Movies

Dancing to a different tune: The Bollywood superhero

TAMPA, April 26, 2014 (AFP) - For decades, Indian cinema’s formula for success has consisted of love stories, dancing and awe-inspiring landscapes. But a new leading role is emerging - the Bollywood superhero.

The rise of science fiction comes as Indian audiences increasingly grow used to the special effects standards of Hollywood, whose studios have already relied on Indian workers for outsourced support on big-budget productions.

But superheroes in one sense mark a return to the old in India, where the majority religion of Hinduism is rooted in epics.

“Long before James Cameron created ‘Avatar,’ we had the first blue-skinned guy with a bow and arrow,” said Indian American producer Sharad Devarajan, referring to Hinduism’s Lord Rama.

Among the nominees for best picture at the International Indian Film Awards, Bollywood’s premier event which is being held in Tampa, is “Krrish 3,” a science-fiction film about a scientist and his superhero son.

- Bollywood goes Sci-Fi -

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“Krrish 3” won best special effects Friday when the academy presented awards for technical work. The film’s star Hrithik Roshan, addressing cheering fans, credited the special effects team with creating what had appeared “impossible.”

Reliance Mediaworks, part of Indian conglomerate Reliance, opened an office in the Los Angeles area in 2008 that now employs 80 to 85 people who work on visual effects and other post-production services including restoration.

“Indian film is transforming itself into getting more aligned with cinema that you see in the West. From that perspective, I only see business growing exponentially as we go forward,” Reliance Mediaworks’ chief executive officer, Venkatesh Roddam, told AFP by telephone.

Roddam said that the success of eye-dazzling Hollywood movies had raised the stakes for Indian filmmakers as many consumers can now instantly access films from across the world and compare standards.

“Are we beginning to see productions in India of the visual effect quality that you see in Hollywood? Absolutely not, I think it’s still got some distance to go.

“But is it vastly improving at a rapid pace? I think the answer is yes. And we will get there,” Roddam said.

Reliance Mediaworks estimated that the market for post-production services including visual effects was $300 million in India, mostly from US outsourcing, a sliver of the $6.5 billion market in the United States.

But room for growth is high in India, which has the world’s most prolific film industry with annual output of more than 1,100 movies.

- Going back for the future -

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While Bollywood movies are notorious for liberally taking inspiration from foreign films, India can draw on its own past for superheroes.

Devarajan’s company Graphic India last year released “18 Days” based on the Mahabharata, the ancient epic account of a battle whose ruminations on the nature of violence underpin Hindu philosophy.

Marketed online, “18 Days” aims at a younger and more international audience with its futuristic feel. The animated series was written by Grant Morrison, who has penned “Batman” and “Superman” comics, and is set to music by heavy metal band Pentagram.

Devarajan compared the artistic license to the frequent reimagining of Greek myths in Western entertainment.

“When I grew up, this was exactly the kind of stuff that took me to another planet,” he said of the Mahabharata.

“What I want to do is to make a Mahabharata that makes people’s jaws drop around the world,” he told a panel on the sidelines of the Tampa awards.

Devarajan said he was looking to turn “18 Days” into an action series along the lines of HBO’s popular fantasy “Game of Thrones” and was also working with Hollywood on a version of “Ramayan 3392 AD,” a sci-fi comic inspired by another Hindu epic, the Ramayana.

The Indian epics are “great stories which lasted since time immemorial for a reason, and that is because they speak about human truths,” he said.