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Bollywood has no place outside Mumbai, said National Award-winning filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. “I even have an objection to describing all films made in Mumbai as part of Bollywood,” he said. The acclaimed filmmaker known for his skepticism of Bollywood, was speaking at a panel discussion titled ‘Bollywood is not Indian Cinema’, at the ongoing Gateway LitFest at the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai.
The festival, in its third edition now, aims to focus on Indian literature in regional languages. The two-day festival has a number of interesting panel discussions, ranging from subjects such as translations of literary works to literature in languages without a script. Recounting how he often gets asked abroad if he makes Bollywood films, Gopalakrishnan pointed out that it’s the only Indian cinema they know.
“The truth of the matter is that Bollywood casts its shadow all over India,” he lamented.
Speaking alongside him at the panel discussion was Anjali Menon, a noted film director and writer of short stories and screenplays; Bejoy Nambiar, the director of Shaitan; screenwriter and producer, actor-director Subodh Bhave; and Tamil film director Vasanthabalan. All agreed that regional films struggle for visibility when Bollywood films were in the spotlight.
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Bhave, who has acted in films across five languages— Konkani, Bengali, Malayalam, Hindi, and Marathi— said that he’s not defined by any particular region. “My Twitter status says it all,” said Bhave, “I’m a proud Indian actor.” Bollywood, according to Bhave, is simply the material that shops showcase in their window displays; the products inside the shop, which might be quite different from the showcased material, is the rest of Indian cinema.
Menon said that her first exposure to regional films came through Doordarshan. “Now, unfortunately, the channel has stopped giving them screen space. Most of the film industry’s money goes to Bollywood, and that means the rest of Indian cinema suffers.” What exacerbates the problem, according to Nambiar, is that people are used to having Bollywood “in their faces”.
“Regional filmmakers have to fight for access,” he explained.
Seconding Menon, Gopalakrishnan added, “When they stopped screening regional movies on Doordarshan, people’s exposure to regional movies became more limited. Now, their main showings are in multiplexes, which means that only the richer people can afford to go.” Despite his skepticism, Gopalakrishnan acknowledges that commercial films are necessary to sustain the film industry.
“Without blockbuster movies that fund technological development, for example, the film industry would suffer. But the problem is it leaves no space for other kinds of cinema.”