[Filmi Girl enjoying delicious street corn in Little India in Toronto.]
WHAT I LEARNED FROM IIFA
I’d been looking forward to attending IIFA in Toronto for so long that I can’t quite believe it’s all over. The past weekend feels like a very vivid dream. It was really amazing to be surrounded by so much love and enthusiasm from the filmi community! Despite my pale skin, nobody ever made me feel unwelcome or out of place, which I really appreciated. I posted some blow by blow updates but I thought I would share with you lovely people a few of the things I learned over the weekend.
1. I made a conscious decision to attend IIFA as a spectator instead of trying to do a “working weekend” as a journalist. I’m a blogger and I wanted to enjoy myself instead of reporting back on the details on the press conferences for movies that I don’t care about - and that probably you don’t care about either!
Over the couple of years that I’ve been following Bollywood news, I’ve learned a lot about how the English-language Bollywood PR machine works. Publicists send out pre-written articles sending a narrative regarding whatever film is in the works. This is where those ‘on-set hijinx’ stories come from: Sanjay Dutt bringing segways onto the Double Dhamaal set; Akshay Kumar rescuing Katrina Kaif from a crowd; Kajol tripping and falling to bring good luck; etc. etc. News outlets then take those stories, slightly rewrite them, and post them.
You also have the stories made up out of nothing - speculating on a tweet, a picture, a couple of people spotted together. These tend to be written to generate controversy and focus on link-ups, feuds, and other nonsense and if they are especially juicy, will get (slightly) rewritten and posted.
And then you have the dutiful reports on the press conferences and the interviews that reveal nothing about the subject other than that they are 100% really-truly not dating whoever the reporter is badgering them about.
If you are me and you don’t stay within those confines when writing about things, you sometimes receive nasty messages from official-type people telling you to only write nice things if you want access.
But you know what? I don’t really care about access to people like Sohail Khan. What do I care what he thinks of me? As I was watching the parade of celebrities this weekend, I realized that there were very few of them I would honestly like to get to know. Arshad Warsi seems like a real genuine guy. Ranveer Singh would be hilarious to hang with. And I bet Kangana Ranaut knows how to party. But as I saw Esha Deol blowing air kisses to Karan Johar and Ameesha Patel giving a cutesy wave to somebody in the audience, I felt no desire to be part of that glitzy world. Sure, it’s fun to dress up and play pretend but by Sunday, I was ready to be around regular people who don’t wear sunglasses inside.
So, IIFA solidified for me that I like movies a lot more than I like celebrities and boring press events. And having accepted nothing from IIFA, I can honestly say that Love Breakups Zindagi looks like a glossier and less interesting version of Band Baaja Baarat and I resent having been made to watch the trailer during the ceremony.
I refuse to be another outlet by which PR companies can circulate the same dull stories. I’ll continue to report my undiluted opinions and I’ll continue to do interviews with people I find interesting instead of people who have movies to push.
2. Shahrukh Khan is really popular. I knew this intellectually but I didn’t feel the overwhelming Love of SRK until I was in that auditorium, listening to screams. Shahrukh Khan still generates Beatles-levels of hysteria. Do you know how overwhelming that feels just to watch? To be at the center of that madness - middle aged men grabbing your thighs in the middle of an awards show - must take superhuman strength. I wonder if Shahrukh is happy...
I like Shahrukh but not as a star. So, to me as an impartial observer, the ceremony really felt like a passing of the torch to the new generation. I don’t want to put too many expectations on Ranveer Singh but standing next to mid-40s Shahrukh with his broken knee, Raveer felt so young and vital. And hearing the crowd go wild (me, included) as he launched into “Dhinka Chika” gave me thrills.
Is the time of King Khan passing? Probably not in the next few years but Shahrukh can’t play the loverboy forever and his broken body isn’t going to play superhero for much longer. The cynic inside me would enjoy seeing a good flameout but the rest of me appreciates Shahrukh’s acting and would enjoy seeing him transition to serious films like Chak De India. Either way, looking at him and Ranveer felt like seeing a young SRK next to an aging Rishi Kapoor back in 1992.
3. The Hindi Film Industry wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Bollywood wants to be global like Hollywood while also being the cultural glue of the Diaspora. For every nod to an international (i.e. Western) audience - Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jermaine Jackson, Hillary Swank - there was somebody claiming the awards as a purely Indian function. Forget the fact that not everybody in the South Asian Diaspora even identifies as Indian (Little India in Toronto seemed to be full of Urdu script and Pakistani flags - #justsayin) Bollywood needs to figure out what they want from the international film community - and if they are going to take on Hollywood in an effort to be the global dream factory, some of the more exclusive rhetoric is going to have to change.*
*Emphasis on the SOME - of course, patriotism has a place in Hindi cinema as it does in American... but hopefully you understand what I'm trying to say.