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Bollywood at Toronto

Mainstream Indian entertainment films from Bombay, which means the flashy three hour song and dance extravaganzas which have come to be know by the somewhat patronizing appellation “Bollywood” -- as opposed to the “serious art” films from India which had been making the festival rounds until now, are suddenly beginning to surface at major international film festivals, the latest instance being Toronto 2009. At the 34th instalment of this mega-festival (for that is exactly what Toronto has become, mega, to the max) two new films from Bombay will be receiving world premieres, and a flock of Bollywood stars and directors will be rubbing elbows with the likes of George Clooney, Demi Moore, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Heffner, and talk show empress Oprah Winfrey.

During this year’s run from September 10–19 director Anuragh Singh’s “Dil Bole Hadippa”, and Ashutosh Gowariker’s “What’sYour Rashee?” will be screened and a gaggle of actors from these films will be led by two of Bollywood’s most ravishing leading ladies, veteran actress, honey-eyed Rani Mukerjee, and relative newcomer, slinky, sexy, ex-model and beauty queen, Priyanka Chopra (Miss India and Miss World, 2000). Priyanka is the star of “What’s Your Rashee” along with hot young newcomer Harman Baweja. Following three heavy dramas this is the director’s first venture into light romantic comedy in which a young man has ten days to find his soulmate or his family will face ruin. He has to look over a dozen girls to find the one who fits his horoscope, but the selection process can’t be too strenuous with a fashion plate like Priyanka in view. Ashutosh Gowariker, 41, started out as an actor but hit it big as a director with the film “Lagaan”, 2001, a cricket based historical drama which was nominated for the foreign language Oscar and won widespread international acclaim at festivals. The director and his two stars will accompany the film at TIFF.
”Dil Bol Hadippa” is the directorial debut of Anurag Singh starring the amazingly versatile (and painfully beautiful) Rani Mukerjee here portraying a feisty cricket-expert Punjabi girl who joins the men’s cricket team to play in the cricket World Cup, but complications occur when she falls for her handsome cricket coach. Both of these films are female-centric, a bit unusual for the ordinarily macho-centric Bollywood scene. The presence of the actresses in these two films and at the festival should do much to make viewers realize that Hollywood has no monopoly on true glamour.
Among big names expected to attend a lavish Bollywood reception are Nicolas cage, Sir Ridley Scott (Director of cult negatopia film,”Bladerunner”, before he became a sir), Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, Kevin Spacey, Mike Douglas and Penelope Cruz. The Indian delegation will also include lovely Canadian-Indian actress Lisa Ray, and perennial Bengali art film director, Buddhadep Dasgupta, from Calcutta.

It is no secret that various Hollywood power brokers from Speilberg on down have been making overtures to Bollywood for co-productions and various kinds of crossover deals as Bollywood films continue to show more and more muscle in overseas markets. The Indian diaspora in the U.K., North America, and Australia is a significant source of income for Bombay producers, where based on the ticket purchases of “NRIs” (Non-Resident Indians, overseas) Indian films always cop a fancy annual market share in these countries, while remaining relatively unknown to the general non-Indian public. This too is beginning to change as more and more “white people” discover the joys and wonders of Bollywood cinema and begin to realize that Bollywood is not merely a glossy imitation of Hollywood, but a fascinating completely different cinematic alternative able to hold its own ground against the California dream factory with dreams of its own -- and stars equally or more appealing and talented than the Lotusland variety.

Another Indian film with a certain Canadian spin in the TIFF line-up this year is “Cooking With Stella”, which is not a Bollywood opus in the strict sense, but was shot in Delhi with a mixed cast and is directed by Dilip Mehta, roving photographer brother of outstanding female Indian director Deepa Mehta, making his feature film debut. Middle-aged Indian actress Seema Biswas stars as Selma, the scheming head housekeeper and cook of a diplomatic residence in New Delhi, where an honest young nanny, Tannu, appears on the scene and threatens to upset her applecart. Tannu is played by dusky glamorous star of South Indian (Telegu and Tamil) films actress Shriya Saran (27), who was sued by a pious religious group in 2008 for wearing “inappropriately skimpy attire” in a public appearance to promote one of her films. Both Shriya and Seema Biswas will tread the read carpet for the opening of the Mehta film on the 16th at the Thomson center. Director Dilip Mehta says it is a great thrill for a first time director like himself to be selected in the Gala Section of the festival in the company of such prestige films as the Charles Darwin biopic “Creation” by British veteran Jon Amiel, which will open the festival on September 10. It was in the same gala section that sister Deepa’s elegiac story of the internal exile of Indian widows, “Water”, starring John Abraham, Seema Biswas, and Lisa Ray, was premiered in 2005. This just might be the year in which non-NRI North America discovers “That’s Entertainment” Bombay style.

By Alex Deleon, September 5, 2009
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