For quite some time now Bollywood has been the biggest movie industry in the world. But only recently did Hollywood turn its attention here. And by the look of the Hollywood transactions so far, it’s certain that the partnership is going to flourish. The Hollywood celebrity couple of Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones recently announced that they are working on a script which will be filmed in India. Zeta-Jones didn’t hesitate to say that she would pack her whole family and set base in India for the shoot. This follows another A-list celebrity couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie who brought their family to Pune for the filming of “A Mighty Heart”.
Hollywood’s fascination with India began more like a trickle. Even if entire movies were not shot here, actors and musicians sought to visit India for both personal and business reasons. Some have come to work, others to highlight social causes like AIDS, and yet others to recuperate and heal at low points in their personal lives.
Within the past year or so we have already had actors Ashley Judd, Richard Gere and Ralph Fiennes drop by to draw attention to social issues. They all spent time travelling to various parts of the country to highlight AIDS.
India seemed like a natural choice with the growing number of AIDS cases here. AIDS has always been the pet cause of many celebrities in Hollywood from legends like Elizabeth Taylor to musician Elton John.
In the past decade two prominent rock stars, Alanis Morissette and Anthony Kiedis, have travelled to India for purely personal reasons. After her monster of a hit “Jagged Little Pill”, Morissette went through a phase of disillusionment and needed to reconnect with her spirituality. She chose India and was more than happy with her sojourn here. So much so that that one of the lines from her Grammy-nominated song says “Thank you India.”
Kiedis, the lead singer of the rock band Red Hot Chilli Peppers, met the Dalai Lama at the end of 1996 after he had a nervous breakdown. After that he contemplated quitting music. But after coming to India and spending some time with the spiritual leader, Kiedis returned to music reinvigorated.
Since it has been only in the recent decade that Hollywood’s interest has been piqued, there are a few adjustments that celebrities have had to make. One obvious hard-hitting fact for all those first time visitors is the contradictions. Nowhere else in the world would there be such an urban blend of high-rise buildings standing right next to slums.
Another cultural adjustment Hollywood stars have had to make is regarding social values. Richard Gere found out the hard way when he attempted to demonstrate a point in AIDS awareness with Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty and inadvertently went too far. People rioted and burnt his effigies followed by more public denunciations by political factions.
In the grand scheme of things, this seems more like a mere bump on the road to future Hollywood-India ‘partnerships’.
Yet another interesting aspect of celebrities coming to India is how their visit on the arc of their careers draws more attention to India than just a place visited. Jolie might have filmed a movie in Pune but that performance has been so well accepted that there is already talk of the Oscars. Morrisette found healing here and deemed it necessary to mention that in her song.
Kiedis turned his life around to rejoin his band and they have released three hugely critical albums – “Californication”, “By The Way” and the more recent “Stadium Arcadium” – after his return.
Actor Owen Wilson a month ago attempted suicide but will have a chance to redeem himself and jumpstart his career when he comes to India later this year to film “The Darjeeling Limited” directed by Wes Anderson and co-starring Oscar winner Adrien Brody. In all these cases, India is much more than an exotic place to hang out.
In the past 10 years or so the West’s impression of India has changed from a land of cow worshippers and snake charmers to a haven of outsourcing and techies who can fix any computers. But in another decade or so, India will just be the place to visit to make some great movies.