As the Indian film industry is set to celebrate 100 years of existence next year, questions are being asked about how much impact films from the country have had internationally — and whether or not the global market is necessarily something the self-sufficient industry should aspire to.
Tackling these issues at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival  on Tuesday were Ashutosh Gowariker, an Oscar-nominated Indian director, and Anupam Kher, one of the few actors from the country who has made his presence felt in Hollywood.
Gowariker, whose 2001 film Lagaan was nominated at the Oscars for Best Foreign Film, said it was important to first define what “going global” truly means.
“I don’t consider Indian movies going global when they are only marketed for Indian audiences in foreign countries,” he said. “When our films are watched by the Germans, the South Americans, the French, then we can truly say we are going global.”
Lagaan, he added, was never deliberately made for the international market.
“My target audience was Indians. But somehow the story touched a chord with people around the world and then the film just found its feet.”
For a truly international Indian film, he said, filmmakers need to focus on stories that the global audience will understand.
“Firstly, it should be an Indian story. It should definitely fall below the two-hour running time. Global audiences don’t necessarily want samosas in the intermission. Also, our treatment of telling our story will have to become more realistic, more subtle.
“In our Hindi films, we are forced to do melodrama, we’re forced to explain things,” said Gowariker.
Kher, who stars in the critically-acclaimed Silver Linings Playbook along with Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, said Indian filmmakers should only consider international markets for economic reasons.
“We are a very self-sufficient industry with an audience of 1.2 billion. I don’t think our popular cinema should consciously be catering to an international audience.”
An increasing number of directors in India are aping Hollywood unsuccessfully, Kher said.
“I call it the Tarantino Disease,” he said, laughing.
Gowariker, known for successfully bridging the so-called gap between art house and commercial cinema, said he liked tackling historical films to discuss contemporary social issues.
“I look for a theme first. Swades (2004), for instance, was a plea to take care of our villages and Jodha Akbar (2008) was about religious tolerance. Once I have a theme, I try to find a historic setting, which can give it relevance to make it contemporary.
“Doing historical films was never intentional. But I have always consciously tried to showcase what a diverse nation we are.”
The 48-year-old told tabloid! earlier that he has just finished writing his next script, currently titled Mohenjodaro.
“I should know how things stand in the next six months,” he said. “Typically because my scripts are set in another era, we need more input in terms of the details. Writing the script takes me about two years. Lagaan took me two-and-half years and Mohenjodaro has taken me a year-and-a-half. Shooting is the easy part. It’s the preparations that takes the maximum time and I don’t go ahead until I’m fully ready.”
Kher said Indian cinema’s most glorious days, as far as international recognition is concerned, was during the era of Raj Kapoor in the ’50s. Popularly known as the Showman, Kapoor, an actor, director and producer, made films well loved in the country as well as in Europe and Asia.
“He did not [consciously] make films for an international audience, and yet they gained acceptance. Our job is to make films that are true to our sensibilities.”
Both agree Hollywood is years ahead of every one in terms of marketing their films.
“They have the set-up and the marketing know-how,” Kher said.
Neither of them however wanted to be drawn into a discussion about the controversy surrounding the romantic comedy ‘Barfi!’ being sent as India’s official entry to the Oscar Awards. Bollywood films, which usually refers to films coming out of Mumbai, had once again overshadowed better but lesser known regional films, many argued.
Both Kher and Gowariker said they haven’t seen the film, which recently become one of the highest-grossing films of all time.
“If the Film Federation of India  have chosen the film, that means they have chosen it out of whichever films that was sent to them. So, I can’t really comment on that. But let’s see what happens,” Gowariker said.
Crossover films cannot be planned, the director reiterated.
“We have to make movies that are based on our conviction and the themes we believe in. If we try to force it, we will lose the very essence that differentiates us,” he said.
By David Tusing