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Rajnikanth casts spell on Japanese viewers
By Gautaman Bhaskaran

TOKYO, JAN. 5. The other night, one of the main Japanese television channels showed the popular Tamil film, `Muthu'. A high school teacher here, Takashi Miyamoto, said that he and his friends were absolutely thrilled by the antics of the movie's hero, Rajnikanth. He also found the spirit of `Muthu' extremely sunny and positive. ``There is so much of humour in it. One never finds this in Japanese cinema'', he added with a chuckle.

Muthu's popularity is amazing. Two young women, the children of a respected university professor, _ with an abysmally poor knowledge of India _ knew all about ``Rajni the hero''. What else did they know about India. The question drew a shocking answer: ``elephants''. They were totally unaware of even the current headline-grabbing hostility between India and Pakistan. But information about `Muthu' was at their fingertips. This is not to suggest that `Muthu' is a great work. The Japanese have seen much better Indian cinema. The Japan Foundation, for instance, which works under the Japanese Foreign Ministry, regularly screens festivals of Indian films. Its last major one was on Guru Dutt, and a fellow Indian here said that he was bowled over by the remarkable awareness of the Japanese viewers at the festival. They certainly knew about Dutt, but they also had a deep understanding of Indian cinema in general.

It is in this context that it seems such a pity that the noted director, Shyam Benegal's trip to Tokyo later this month _ organised by the Japan Foundation _ had to be cancelled for reasons not yet clear. A couple of his movies were to have been screened.

The power of this moving medium in bridging divides between nations cannot be disputed, and one hopes that 2002, which marks 50 years of Indo-Japanese cooperation, will see a greater exchange of films between the two countries. At the moment, this link is, at best, tenuous in many ways.

Very few Indian movies are shot in Japan. The one that was almost entirely made in Japan was a Joy Mukherjee-Asha Parekh starrer, `Love in Tokyo', released in 1966. There have hardly been attempts since then to use Japan as a locale.

The Government here has been quite late in waking up to this issue. The Japan Film Commission Promotion Council _ which promotes Japan as a location _ was set up only last August. Japan has five movie commissions, including those at Osaka, Kobe and Yokohama, which operate under the Council.

The Osaka Film Council invited in July two students from the University of Southern California to shoot a 15-minute promotional movie about the city. This will be shown all over the world.

The Kobe Film Council will fund location-scouting for both domestic and foreign producers by paying for their transportation to and from the city, and their stay there.

Kobe is getting ready to host a team which is to make a Brazilian movie there. Called `Gaijin 2', it portrays the lives of Japanese immigrants to Brazil in the early years of the 20th century.

The Director of the Kobe Film Council, Mako Tanaka, was quoted as having said that her dream was to see a movie like `Roman Holiday' being made in her city. ``I am talking about a work with a universal theme, easy to understand subject and good actors and actresses'', she added.

Even if Ms. Tanaka does not realise her dream, there is hope and expectation here in Japan that cinema, especially that which is shot in this small archipelago nation of 260 million people, will attract hordes of tourists and cement fragile ties. Mr. Takeshi Kawamura, a music composer, told this correspondent this morning that he was very keen on composing the music for an Indian ``masala melodrama''. Any takers?

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