A Minute With: Ashim Ahluwalia

MUMBAI Fri Oct 26, 2012 4:35pm IST

1 of 3. A still from the film 'Miss Lovely'.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Ashim Ahluwalia's "Miss Lovely", a quirky look at the porn industry in Mumbai, won the award for the best Indian movie at the city's annual film festival on Thursday.

The film had been screened at Cannes and Toronto this year but its 40-year-old director was especially pleased by its reception in Mumbai.

"Miss Lovely" has been picked up for release in France and Japan, but it is unclear when it will open in Indian cinemas.

Ahluwalia spoke to Reuters about the Bollywood film industry and why box-office performance is not enough to impress him.

Q: How important is appreciation for your film at the Mumbai film festival?

A: "It is more important than Cannes for me. On many levels, I am an outsider to the industry. I don't make industry films and I don't make films that fall into clear-cut brackets. It's something really, really off. And it's always a test, because I am like ‘I am a Bombay guy and I do this'. There must be other people here who get into it. For me, it is a way of re-connecting with my city and my audience. So when I hear people are fighting to get into the film or I get letters and texts from random people it's really great.

"If you show it in Cannes, they are watching arthouse stuff from all over the world. You show it in Toronto, they are watching 400 other films. It is a jaded viewing process. When you are showing in Mumbai, and to people who watch multiplex films and they get it."

Q: You said you feel like an outsider to the city. Does the outsider's perspective help you to see the city and your subject more clearly?

A: "My intention was never to come back to Bombay and become a Bollywood film-maker. I wanted to make films that were about the city; about the places that I grew up in that reflect who we are."

Q: Isn't Bollywood a huge part of what Mumbai is?

A: "It is, but the films don't reflect that sadly. They are reflecting London landscapes and aspirations. They are reflecting the aspiration of people who are struggling hard but not the people themselves."

Q: Is there some sort of contempt about Bollywood and the way that it functions in your mind?

A: "Not contempt. The reason I am vocal about Bollywood is that it dominates what's possible. Maybe other people don't say it, and I say it because I am an outsider. Other people having a different approach to film-making or story-telling, it often crushes them. Everything is talked about in box-office terms and that is detrimental to human expression. In Bollywood, everything is talked about in box-office terms. We all know the films that are making 100 crores (a billion rupees), most people who are interesting people don't watch them. So why are we celebrating them? I find it hypocritical. I don't have contempt for it, but I wish it allowed people to exist alongside."

Q: Why doesn't it allow others to exist alongside?

A: "It's a very old, hundred-year-old system and it's evolved in this monolithic, singular style of functioning. It's just a matter of time. I think people like me or other people who are around, will force it to open up and deal with itself. You can see that even within the industry. People like Anurag Kashyap and others have been given the space to do their thing. It will change, but it will take time."

Q: For you, is there a need to get inside the system to change it, or would you prefer to stay outside?

A: "I would prefer to stay outside. The requirement for me to make a Bollywood kind of a film would be quite high. My stuff is different, it's not typical multiplex stuff. It's pushing some buttons there. Somebody has to push the envelope right? We can't all be in the middle. I am OK being that guy."

Q: I don't know if this is a valid question, but does Bollywood hamper the prospects of films like yours by dumbing down audiences?

A: "The audience of a Bollywood film, I have always found are commenting on a film in a way that is more intelligent than the film is. The audience is far more intelligent than we think but they aren't getting those kind of films. And if a random film is dropped into the system, they will reject it. But if there is enough of that stuff happening, then people will start understanding. Ok, all stories don't have to be told in an A B C D manner. We don't allow audiences to be exposed to new things and that is an issue."

Q: Do you think there are more people like you who are willing to challenge this system?

A: "Every time a film crosses over internationally, like mine went to Cannes, there are 50 kids who are inspired. It gives a younger generation of film-makers an option. Otherwise they are always choosing between whether to make a gangster film or a romance, because the genres are pre-set. When they see a 40-year-old guy has broken through, they will be like ‘Oh, I want to be there'. I didn't have that when I was making films and it was really difficult."

Q: Whose sensibilities do you relate to the most?

A: "I like a lot of Asian film-makers. I like Wong Kar-wai a lot. I feel like a lot of my peers are trying to go the American way, but I am more apt to go the other way round. Asian cinema feels more of home to me, the localness fits in well with what we are trying to do. A lot of people want to say we can also make a Spielberg film, but we cannot because we don't have the money."

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