Week-long Indian festival under way; filmmakers being encouraged to shoot in each other’s countries

At an interview with Indonesia’s top counter-terrorism expert Solahuddin earlier this week, it was difficult to keep the conversation focused on jihadists and police tactics. Instead, he slipped into a reverie of his childhood in Bandung city and how he used to play truant and go to cinemas to watch the latest movies from India. “Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini; the good cop fighting corruption. Ah! Those were the most complete movies possible,” he reminisced.

In Indonesia, it is often like this. On spotting an Indian, people break out singing. “Rajesh Khanna!” purrs an elderly taxi driver in delight. “Shah Rukh Khan!” giggles a nubile shop attendant.

Films from Mumbai have a long history on the Indonesian archipelago, yet substantive collaboration between the movie industries of the two countries has failed to materialise.

Areas of cooperation

A week-long Indian film festival, organised by the Indian embassy in Jakarta, is now under way in the Indonesian capital, and includes side events such as a seminar focused on finding areas of cooperation between Indian and Indonesian cinema. Indian ambassador Gurjit Singh says that in the past, film festivals have stoked an interest in Indian cinema, but have not facilitated an engagement at the business level.

The hope this time around is that an agreement will soon be in place to facilitate joint production of Indian and Indonesian movies. In addition, filmmakers are being encouraged to think about shooting on locations in each other’s countries. Mr. Singh says the embassy has already received a proposal from an Indonesian production house to shoot in India, this week.

Director Sujoy Ghosh, whose Kahaani was screened as part of the festival, is excited about the possibility of developing scripts that will include an international dimension. “I think there is a lot of potential but we need to take this beyond simply shooting on location to a real story that would connect India to other countries like Indonesia,” he says.

15 films to be screened

The festival is being held to commemorate100 years of Indian cinema. In total, 15 films will be screened, offering a panoramic snapshot from the 1950s to the present day. Although a formal collaboration between Indian and Indonesian cinema has so far not amounted to much, there are interesting linkages. For example, it has been relatively common for Indonesian movies to rip off tunes from Bollywood music, much like the Mumbai film industry being “inspired” often by Hollywood plot lines or western pop music.

Moreover, immigrant Sindhi families run much of the Indonesian entertainment industry. The two dominant production houses, Multivision Plus and MD entertainment, are both headed by Indonesians of Indian descent: Raam Punjabi and his nephew Manoj Punjabi.

Removing red tape

Raam Punjabi says the Indonesian government needs to offer more incentives such as tax rebates to the cinema industry to get international players like the Indians interested. The government has, however, pledged to make the bureaucratic procedures involved in securing shooting permits simpler. Mr. Punjabi points out that Indonesia offers “virgin locations” that are much cheaper than those on offer in many other parts of the world. The Indonesian film industry grew at over 7 per cent last year and plans are in the offing to add thousands of new screens in the coming years.

Lack of direct flights

That hurdles to any Indian involvement in the local industry remain is undeniable. Mr. Singh points out that lack of direct flights between the two countries hampers business projects. Yet, he is hopeful that films can prove to be a vital bond between the countries.

He recalls that when Union Minister Kamal Nath led a group of parliamentarians to Jakarta earlier this year, the meetings with Indonesian counterparts skimmed over trade and foreign policy issues. “What the Indonesian side really wanted to talk about was Indian movies,” he smiles.

RELATED NEWS

Lessons from Indonesia’s Hindu legacy October 14, 2013