I’m sure all of you will remember with great fondness Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s feature debut Khamoshi: The Musical , featuring great performances from Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas as the deaf-mute parents of the radiant Manisha Koirala, who displays a gift for music. Recently, I came across a French film called La Famille Bélier ( The Bélier Family , 2014), directed by Eric Lartigau, whose earlier romantic comedy Prête-moi ta main ( I Do , 2006) memorably featured a clip of Thalaivar from Muthu (1995).
The one line description of La Famille Bélier on IMDb reads thus: “A girl, who lives with her deaf parents, discovers that she has the gift of singing.”
Further digging and a pleasurable trawling (not trolling) of message boards revealed the existence of a German film by Caroline Link titled Jenseits der Stille ( Beyond Silence ). The film follows Lara, the daughter of deaf mute parents who discovers her aptitude for music when her aunt gifts her a clarinet.
Before we get hot under the collar about European films being ‘inspired by’ Indian films rather than the other way round (as is usually the case), let us calmly consider the facts of the matter. Khamoshi released on August 9, 1996. Jenseits der Stille released on December 19, 1996. Even if Link and her co-writer Beth Serlin had indeed watched Khamoshi somewhere, idea to release a film in four months is near impossible.
The key word here is idea. The Hindi film, the French film and the German film have the idea of the deaf-mute parents and the musical daughter in common but the plot mechanics are completely different. So how does an idea drift across continents is the question?
In 1996 the Internet was not the ubiquitous beast it is now. And by all accounts the German mania for Bollywood, in particular films starring Shah Rukh Khan, began only in 2004 when a German television channel showed Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham at primetime. This is mere conjecture since I don’t know Mmes Link and Serlin from Eve, but the only way for them to have seen Khamoshi at the time was either to have hopped over to London, where Indian films release regularly; have fortuitously been holidaying in India in August 1996; or gotten a bootleg DVD off one of their Germany based Turkish friends, who as a people are well-known Bollywood aficionados.
The answer to the idea question lies upstairs. Our brain is a capricious creature that stores away a fragment of information from years ago while destroying large swathes of it after a particularly bibulous night out. So a creator, let’s say Victoria Bedos, who is credited with the original idea for La Famille Bélier , was channel surfing late one night in the late 1990s and came across a glimpse of Jenseits der Stille . Her brain stored it away perhaps and decades later, it subconsciously became the idea for a French feature film. Or, if you like, maybe the late night surfing led to a peek at Manisha Koirala lip-syncing to Kavita Krishnamurthy singing ‘Aaj Main Upar’. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.