Utpal Borpujari

November 7, 2008

Bollywood, from Europe!

A Swiss filmmaker, who “came across” his country in a Hindi film 18 years ago, has now come up with Europe’s first ‘Bollywood-style’ film that will be showcased at the 39th IFFI, writes Utpal Borpujari

 

A waitress in a village restaurant is in love with her boss – until a master chef arrives in her life. The chef, madly in love with her, is ready to put everything at stake, including his job as a personal chef to a gorgeous film star. The waitress is in an emotional chaos – she has to choose between her boss who offers security and status, and the chef whose charm and culinary magic she cannot resist. The drama unfolds with the Swiss Alps as the backdrop…. Sounds like a triangular love story from the Yash Raj Films stable? It could well have been, but in a dramatic twist fit enough to be the climax of a Bollywood film, a Swiss filmmaker has used the Mumbai formula to come up with what is probably the first-ever true-blue European film that adopts the song-and-dance routine to tell its story.

Welcome to the world of Tandoori Love, a Switzerland-Germany-Austria co-production directed by Oliver Paulus, whose previous two films were pure European cinema and who has now fallen for the Bollywood style of storytelling. Replete with songs, dances, heartaches and dramatic display of emotions, the film will have its Asia Premiere in the forthcoming 39th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa after its world premiere at the Cairo Film Festival.

Tandoori Love – the name obviously comes from the gastronomic angle in the – has an eclectic mix of European and Indian actors, the best known face among them in India being Vijay Raaz of Monsoon Wedding and Raghu Romeo fame. And the film is already creating a buzz for the novelty value it carries. Paulus, who has earlier made a string of short films and two Swiss feature films titled Wenn der Richtige kommt (When The Right One Comes Along,

2003) and Wir Werden Uns Wiederseh’n (So Long, My Heart!, 2006), is quite naturally breathless at the selection of his film in IFFI’s Films India Worldwide section, as he will get to watch the reaction of thorough-bred Indian film lovers to the film.
 
 
 

 

And he is eager to share the story behind the story of his film. “Indian film crews are coming to Switzerland for their shooting purposes already for more than four centuries!” he starts off mock seriously, pointing to the decades-long passion of Indian filmmakers to shoot in Switzerland, something that was pioneered by Yash Chopra. “I started writing a story about a Bollywood crew shooting in Switzerland several years ago. But it was completely impossible to get such a project financed before the first waves of the general Bollywood hype started to shake Europe, about five or six years ago,” Paulus says recalling the genesis of his idea. After production house Cobra Film financed the development of the screenplay in 2004, he came to India in January 2005 to do research for his project. “To do justice to the figure of the cook, and to gain a better understanding of different regional cooking philosophies, I spent several weeks looking over many shoulders in different kitchens in India,” he says, not forgetting to add that at a “subliminal level”, the idea must have got rooted in his mind 18 years ago, during his first trip to India, when he “suddenly came across Switzerland” while watching a Bollywood movie at a local theatre.

This subliminal influence surely has left its imprints on Tandoori Love, with the story having dollops of love, longings, confusion, pangs of jealousy and much more. Paulus himself, however, is clear about what he is doing. “Of course, Bollywood is an extremely commercial industry. Most of the productions are using over and over the same conventional formula and the same faces. Nevertheless, I am a big fan of Bollywood. The movies are deeply emotional and full of joy, music, colours, kitsch and luscious pathos – elements that are rare or even completely missing in most of our European movies. In my film, we are trying to combine some of these Bollywoodian elements with the European way of story telling and multi-layered characters,” he says.

During his research, he spent several months in Mumbai and “hundreds and all kinds” of Bollywood people – actors, producers, composers, choreographers, singers, lyric writers, distributers, agents – apart from watching hundreds of Bollywood, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali and Hindi art house movies. He also “forced” his crew and Swiss cast to watch films like Lagaan, Dil Se, Veer-Zaara, Kal Ho Naa Ho, the two Munna Bhai films and Parineeta “for a basic understanding of Bollywood”. 
 

The film stars Swiss actors Lavinia Wilson and Martin Schick along with Indians Shweta Agarwal, Tamal Ray Chowdhury, Asif Basra, Aasif Sheikh, Ganesh Yadav, Asha Sachdev. Vijay Raaz, of course, was an easy choice to make. “He is not only a great actor who’s charm is just irresistible. He’s also perfectly merging a profound and emotional sincerity with a great sense of comedy. And apart from his terrific acting skills he’s on the international market fortunately one of the most well-known and appreciated Indian actors – not considering the Indian communities he’s in Europe even more famous than for example Amitabh Bachchan,” he says.

