Can Delhi spawn Delhiwood?

By Hindustan Times

There has been an endless debate on Delhi being India’s movie capital. In fact, when the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was allotted a permanent venue at Goa’s Panaji in 2004, it broke a lot many hearts, hearts that had been singing for New Delhi.

The other day, when I ran into Shankar Mohan, Director of IFFI, at the ongoing Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, he accused me of being one of those who had vociferously advocated Goa. I had not, of course, except for having said (and written) that IFFI must have a permanent location, and not be a wandering event, as it had been for a long time, coming to Delhi every other year.

Given the debate, it was not surprising that Cinefan should have organised a two-day seminar on Delhi being the country’s new movie capital. While it may not have been all that a big task to shift the centre of cinema from Lahore to what was then Bombay post-partition, it is certainly not going to be as easy to transport Bollywood into the bureaucratic-government Delhi.

The Cinefan seminar attracted a bunch of celebrities, including Shekhar Kapur, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Bobby Bedi, Marco Mueller (who now heads the Rome Film Festival), Nina Lath Gupta (Managing Director of the National Film Development Corporation of India) and some Ministers.

Though, Delhi has been the setting for some significant Bollywood films (Rang De Basanti and Delhi Belly among others), and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra may be planning a studio in the capital city, there was no heartfelt, sustained campaign among the speakers to transform Delhi into a cinema hub. Delhiwood did not appear to be catchy enough.

Neville Tuli, co-founder of Cinefan and head of Osian’s auction house, felt that Delhi could complement Mumbai, not take over. In a flamboyant speech typical of him, he said that Delhi should never attempt to be the driver. The city could make use of its wonderful cultural heritage, but should make sure that movie-making did not ruin the historic sites. This was a common problem.

Years ago, one remembers Ooty rising in revolt against the damage caused by film units, which dirtied the pristine beauty of the southern Indian mountain resort, even damaging some of the monuments there.

Speaking in the same vein as Tuli, Producer Bedi while admitting that Delhi was an easier place to shoot with streets less crowded than they were in Mumbai, felt that India’s capital city could never be a substitute for the metropolis by the Arabian Sea.

Kapur averred that Delhi had the same problems as Singapore, and lacked creative talent. “Maybe Delhi needs a kind of stimulus that comes from Mumbai’s underworld and drinking dens”, he quipped.

In a typical sarkari style, Delhi’s Minister, Kiran Walia, said she would be happy to see Delhi as the celluloid centre, but “I hope nobody asks for precious land”.

All this is fine, but many, many Indian producers are now budgeting for shoots in locations as exotic as Prague (the recent film with the same title is an example), Switzerland, Malaysia, New Zealand and so on. These look extremely alluring and Delhi could hardly hope to be a match.

And keeping this in mind, stories are being set outside India. Ashish Shukla’s Prague takes its lead players to the Czech capital and presents a visually arresting canvas. Forget the plot, forget the performances and forget how believable the incidents by themselves are. Shukla is on a touristy trip and that is about all there is to his work.

I wish that instead of these needless debates on Mumbai-vs- Delhi, serious efforts would be made to make better cinema. The money that would have gone into setting Prague in Prague could have been used to get better writers and actors. The story could have taken place in Mumbai or Madurai or Delhi or Dhanbad or Kolkata or Kharagpur. There was nothing Prague specific in it.

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in New Delhi)

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