Legendary Indian director visits campus

Indian filmmaker Subhash Ghai speaks Sunday evening in the Siebel Center. The Indian Graduate Student Association hosted Ghai, whose film Taal was shown at Roger Ebert´s Overlooked Film Festival, in a forum where he spoke about his work and Bollywoo Online Poster

Indian filmmaker Subhash Ghai speaks Sunday evening in the Siebel Center. The Indian Graduate Student Association hosted Ghai, whose film Taal was shown at Roger Ebert´s Overlooked Film Festival, in a forum where he spoke about his work and Bollywoo Online Poster

By Dan Shah

With the largest film industry in the world, Bombay (or “Bollywood”) churns out as many as 600 films every year. One of the industry’s most prominent directors, Subhash Ghai, visited the campus during the 7th Annual Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival Sunday and took part in an open forum in front of an audience eager to discuss his film, Taal, that Ebert featured this weekend.

The Indian Graduate Students Association, or IGSA, brought Ghai for an open forum Sunday evening at the Siebel Center with a showing of one of his more famous films, Pardes.

Many of the students present anxiously awaited seeing the director and screenplay writer.

“He is one of the most popular directors in India,” said Chetan Shankar, University graduate student. “He has been in the industry for 25 to 30 years and is regarded by many as the best at what he does.”

The open forum, hosted by a member of the IGSA, Sandeep Mariserla, was kicked off with an explanation of why Taal was selected to be shown at Ebertfest.

“Each year, Ebert uses a musical as his Sunday matinee and this year he chose Taal as the movie to be shown,” Mariserla said.

Mariserla introduced Ghai to the audience – virtually all of whom were Indian – with a vivid history of the director’s experiences in the Indian film industry.

“I have never heard such a long speech about myself,” Ghai said to the amusement of the audience.

Ghai talked about his experience at the University and how comforting it was to be in front of the IGSA after experiencing the extraordinary size of the school.

“I have been learning a lot about this University,” Ghai said. “I am glad to find myself in my own world at the University now.”

Ghai then listed topics and asked the audience what they wanted to hear from him – to which the audience jokingly picked “gossip.” Ghai laughed off the audience’s selection, then commented about watching his film with a different type of audience.

“I was wondering how it would be watching it with this type of audience,” Ghai said. “I have never watched this movie with 700 white people. I was quite amazed at the sincerity of the audience and how they appreciated the film. They really enjoyed the songs. They were probably looking at Aishwarya.”

Aishwarya Rai is the leading actress in the film and was also voted Miss World in 1994.

Ghai went into detail about the difference between Western audiences and Indian audiences and how each perceives films differently. He also talked about how he has learned much about the differences in what the audience wants and how the Western influence has crossed into Indian culture.

“Western audiences are more interested in drama and theater, while Indians are more interested in music and dance.” Ghai said. “Much of the Western influence on (the Indian culture) is sad. We must retain a balance between Western and our old culture.”

When addressing the strengths of Indian cinema, he hit on India’s ability to create films without the high-tech and expensive facilities that Hollywood has.

“We have nothing, but we create,” Ghai said. “That is our strength. We have spirit, will and hard work on our side. We also have respectful relationships and we cherish family.”

Ghai was not only there to talk about Indian cinema. He also touched on the qualities and values that are important to him.

“Subhash Ghai is still a student,” Ghai said. “Learning is the most important quality. You must also treat others like you want to be treated. That is a universal value.”

When asked when “Bollywood” movies – known for its lavish, fantasy-like productions – will portray a more realistic view of life, Ghai responded, “Not in the near future.” He commented how he likes to create a dreamy world for viewers to disconnect from their own worlds.

Ghai capped off the forum by talking about how he was inspired to create the film Pardes, which is based on a story of an Indian family that moved to Los Angeles more than 50 years ago and has gradually westernized to ignore the Indian culture.

“I visited this family in L.A.,” Ghai said. “There are three generations of family members living in one house. I was sitting down with the eldest member of the house and he was crying, telling me how he has made billions of dollars when he came here fifty years ago, but at the price of his children. I was inspired when I came back to India and made this screenplay and film with this in the back of my mind.”

Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival ran from April 20th-24th at Virginia Theatre. More information about Taal and Ghai can be found at www.ebertfest.com.