Fri, Aug 03, 2007 - Page 17 News List

Hooray for Bollywood

Malaysian films are often sleep-inducing. Now, Bollywood is adding a little pizzazz


Sexy dances. Colorful costumes foot-tapping songs. Local movie stars have never seen anything like it on their sets.

The Malaysian film industry, known for its staid - some would say sleep-inducing - offerings, is getting a dose of spice from Bollywood, its highly successful Indian counterpart based in Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay.

"We are trying to sell color of the kind they have never seen before,'' said Sharad Sharan, a former Bollywood assistant director hired by Malaysian media giant Astro to direct three films. "I have given them good clothes, some of the best camera works. I have given them glamor.''

The first movie, Diva, was released in June in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei and India to modest success. The second, Tipu Kanan Tipu Kiri, or "Cheating Right Cheating Left," is due out next month.

It's unusual for a Bollywood team - most of the technical crew hails from India - to create a movie for a foreign company or audience. The industry has almost never exported its signature style or influenced moviemakers elsewhere. Bollywood actors - such as Aishwarya Rai in The Mistress of Spices and Nasiruddin Shah in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - have appeared in Hollywood films, but they have adapted to American ways, not the other way round.

One of Sharan's goals is to demonstrate that India is not just a base for computer software development and call centers but also home to a pool of talent that can develop creative industries in places like Malaysia.

"Intellectual property of Indians, in terms of filmmaking, will be the next big export because we are cheap and we give the best,'' he said.

While some may resent the Indian cultural invasion, others see it as a cultural cross-pollination.

"It's transfer of knowledge. It is a fusion, not an invasion. It is a push in the right direction for the Malaysian industry,'' said Zan Azlee, a short filmmaker and lecturer in broadcasting at HELP University in Kuala Lumpur.

The US-trained Sharan began his career as an assistant director in Bollywood in 1995. He later moved to Indonesia, where he worked for a decade as a successful director of television soaps in Indonesian, which is similar to the Malay language.

A fluent Indonesian-Malay speaker, Sharan was approached by Astro in 2005 to make three films, each with a budget of 3.5 million ringgit (US$1 million), almost double that of most Malay movies. The cast includes Indonesian actors, which Astro hopes will boost ticket sales in Indonesia.

Tipu Kanan Tipu Kiri, known as TKTK in the Bollywood practice of calling movies by their initials, is a musical comedy of errors. It follows the travails of a married man with killer looks and his jealous wife who suspects him of having an affair with an up-and-coming stage starlet.

The music and background score were written by an Indian. The costume designer and hairstylist, a well-known transvestite, were also brought from Bombay. Filming was done by award-winning Bollywood cinematographer Santosh Thundiyil.

The film's highlight will be trademark Bollywood dances directed by Ceaser Gonzalves, one of India's top choreographers.

Cultural sensitivities had to be followed. Because of Malaysia's Islamic traditions, the actresses could not wear the kind of revealing dresses common in Bollywood movies. Racy romantic scenes and kissing were out of the question.

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