Rahul: The New Wave Indian Director

Rahul Bose, 36, is the new face of Bollywood. A former advertising account manager who switched to acting at 26, Bose has emerged as the frontman for everything experimental, new and different in Indian cinema with a string of alternative hits to his name. Next year, he will star opposite Glenn Close in Merchant-Ivory's Heights, before moving on to produce and direct an all-American cast in his follow-up to Everybody Says I'm Fine, which this year became the first Indian movie ever to be released in American theatres. Bose met TIME's Alex Perry in Bombay.

Bose directing on a set.

TIME: Why is Bollywood suddenly breaking with formula?
Bose: Well, is it? I don't see anyone interested in totally breaking the mold. The style is changing, the dressing up is changing, but a lot of what is coming out is still formulaic. Maybe it's just different from the Bollywood formula of song and dance. The point is that we don't have to break it. Just freshen it up. Sometimes when you are successful, people think you've broken the mold.

TIME: OK. Let me put it this way. There's a new energy and new confidence in Bollywood and a new interest from outside India.
Bose: You're right. There's a sea change. Four years ago, no one in Hollywood had even heard of Indian film. After Everybody Says I'm Fine, I was suddenly called by three producers. That's unheard of. I think the world is getting smaller, we are getting more and more recognition and there is a certain sense that people in Bombay are beginning to feel of, 'We're no less than others, our film Lagaan got nominated for an Oscar, we can do good stuff.' And there will be some extremely bad films made out of all this, but a couple of good ones as well.

Also, there has been a diktat put out by the bosses of American studios to fund movies in other countries that would seem to have audiences across the world. 'Find movies that will break through.' And that's new in the last two years. It's cheaper, you see. We can make a movie here for $1 million that would cost $20 million in the US. And the money's talking.

So here, it all adds up to movement. I was thinking about moving abroad to work a few years ago. But now, everything's suddenly changed. There's a huge upswing and suddenly Indian talent is keeping up with others in Los Angeles or Spain or Italy. And, back here, the guard is changing. I have very respected old-style Bollywood guys phoning me up and saying, 'I want to make crossover films, or low budget films or experimental films. I'm sick of doing this old s---.' Put us all together, and you have a movement. Put us together with the audience, and you have something sweeping the world.

TIME: What about Bollywood's problem with plagiarism?
Bose: Everybody plagiarizes. The only difference here is that no one pays for remake rights. It is illegal and corrupt. But then, this is India, not Singapore. I met Quentin Tarantino and he'd heard about Kaante, which borrowed a lot from Reservoir Dogs. And he was so thrilled. He said, "I ripped that off from Hong Kong and now you guys have taken it from me.' Imitation is a form of flattery, you see.

TIME: What problems do you see?
Bose: Could we please have less films about identity? You know, 'Oh my God, I am dislocated, am I American or am I Indian?' F-- off, you know? Let's work up some original stories.

TIME: And who's going to conquer the world?
Bose: The first actors to cross over will be women. Aishwarya Rai could be Moroccan, Spanish, Italian, Thai, Lebanese. The conquering of America hasn't happened yet, but it's going to happen soon. People are seeing more and more Indians in their everyday lives over there. Now if someone just has the tenacity, they'll cast Shah Rukh Khan opposite Tom Cruise: both these guys have audience of a billion and a half, and put them together, you've got half the world. Or imagine Aamir Khan instead of Matthew Perry: it would melt the race barrier. And in the meantime, people like me can start getting meaty roles in American art-house movies. Ha ha.


[Editor's Note: All credits to TIME ASIA except title herein.]

November 28, 2003
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