Transcending Territories

A clutch of film personalities says that regional cinema is gradually coming into its own,even influencing Bollywood in many ways.

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: April 23, 2013 3:18:08 am

THEY were big names in their respective regional film industries even before Bollywood fetched them pan-India recognition. Sachin Khedekar,Sonali Kulkarni,Ravi Kishan,Rituparna Sengupta and Kajal Aggarwal are actors representing both worlds: the all-inclusiveness of Bollywood and the independent voices of regional cinema. They were at Express Towers,Nariman Point,on April 13 for a panel discussion as part of The Screen Big Picture. The freewheeling conversation saw the panel discuss regional cinema vis-a-vis Hindi films and the country’s gradual awakening to regional talent.

“There was a time when the Marathi audience used to watch only Hindi films because the regional industries were making dull films with rehashed plots. It’s changing now as good films are being produced,” said Kulkarni,referring to the new wave of Marathi cinema that has made its mark in international film festivals in the recent past. One of her recent films,Deool,has won national and international recognition. Bengali actor Sengupta attributed this “change” to online platforms such as YouTube that have opened markets for regional films.

Though regional films have an expanding NRI market — Punjabi films make more money in Canada than in Punjab,Bhojpuri films in Mauritius,and the South-Indian population in South-East Asian countries comprise a substantial section of their film market — they hardly have a world audience. “Unlike Korean or Iranian films that have a world audience,our foreign audience are natives who live abroad,” said Khedekar. Most of the times,it is the faulty selection system of film festivals that is to blame.

“For awards such as the Oscars,a slightly different mainstream Bollywood film is usually picked over an entirely original regional film,” Khedekar said,challenging the notion of Indian films as Bollywood. But in the world map of serious cinema,there is little doubt about regional films’ superiority over Bollywood films. “Make no mistake,most of the credibility attached to Indian films abroad is due to regional cinema,” said Meenakshi Shedde,a film curator and consultant,who was a part of the audience.

For the Bhojpuri film industry,which is not regarded in terms of serious cinema,star-actor Kishan says things are changing. “There are few literature-driven films like in Bengali or Marathi. But we are gradually changing,films are not being made for frontbenchers alone. I am co-producing some films,which will focus on good content,” he said.

The panel noted that some of Bollywood’s finest talents,such as directors Mani Ratnam and Priyadarshan and actors,such as Kamal Hassan,Sharmila Tagore and Jaya Bachchan,have their roots in regional films.

“Not just actors and directors,most of the cinematographers who dominate Hindi films today are from the South,” said Kulkarni. Regional cinema allows the space for personal growth that may not be available in Bollywood films. While actors seeking meaningful roles may find Bollywood shallow,it gives them the money that regional cinema lacks,agreed both Khedekar and Kishan.

The success of regional films has also prompted Hindi cinema to tell stories from other parts of the country,for instance,from Bengal and the Hindi heartland. “There are some great stories that emerge from regional films. I would love to see them retold in Hindi films,”said Aggarwal.

For a detailed report,check Screen issue dated April 26

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