-13 22:43:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

I regard Dragonair, the budget airline of Cathay Pacific, to be one of the best ambassadors of Chinese culture, playing a strong role in bettering ties between China and India. Dragon's flights to Indian cities are not just remarkable for clockwork punctuality, they also pamper the subcontinent's palate by offering a menu with Indian cuisine and then, a menu for the soul as well with an array of Indian language films, relevant to the cities they are flying to.

At the same time, they also offer a selection of modern Chinese films, which are lapped up by eager foreign movie buffs.

Food, cricket and cinema remain India's three major obsessions and the best ice breakers. While China doesn't play international cricket yet, Chinese food remains a fast favorite in India. And now, Chinese films, directors and actors are gaining a wider audience in the neighboring country.

Given this background, the Beijing International Film Festival has a key role to play in nourishing cross-cultural amity. When Enter the Dragon, Robert Clouse's 1973 martial arts action film starring Bruce Lee, reached India, Hong Kong cinema made a lasting impression on cinemagoers, an impression subsequently strengthened by Jackie Chan's action movies.

More buzz was created in 2001, when Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon snapped up the Oscar for best foreign language film. Along with the world's, India's interest in Lee also grew when the director's Brokeback Mountain brought him another Oscar five years later for best director. Another seven years and Lee had become a mentor for India when his Life of Pi vied at the Academy Awards with a cast of Indian actors, including a 17-year-old debutant playing the lead. The four Oscars the film won, including another for best director, were cheered as much in India as in Lee's own birthplace.

In 2012, Zhang Yimou won the lifetime achievement award at the Mumbai International Film Festival. In 2013, the first Chinese Film Festival was held in New Delhi under the aegis of the Indo-China Economic and Cultural Council, a non-profit Indian organization, and China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television.

And last year, China was the principal guest country at the International Film Festival of India held in Goa. Attended by stars Tony Leung and Ziyi Zhang, the festival screened nine Chinese films. Genuine Love, directed by Silzati Jakov and Xin Zhang, vied for the top award while Wong Kar-Wai's The Grandmaster marked a fitting finale to the festival.

But this year's Beijing International Film Festival, while focusing on the international aspect, has little Bollywood glitter. India's multi-billion-dollar Hindi film industry is virtually absent. The 15 films shortlisted for the Tiantan Awards includes one film from India, Fig Fruit and the Wasps, made in the regional Kannada language by M.S. Prakash Babu. Neither the film nor the director is a household name in India.

Over 360 films will be screened during the seven-day festival, but they include only one Hindi film, Titli, by not particularly well-known director Kanu Behl.

Last year, the Beijing festival jury included popular Bollywood director Raj Kumar Hirani, whose 2009 runaway hit 3 Idiots also struck a chord among Chinese students with its story of an education system going wrong. But this year, there is no Indian director on the jury. It has been reported that 275 exhibitors from film production and distribution agencies will set up booths at the China Millennium Monument venue during the Beijing film festival. Of them, 140 are international exhibitors from 25 countries and regions. Though it was not clear if there are any Indian participants among them, given the dim Indian presence at the festival, the odds are against it.

Two years ago, the Chinese and Indian governments agreed to set up a joint working group for the films and broadcasting sector. However, governments move understandably slowly and so we have to look to private players to hasten the process of building bridges through films. It would be wonderful if a start is made this autumn when Jackie Chan could be shooting his new film Kung Fu Yoga in India, a collaboration between India's Viacom18 Motion Pictures and China's Taihe Entertainment Corp and Shinework Media.

A greater Indian presence at the Beijing and Shanghai film festivals and more Chinese film industry personnel at the Indian film festivals would lead to greater interaction and in turn to collaborations on the silver screen and better bilateral cultural understanding.

The author is an Indian reporter based in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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