‘The Lunchbox’ star Irrfan Khan has bemoaned Bollywood’s “Item Number” image if Indian cinema is to be more universally appealing.
The 46-year-old actor, one of the handful of Indians who have successfully straddled Eastern and Western cinema, said it was vital tell the world that India can produce “interesting” cinema, beyond the escapism of Bollywood.
“We cannot continue being known as item number filmmakers. Bollywood is known as an item number, and we have to change that.
We have to connect with a universal audience in a way that they think that there is some interesting kind of cinema coming out of India. We need to find a universal language”, Khan told the Indo-Asian News Service.
The actor was speaking ahead of a screening of his latest film, ‘Qissa’, at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in the United Arab Emirates.
Directed by Anup Singh, ‘Qissa’ (an old Arabic word meaning “Folk Tale”) is set in the chaos of India’s partition. Khan plays Umber Singh, one of the millions of Sikhs who were displaced during the bloody division of the sub-continent in 1947.
He and his family move to a safer location to rebuild their lives, and it is here that the story takes a remarkable turn. Having already fathered daughters, Singh now wants a son.
When his next child is born he celebrates his wish come true, but there is one problem: the baby is in fact a girl.
Much like ‘The Lunchbox’, Khan’s globally acclaimed previous release, ‘Qissa’ is an Indo-German-Dutch-French production and was well received at its premier at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Unlike ‘The Lunchbox’ – a gently-paced tale of an unlikely romance – ‘Qissa’ explores much darker themes which still have “universal” appeal meant to “shake” the audience, Khan said.
The star of Oscar-winning international productions such as ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and ‘Life of Pi’ also said that Indian cinema should look beyond domestic accolades as a way of improving its cinematic capabilities.
‘The Lunchbox’ – which won the Critics Award at Cannes in May - was controversially overlooked as India’s choice in the Best Foreign Film category at the 2014 Academy Awards.
“You can’t make a film and sit in your room and watch it.
You have to change the perception about Indian cinema when you go to (a) universal audience, and what better way to say that your film is universally accepted than (be at the) Oscar?” Khan said.
“Even your film’s business multiplies a lot.
We need to go universal, and how do you do that? Not by winning some award which is happening in India. Our awards are all for TRPs (Target Rating Points). And a National Film Award doesn’t carry as much weightage as here in the US.”
“As a filmmaker and as an industry, we need to establish our presence in bigger markets. That’s what Hollywood is doing in India, and that’s what we need to do in the rest of the world,” Khan added.
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