“Art has no borders”Mira NairMIRA NAIR, FILMMAKERAs a filmmaker I make images in my work, I don’t pen words and especially not words to be delivered from podiums as august as these. But I saw this as an opportunity to share with you what has been on my mind since,”Art has no borders”Mira NairMIRA NAIR, FILMMAKERAs a filmmaker I make images in my work, I don’t pen words and especially not words to be delivered from podiums as august as these. But I saw this as an opportunity to share with you what has been on my mind since the watershed date, 9/11/01. Our world has never been less peaceful, more destructive, more commercial, less glorifying in risk and experiment. Because of this, I have been reflecting on the torrent of images in our media, in print, on television and of course, in popular cinema, asking myself the question that I began with when I was a young girl in Orissa. What is the role of an artist? Can art change the world? As an artist I am aware now more than ever that a monologue is not the answer. One voice cannot represent all of humanity. Only those who embrace the world fully will know themselves. There should be no borders within art, rather every artist should own all conventions. As artists, and as civilians, our strongest weapon is freedom of speech. As artists, we have the responsibility to protest through our work. In the new global village of incessant images, increasingly, I see a failure of mass media to impart understanding. This overactive pluralism gives one the illusion of knowing a lot about a lot but it is nattering about nothing, only confusing one with an information overload, making us politically apathetic. The schisms of the world are being cemented into huge walls between one belief and another. Now, more than ever, we need cinema to reveal our tiny local worlds in all their particularity.advertisementFrom experience, I have seen that it is when I have made a film that has done full-blown justice to the truth and idiosyncrasies of the local that it has crossed over to become surprisingly universal. With Monsoon Wedding, I wanted to make an intimate family film, a love song to this great city of Delhi, to return to my old habits of guerrilla filmmaking; except this time fired by the recent empowering of the Dogma method, I wanted to make a film in just 30 days, in $1 million. I wanted to capture firstly the Punjabi community’s inherent spirit of masti, and then to capture the India which lives in several centuries simultaneously. After shooting in exactly 30 days, a film was born that then had a journey so different from any expectation or rather, non-expectation, that we might have had during its making. People believed it was their wedding, their family on screen. And if they didn’t have a family, they yearned for a mad-cap Punjabi family like the one they saw.ONE VOICE CANNOT REPRESENT ALL OF HUMANITY BECAUSE NOT EVERYONE IS CAST IN THE SAME IMAGE. I didn’t make the film to educate anybody about my culture. To be simply a cultural ambassador is boring. I leave that to the diplomats. The film was released soon after 9/11. I remember film critics seeing it on September 11. They came out of the screening dancing, and the planes hit and suddenly we became the other. But when the film was released it provoked such a dialogue and commonality of understanding it made me ask what can art do? Art increases communication and violence negates it, but can it also show us our dark side? What is our responsibility in making art?My new film The Namesake is my most personal yet. It opened in the US three weeks ago and for me, it was inspired by grief. I had lost a beloved, my mother-in-law, without warning. In the weeks of mourning that followed, I found myself on a plane reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. It was such a shock of recognition to see that Jhumpa had understood so acutely what it felt like to bury a parent in a foreign land. And the book became such a solace and as I tried to make sense of my loss, I found expression in this film. The Namesake took readers through a crisscrossing world familiar to me. It was many of my worlds.Yes, the world is undeniably smaller and more global, but we must warn against creative puddings. A little of something for everyone is not the way to go. Uniqueness is still our advantage. Hollywood has always embraced outsiders, provided their film makes money of course. From Erich Von Stroheim to Billy Wilder, from Ang Lee to my friends, the Mexican amigos. What we make of this invitation is the question. Do we make a chick flick on Fifth Avenue or do we turn our uniqueness into our advantage? Never treat what you do as a stepping stone to something else. Do it fully and completely-who knows where it might lead you. Let the heart inform the brain as my guru B.K.S. Iyengar taught me. There are no rules in making cinema. There is only good cinema or soulless cinema.advertisement”The world lionises us”Abhishek BachchanABHISHEK BACHCHAN, ACTORIt is no national secret that I am a child of cinema. I have been privileged to experience in close-up the limitless reach and the incalculable impact of our cinema, not only at home, but wherever I have travelled and received my education. Doors have been opened wider, smiles have been seen on people’s faces and communication has been effortless simply because I belong to the hometown of India’s glorious film making community. Indian cinema, that is what the unprejudiced call it, ‘Bollywood’ is employed merely by those accustomed to using short cuts, a word which finally leads no one nowhere in understanding the infinite value and aesthetic of our cinema. Even the most stubborn nations cannot deny that our cinema has grown and evolved to such an extent that it is the leading export not only of our economy but of a culture that is distinctly ours. To be popular, to be relished by the majority of the movie-going audience here or abroad is not looked down upon any more. Books as well as scholastic studies are now examining how and in what form films have encapsulated the essence of the Indian reality. Needless to add here, it is a reality that has universal resonance. We have been increasingly lionised at international film festivals. In return, we salute the works of international cinema at our film festivals at home. If this is not a dialogue in the language of cinema, what is?WE GET GLOBAL RELEASES. WE’VE MOVED FROM JACKSON HEIGHTS TO NEW YORK, SOUTHALL TO LEICESTER SQUARE. For someone who is still learning the alphabet of the inter-connection between cinema and life, every day is a new lesson. Yet even with my rawness I can see that there are some constants which have made us reach where we have on an equal footing with the rest of the world. Three key constants of our cinema reaffirm that we are the world and that our cinema converses globally and with articulation. Just take the purely humanistic cinema of Satyajit Ray which spoke in a forceful language about our people, their anxiety and aspirations. Mr Ray transmitted our ethos in stark black and white and in colour, and he was as much our jewel as he was that of the international cinema community. Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan are just a few of our masters who have also spoken a universal language. They have been seen, heard and saluted. As importantly Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram, Mehboob Khan and Bimal Roy created a cinema that inculcated social awareness while making the Indian style of filmmaking, entertaining and purposeful simultaneously. And there have been the grand cinema musicians like, say Manmohan Desai, whose rollicking Amar Akbar Anthony has been the most delightful and yet profound plea for secularism. And surely, my first constant would be incomplete without acknowledging the works of the internationally feted Shekhar Kapur, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.advertisementThe second constant has been our artistes of charisma and strength. Raj Kapoor was and will always be a household name as much in Delhi as he is in Moscow. Dilip Kumar sahab’s art set unattainable standards. And, of course, my dad, who is always embarrassed even when he is paid his just dues. The third constant is a new constant, but a very vital one. And it is one that has come to stay. It is our cinema’s connect with Asians settled in every corner of the world. As their numbers grow and second-generation Asians become key players in the every day life of the world, particularly in the US and the UK, the connection with our cinema becomes tighter, unbreakable. In addition, the curiosity and the appreciation of our cinema by the world audience is intensifying. Our movies are no longer just screened at ethnic theatres but get mainstream releases the world over. We have moved from Southhall to Leicester Square, from Jackson Heights to the heart of Manhattan, and it doesn’t stop there. Our movies are also being appreciated in countries like France, Germany and Poland. We are there at the Oscar and BAFTA ceremonies. We have been imitated in Academy Award movies- I am sure you have all seen Moulin Rouge. Our filmmakers, artistes, writers, musicians, technicians are everywhere engaged in ceaseless conversation, giving rise to a new wave of creativity and, I dare say, a new language of cinema. So see what my thoughts have brought me. Language, lingo, bhasha, zubaan, boli, call the language what you will, but there are at least three words that spark the same excitement, the same eruption of gooseflesh the world over. Those three magical words are lights, camera and action. With that, I rest my my case.DiscussionQ. Mira Nair said by making something truly local you make something very universal. So why is it that all our Bollywood films which are very local have not been as popular as internationally as Monsoon Wedding? Karan Johar (chairperson): When we call it an overseas audience, 90 to 95 per cent of is Asian. North America is relatively ignorant about our existence and we can get much more support in the United Kingdom and in Europe. The highest we will ever do in North America is $3.5-4 million which is the highest business any Bollywood film has done internationally. Nair: But also maybe because our cinematic vocabulary is local. Our films need a few hours, songs, dances, they need archetypical villains. They are not yet used to the broad strokes of it, the musicality and the length of it.Q. Do you feel that Indian heritage and Indian culture have become irrelevant for cinema? Bachchan: If you see Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna there is a great relationship between my father and me keeping in mind Karan’s motto. It’s all about loving your parents, just not loving your wife as much. Johar: I actually believe that Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna is my most traditional film. All I was really trying to say is that marriage is a beautiful institution, it is a wonderful place and it just should be ventured into for the right reasons.Q. We all have seen what the corporate world has done to the heart and soul of cricket. And now we see the onslaught of the corporate world in cinema. With the Bombay club now getting into films, what do you see its future? Bachchan: It is unfair to draw parallels between sports and film. In defence of the Indian cricket team, we are all very disappointed but it takes a lot to perform under pressure regardless of the number of endorsements. I empathise with them. I too faced failure. It is tough just to go out there and do your best.Q. From your body language it looks as if you’re quite happy to make just $3-4 million. Why so? Bachchan: You must understand that a big Hollywood film could be released in about 3,000-3,500 screens across America. The biggest Hindi film released I think was Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, across 100 screens. The potential is there. As Karan said, once we overcome distribution, I am sure he will be making many more millions.Q. Do you aspire to be a truly global star? Bachchan: Actor is a better word. Indian actors are global. One of every six people on earth is Indian, which means one out of every six people sees Indian films. I think that is great testimony of being globalised. We are just not written about as much as our Western colleagues.Q. Mira, why did you decide to move out of India? Nair: It wasn’t predetermined. I started from theatre in Calcutta and Delhi and got a scholarship to study at Harvard. But I have always made films that are largely about India, no matter where I’m living. Every time I return here it just fuels me with so much inspiration. Despite dividing my time between India and the West, my roots are still strong. That’s why I can fly.