The music of the film has been designed to suit international audiences who are generally not used to watching songs in films. “Therefore the songs need to be accommodated to European taste – there are shorter songs and most notably firmly anchored in the plot’s dramaturgy,” Paulus says. The music is both contemporary and inspired by traditional, “typically Indian” compositions from Bollywood’s “Golden Age” in the 1960s and 1970s. “We’re also using succinct elements of traditional Swiss folk music, such as alphorns, choirs, and yodeling,” he says. And yes, as he signs off, he says that though he is now making two movies that are non-Bollywoodean, “I would love to direct a pure Bollywood film in India

one day.”
 
 
 

 

(An Abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, http://epaper.sakaaltimes.com, 07-11-2008)

 

And here’s Paulus’ full interview on the basis of which this piece was written:

 

How did you conceive this project, especially the thought that you should make a film in true-blue ‘Bollywood style’? 
The Indian connection in TANDOORI LOVE is based on the fact that Indian film crews are coming to Switzerland for their shooting purposes already for more than four centuries. 18 years ago, during my first trip to India, I came suddenly across “Switzerland” while watching a Bollywood movie somewhere in the middle of the Indian countryside. The effect of this amusing “discovery” was definitely the subliminal inspiration for TANDOORI LOVE, even though I wasn’t yet a film director at that time.
I started writing a story about a Bollywood crew shooting in Switzerland several years ago. But it was completely impossible to get such a project financed before the first waves of the general Bollywood hype started to shake Europe, about five or six years ago. In 2004 Cobra Film financed the development of the screenplay and in January 2005 I came back to India for deeper research purposes. To do justice to the figure of the cook, and to gain a better understanding of different regional cooking philosophies, I have spent several weeks looking over many shoulders in different kitchens in India.  
Of course Bollywood is an extremely commercial industry, most of the productions are using over and over the same conventional formula and the same faces and in particular the Bollywood comedies are loud and rather overacting (the exception proves the rule).

But nevertheless I’m a big fan of Bollywood. Though the stories and the narrative principles are often uniform and predictable, I get severely touched. The movies are deeply emotional and full of joy, music, colours, kitsch and luscious pathos – elements that are rare or even completely missing in most of our European movies.

In TANDOORI LOVE we’re trying to combine some of these Bollywoodian elements with the European way of story telling, respectively complex and multi-layered characters. It’s a settled comedy with some grotesque slapstick and subtly caricatured figures. But nevertheless TANDOORI LOVE is about profoundly human characters and the agonisingly existential and emotional decisions challenging them. The characters have to be taken seriously, no matter how impossible and absurd the situations are in which they must stand their ground. Particularly Sonja’s inner conflict and Rajah’s seemingly futile struggle for her love has dramatic and existential depth in order to strike a strong emotional chord in the audience. Whereas I am sure we are all familiar with the theme of unrequited love, TANDOORI LOVE also aims to convey the drama of a young woman compelled to choose between two men, one standing for a safe and secure life-plan, the other for the uncertainty of exotic, passionate love.  
 

Did you consult any filmmaker from India on the project or was it through watching BW films that you learnt the style? If the latter, which are the Bollywood films that you can say have left an imprint on you? 

Because an important part of TANDOORI LOVE happens in the BW milieu I had to meet people of the industry for research reasons. To understand the behaviour and the thinking of a young, spoiled starlet or a passionate, old school production manager for example I had to meet and talk to them. During the passed three years I’ve spent several month in Bombay and met hundreds and all kind of Bollywood people – actors, producers, composers, choreographers, singers, lyric writers, distributers, agents… with some of them I became close friends. I visited a lot of shootings, premieres, parties, conventions and so forth.

But apart from this personal level of experience I watched hundreds of Bollywood movies, as well as all other kind of Indian movies (Tamil, Malayam, Bengali and of course Hindi arthouse movies…). I also had to watch a lot of movies for casting purposes. It was a most important way of getting to know all kind of actors. Some of my favourite BW movies are amongst others certainly LAGAAN, DIL SE, VEER-ZAARA, KAL HO NAA HO, the two MUNNA BHAI comedies and PARINEETA – at least these are the films I forced my crew and my Swiss cast to watch for a basic understanding of Bollywood. 
 

