What do Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, Selena Gomez’s Indian-themed number at April’s MTV Movie Awards and Oscar winner Slumdog Millionaire all have in common? They remain a small part of the legacy of Dadasaheb Phalke, known as “The Father of Indian Cinema.”
On April 21, 1913 Phalke found inspiration from the Lumiere brothers, two French cinematographers, and directed his debut film, Raja Harishchandra. The film caused a stir in India, and marked the birth of Indian cinema.
100 years later, cities all across the world have been hosting events honoring Indian film. In Los Angeles on Dec. 13, local radio hosts Parimal Rohit and Rasha Goel organized an event at which Los Angeles City Council member Mitchell Englander recognized the contributions of Indian cinema.
“The 100-year celebration is huge across the world. We wanted the representation in Los Angeles, especially with the growing relations between the Indian film industry and Hollywood,” Goel tells The Hollywood Reporter.
In a speech, Englander said box office for Indian films reached $3.5 billion last year, up from $2 billion in 2011. Revenue is projected to increase to $5 billion by the year 2016, according to the 2013 FICCI-KPMG Media and Entertainment Report.
1,255 Indian movies were produced in 2011 and 1,602 in 2012, according to the Central Board of Film Certification – that’s an output that surpasses the number of Hollywood and Chinese films made. And though Bollywood may be its most famous export, Indian films go beyond Bollywood, which represents 20 percent of the movies in India.
“It not only continues to be the biggest in the world, but also the growth of independent films has emerged to capture international audiences,” says Jai Khanna, Brillstein Entertainment talent agent and member of THR’s Next Generation Class of 2005. “With films traveling to Cannes, Toronto and recent acquisitions by Sony and others, different forms of storytelling are emerging from India, with young writers and directors leading the charge.” This crossover was also noted in Englander’s speech on the establishment of the Los Angeles Indian Film Council in 2010, created by previous Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
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The council has served as a bridge, bringing in filmmakers from India and granting them access to technology, productions and resources to produce foreign films in the United States. Prior to the establishment, investment had been increasing with Indian entertainment, most notably with Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and Reliance Entertainment’s acquisition of DreamWorks SKG and the launch of Yash Raj Films Entertainment in Los Angeles.
Gyan Correa, the director of The Good Road, India’s submission for best foreign language film for the 86th Academy Awards, was also present at the 100th anniversary celebration to receive support and recognition for his film.
“The biggest thing about Indian cinema is its multifacets,” Correa tells THR. “There are different expressions, many different voices, but it is one flavor, one unified expression.”
Correa’s film is the first Gujarati, non-Bollywood movie to be submitted for the Oscars. In the history of Indian cinema, only three Bollywood films, Mehboob Khan’s Mother India, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! and Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, have made it to the final nomination stage.
The Good Road, the director’s debut film, has enjoyed screenings in L.A. and Boston. Produced by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), the film stars locals and truck drivers from Kutch, Gujarat, the northwest region of India, one of whom, the main truck driver Shamji Dhana Kerasia, had never seen a feature-length movie before. The challenging choice to cast non-actors brings realism and diversity that only a portion of Indian cinema touches on, says Correa.
“Today, the youth are crossing borders and growing a desire to look at things differently,” says Correa. “We hope this submission reaches out to more interest in this world of Indian cinema and initiates a change.”