India, Australia reimaging bilateral ties with filmy romance

Hitherto uniquely picturesque Aussie locales had been avidly sought by an increasingly agile and inventive Indian movie industry toward enriching the cinematic aesthetics and sophistication — song, dance and colour — of its diverse productions.

In fact, in recent years, Sydney and Gold Coast  have almost earned the sobriquet of being Bollywood’s conspicuous outposts.

From “Soldier” in 1998, “Dil Chahta Hai” in 2001, “Salaam Namaste” in 2005 and “Singh is King” in 2007, Australia has been a big attraction for Bollywood. But “Heyy Baby” was perhaps the first major multi-star venture involving more than 450 Australian cast and crew.

However, not to be perceived continually unmesmerised, Claire McCarthy’s “The Waiting City” (released on July 15) is a welcome acquisition to the emerging Australian cinema.
According to writer/director McCarthy, the film affording a three-dimensional view of the beautiful and unique city, Kolkata, and Mother Teresa’s devoted nuns, “is a fine example of high level planning, collaboration and cultural exchange between incredible Australian and Indian creatives and technicians.”

Though Indo-Australian film ties can be traced back to 1940s when an Australian actress became the famous Hunterwali (Nadia) on the Indian celluloid, the lyrical romance became more intense over a decade back: Feroz Khan scripted Australia into his son’s debut film “Prem Agan” and engaged Australian-Indian film maker/entrepreneur Anupam Sharma to shoot in Australia. Since then, Bollywood’s active interest in Australia’s existing locales has continued to ascend greater heights. 

If exotic Kolkata is the principal location of “The Waiting City”, based on the lives of an Australian couple, Ben (Joel Edgerton) and Fiona (Radha  Mitchell), who arrive in Kolkata for collecting their adopted child from an adoption agency, Australia has, over the years, provided the perfect dreamscape to Indian film makers, not only for Hindi but also Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali films. Scenic Australia has also been the backdrop of some leading ad campaigns in India like Thumbs Up or Van Heusan shirts collection.

“The Waiting City” also reminds Indian viewers of the surrogate Japanese baby Manjhi Yamada, who could reunite with her father only after a long wait and complicated legal procedures. However, in “The Waiting City”, the exasperating delay involved in the highly sensitive shenanigans of the emotional process of adoption makes the couple embrace, stoically, the chaos and charisma of Kolkata, and also grapple with their tenacious differences and fundamental beliefs.

This Australian movie is just a beginning, a showcase of the charisma Indian locations hold for foreign film makers, despite the chaos or clutter. The Indo-Oz lyrical romance is bound to offer delightful treats in future. Karan Zohar’s coming venture, featuring Kajol, Kareena and Arjun Rampal, is all set to reveal beautiful Sydney yet again. The film festivity is also ‘particularly pertinent’ at a time when Australia-India relations are under stress after last year’s spate of attacks on Indian students and India’s recent refusal to  endorse former prime minister John Howard’s candidature for International Cricket Council’s vice president’s post.

The Indo-Australian film industry is already a multimillion dollar collaboration involving reputed companies like the Temple Pvt Ltd, which in turn also has the distinction of bagging many prestigious Bollywood projects. Many Australians, employed on Indian movies in Australia and India, and leading stunt directors, designers and post-production companies are enriching the Indian cinema. “The Waiting City”, is also a unique testimony to the professional acumen of Australian movie-makers through the looking glass of an equally appealing alien cultural mindset.

Expanding access

The Australian government is interested in strengthening the bond. Recent announcement of a draft legislation to expand access to film tax offsets is likely to open new vistas for more Indian producers to choose Down Under as a preferred shooting location. The government has removed the current requirement under the location offset for productions valued between $15 million and $ 50 million to spend a minimum of 70 per cent of their production budgets in Australia. The post, digital and visual effects production (PDV) threshold has also been reduced from $5 million to $500,000.

The new measures seem to be a positive beginning of a successful long term relationship between the most film literate and professional industry in Australia and one of the most prolific film industries in the world. Australia can justifiably boast of a glorious tradition of cinematography in that the world’s first full length feature film, “The Story of the Kelly Gang,” was an Australian movie. The country, in fact, had a blooming film industry until Hollywood took over. Now with productions like the “Matrix” and the second and third parts of “Star Wars” at the Fox Studios in Sydney, Australia is looking at more global opportunities.

A successful Australian film festival was held in Chennai and Delhi in May-June this year. Next is a gala event of Indian art, music and film on Parramatta’s streets in New South Wales synchronising with the Diwali celebrations coming November.

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