The most talked about visit by a Hollywood icon was that of Gregory Peck visiting Suraiya, the then reigning queen at her Mumbai residence in Marine Drive one mid night. Peck knew about Suraiya’s fascination for him and obliged his admirer by spending around two hours and Suraiya was overwhelmed by Peck’s chivalry. The next visit by Gregory Peck to India was in the early 50s, when he attended a reputed film awards function at Mumbai. Almost all the leading stars of the period including Ashok Kumar, Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Nargis and others queued up to talk to the great star who publicly declared that he did not feel Dev Anand imitated him. “Actually our acting styles are of the same school,” he said.
Legendary director, Frank Capra was a guest of Chetan and Dev Anand during his first visit to India. He met a delegation of the Indian Film Industry at Famous Studio, Tardeo and during a conversation with actor, KN Singh asked him, “Who cooks food for you at home?” To this, KN Singh replied, “My wife, sir.” Capra laughed and said, “I am sure you understand the value of food cooked by a family member. Similarly, for me my audience forms my family just as my film team does. If I don’t respect my audience with my films, I will be nowhere.”
During those days, Hollywood directors and actors did not care much for typical Hindi films but had regard for talents of a select few like Dr V Shantaram, Bimal Roy, Chetan Anand and Balraj Sahni. Meena Kumari, Nargis and Nutan did catch the fancy of stalwarts like Sir David Lean, William Wyler and Sophia Loren.
Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali gave Indian cinema international fame and Elia Kazan became a great fan of Satyajit Ray and even personally visited his south Kolkata residence in the early 60s. Marlon Brando, made it a point to invite Ray to Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, during his first visit to the city in 1963, and both walked down Esplanade like common men to share coffee at Firpos. Sir David Lean came across Ray at a restaurant in Agra in the middle 60s and both shared lunch. In fact Sir Lean wanted to cast Dilip Kumar in the role of Ali in Lawrence Of Arabia prior to Omar Sharif. As Dilip Kumar was too busy with his home production, Ganga Jumna and an outside Bengali film, Paari, he was compelled to drop him sadly. Sir Lean however did cast IS Johar in Lawrence Of Arabia in a cameo.
Charlton Heston, Sophia Loren and even Robert Mulligan visited India during the 60s, 70s as well as the 80s in various international film festivals held at Delhi. Sir Richard Attenborough came back to acting with a bang after a spell of hibernation for almost seven years in Satyajit Ray’s, Shatranj Ke Khiladi. Francois Truffaunt visited India in the late 70s and described Amitabh Bachchan as a one man industry. Ava Gardner and Bibi Anderson also were present in some important film festivals.
India proved to be the ideal backdrop for Sea Wolves, a slick World War II film. Gregory Peck, Sir David Niven and Roger Moore were at Goa and Delhi to shoot for the film in the early 80s. Then Sir Richard Attenborough shot his magnum opus Gandhi in India.
Sir David Lean shot in India, his last film, Passage To India and confessed, “In no other sub continent, have I come across such varied locations, cultures and people. India if properly exploited is a heaven for shooting.”
He was followed by Ronald Joffe of Killing Fields fame who spent months at Kolkata to shoot, City Of Joy based on the famous novel by Dominique Lappiere. From the 90s, onwards not many from Hollywood came to shoot or visit India. Slumdog Millionaire is perhaps the most important recent film to come out from India’s creative collaboration with the West. Reliance Entertainment has now gone into a joint venture with Steven Spielberg’s Dreamwork Productions and even Subroto Ray of Sahara India is bidding for MGM Studios at present. The Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Irfan Khan starrer, A Mighty Heart was shot extensively at Jaipur a couple of years ago.
Even screen goddess, Julia Roberts embraced Hinduism whilst shooting for her latest released starrer, Eat, Pray And Love in Central India last year. John Travolta made it a point to be present at an award function in Mumbai, two weeks ago. Oliver William Stone will be in Mumbai to receive the Lifetime’s Achievement Award at MAMI in late October.
Even Richard Gere who has visited India a number of times is believed to be playing the lead in Goutam Ghosh’s forthcoming Indo-Italian joint venture, Lala in English.
As John Travolta rightly said, “India is far beyond a myth with its glorious history and culture which Hollywood did not understand or bother to delve deep into earlier.”