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Last Updated: May 17, 2007 - 8:46:52 AM
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NRI film directors score box office hits
Mar 25, 2007 - 9:13:01 AM
With this impressive 'hit-list', the NRI directors have arrived on the global film circuit.

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[RxPG] NRI film directors have made news with their 'hit list'. Mira Nair's 'The Namesake', based on the novel by prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri, has set a new record at the box office by raking in over $1 million in just two weekends this month.

Opening at around 100 theatres in North America, 'The

Namesake' traces the travails and triumphs of a Bengali family over two generations after migrating to New York from Kolkata. 'The Namesake' tagline says it all: 'The greatest journeys are the one that bring you home.' On its release in India this week, Mira Nair said it was like a homecoming. Her earlier film 'Monsoon Wedding' was the highest box-office grosser for this genre until this one, and Gurinder Chadha's 'Bend it Like Beckham' also raked in the moolah.

Earlier, another NRI director, Deepa Mehta, made ripples when her film 'Water' was nominated for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. This film had its full share of controversy when its shooting was disrupted in Varanasi. It had to be shot eventually in Sri Lanka.

This select NRI filmmakers club, by no means all-inclusive, has promoted India as a 'soft' power globally. Most NRI directors have naturally reflected their experiences of migrating to new lands, adjusting to new environments and trying to establish their new identities. In telling these stories, they have portrayed their Indian roots and values, thus promoting the Indian way of life.

The distinguished members of this club are: the late Ismail Merchant, Gurinder Chadha, Shekhar Kapur, Tarsem, Ashok Amritraj, Sharad and his son the late Raju Patel, among others. Merchant, Raju Patel, Tarsem and Ashok Amritraj have successfully tackled mainstream themes for Western audiences to score box-office hits.

Merchant, with his partner James Ivory, towers over them all as the first to be nominated for Oscars in 1961 and honoured with six Oscars for two of his outstanding films. For over 30 years, Merchant-Ivory partnership offered such sensitive films as 'The Europeans', 'Quartet', 'Heat and Dust', 'A Room With a View', 'Mr. and Mrs. Bridge', 'Howard's End', 'The Remains of the Day', 'Jefferson in Paris' and 'Surviving Picasso'. Professional tennis player turned filmmaker Ashok Amritraj has produced perhaps the highest number of films - over 60. His film, 'Jeans' was nominated by India for Best Foreign Film in the 1998 Oscars.

Interestingly, three NRI directors have a strong East African connection. Sharad Patel was born in Kenya and after making his fortune on the mobile rural cinema circuit, he produced the first film on the Ugandan dictator 'The Rise and Fall of Idi Amin' in 1981. His son Raju moved to Hollywood, where he produced a number of films. Gurinder Chadha was also born in Kenya but migrated to Britain in the early 60s with her family. Mira Nair married an Ugandan Indian university don and has a second home in Kampala.

The thread of settling in a new land dominates their work. Like 'The Namesake', Mira Nair's 'Mississippi Masala' - starred Denzel Washington and profiled a family of displaced Ugandan-Indians in Mississippi. 'So Far From India' - presented the pangs of separation of an Indian immigrant in New York and his wife and child who remain in India. But her 'Monsoon Wedding' - was rip-roaring comedy of matrimonial capers.

Gurinder Chadha grew up in Southall, London. She made her first dramatic short film 'Nice Arrangement' - about a British-Asian family on the morning of their daughter's wedding. Another documentary, 'Acting Our Age' -, has elderly Asians living in Southall recounting their experiences of living in Britain. These various concerns came together in Chadha's first feature, the comedy-drama 'Bhaji on the Beach' -. Her most commercially successful film 'Bend It Like Beckham' - told the story of a young Asian woman trying to pursue her ambitions as a footballer while accommodating the demands of family and tradition. Her big budget Bollywood treatment of Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' as 'Bride and Prejudice' - flopped despite ravishing Aishwarya Rai and big beat 'bhangra' music.

NRI directors have successfully penetrated the mainstream cinema with their hits. Shekhar Kapur's 'Elizabeth' - dared to penetrate the court intrigues of the British monarch to score a bulls-eye after the raising eyebrows about an Indian directing this royal saga. Deepa Mehta's 'Elements Trilogy' of 'Fire' -, 'Earth' - and 'Water' - made international waves. Sharad and Raju Patel scored with 'The Bachelor Party' - and a number of children's films. Tarsem's psycho-thriller 'The Cell' -, a largely dreamlike film, the fantastical subconscious thoughts of a serial killer, was a big hit too. Amritraj has produced action-thriller-adventure hits like Jean Claude Van Damme in 'Double Impact' - and Sylvester Stallone in 'Get Carter' -.

With this impressive 'hit-list', the NRI directors have arrived on the global film circuit.


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