Was it deliberate not to take well-known / big Bollywood stars in the project? 

While looking for Indian actors I was focusing on “actors” and not on “stars”. With the help of Uma da Cunha and Loveleen Tandan we did casting auditioning a wide range of actors. Vijay Raaz is not only a great actor who’s charm is just irresistible, he’s also perfectly merging a profound and emotional sincerity with a great sense of comedy. And apart from his terrific acting skills he’s on the international market fortunately one of the most well-known and appreciated Indian actors (not considering the Indian communities he’s in Europe even more famous than for example Amitabh Bachchan).

To work with all our Indian actors, in particular with Vijay was a great pleasure and a fantastic experience. They were extremely sensitive and having a very professional understanding of the creative, as well as the technical workflow. 
 

Have any Indian watched your film? What has been the reaction to this ‘European’ Bollywood film? 

No, the screening at the IFFI in Goa is a real Asian premiere. I’ve screened a promotion trailer at this year’s FICCI FRAMES convention and the audience roared with laughter. They loved the idea and in particular the Swiss folks dancing in Bollywood style. 
 

You could have used an Indian composer, but you chose not to for your film which has its quota of songs and dances. Comment. 

The songs are designed for an international audience who’s generally not used to watch songs. Therefore the songs need to be accommodated to European taste, there are shorter songs and most notably firmly anchored in the plot’s dramaturgy. So e.g. the reaction of Sonja, when Rajah starts singing and dancing, is for a start irritation and embarrassment, a similar reaction as most probably the audience’s. According to her growing feelings for Rajah, she becomes more and more familiar with the songs and finally part of them.

Well-engineered, funky pop music is decisive in this respect, as well as carefully worked out, humorous choreographies. The music is both contemporary and inspired by traditional, “typically Indian” compositions from Bollywood’s “Golden Age” in the 60s and 70s. We’re also using succinct elements of traditional Swiss folk music, such as alphorns, choirs, and yodeling. As the story itself, the design of the songs is in a way also a humorous, unorthodox and funky clash of the two cultures serving to cast a playful and subtly ironic look at genre. Of course some of the really adorable Indian composers could have delivered that kind of required music, but it was easier and more practical to have the composer close to the place of production. And I’ve already worked with all three of my composers during the production of my previous films. And we’ve had a great assistance by Rajesh Roy, the singer/voice of Rajah who was also supporting the composers with his outstanding input.
 

Do you plan to release the film in India? If yes, would it be in original language with subtiles or will it be dubbed? 

That would just be great! I would love to have an Indian release but due to no Indian distributor has seen the completed movie yet everything is still open. As much as I know the Indian audience won’t appreciate subtitles and so I guess we have to do a dubbing (at least the Swiss/German parts), but this is depending on the demands of a potential distributor. 
 

Which are the festivals it has travelled to till now and which are the ones it is going to? 

TANDOORI LOVE has just been completed and will have the official world premiere (apart from the screenings in the “home countries” Switzerland and Germany) at the Cairo International Film Festival in competition just the week before the Goa screening (Asian premiere).  
 

Do you have plans to make another film in the same mould, or a pure Bollywood film made in India? 

Right now I’m developing two feature films which are completely different from the style of TANDOORI LOVE or Bollywood. But nevertheless I would love to direct a pure Bollywood film in India one day! 
 

Apart from Bollywood (that is Hindi films from Mumbai), do you have any exposure to films made in other regions of India? Which are the Indian actors you are familiar with – and which are the ones you like? 

I’ve seen many Bengali, Tamil and Malayam films and also Hindi arthouse productions (which certainly don’t want to be lumped together with Bollywood ;-)).

Apart from all the outstanding actors you can meet in TANDOORI LOVE (Vijay Raaz, Shweta Agarwal, Tamal Ray Chowdhury, Asif Basra, Aasif Sheikh, Ganesh Yadav and Asha Sachdev) I’m also a big fan of Arshad Warsi, Vinay Pathak, Nandita Das and Preity Zinta. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment »

  1. swiss cheesy bollywooooood?? hmmmmmm… we will see…

    Comment by Hanz Klaus — November 11, 2008 @ 12:52 am | Reply


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