Last fall, Mette asked to interview me for Ishq, a German-language magazine about Hindi movies. She emailed me a few questions and I replied with my answers. Mette translated my answers into German, and (as far as I can tell) the interview was available only in the print version of the magazine. So here, in the original English, are (somewhat edited) Mette's questions and my answers.
About Filmi Geek
I started Filmi Geek in 2006. It contains a review of of every Hindi movie I have seen. I like to think that my reviews tell you as much about me as they do about the movies; they chronicle my mental adventures as I have studied the rich cultural fabric of South Asia. I strive to make my reviews small narratives
in their own right, something more than just plot summaries or bullet
point lists of things I liked or didn't like about a movie. The reviews I
am the happiest with place the movie in some kind of context, whether
cinematic, historical, or cultural, and have something to say about the movie beyond whether I liked it or did not.
You describe yourself as an "overanalyzer of Hindi movies" - is it easier for the non-Indian viewer to indulge in Indian films that way, than it is for the Indian viewer?
I don't think so. I think it's more a matter of mindset. I have the impression that it was only fairly recently that large numbers of Indians started wanting to think analytically about Indian movies. This impression may be wrong; it may be an example of recency illusion or a result of the internet raising my awareness of what other people are thinking about. But I perceive that there has been a wonderful explosion of smart, critical, incisive, thoughtful writing about Indian movies. And while I am part of a significant firangi presence, most of this thinking is, in fact, coming from Indians.
The nature of the analysis I do is surely different from the nature of analysis done by someone who grew up with these movies and the cultural environment they shape and reflect. For me, the analysis is often about what I learn as often as it is about what the movies say. But watching Hindi movies with one's brain engaged can be a satisfying experience for anyone inclined to it, whether Indian or firangi, and more and more people have been realizing that and doing it.
Which actors that haven't shared the screen yet, would you absolutely want to make a film together?
I would give my right arm to see Shabana Azmi and Vidya Balan in a movie together. Something akin to Tehzeeb (Shabana and Urmila Matondkar as mother and daughter) or 15 Park Avenue (Shabana and Konkona Sen Sharma as sisters) would be superb - something that substantively explores any kind of relationship between two adult women. These two are both such strong actors; with the right script they could tell fantastically subtle and profound stories.
As a new-coming Hindi film actress, would you rather opt for glamour or serious films?
I think with this question you might be asking me what kinds of
films I prefer to see a new actor do? I'm going to answer a slightly
different question. I don't prefer one kind of film over another - I
enjoy both, as long as they are well crafted. And different actors are
suited to different kinds of roles. So, it's a great thing that studios
are making such a variety of films.
Also, Indian films have a long tradition of movies that are both glamorous and substantive - this is something that Indian movies do perhaps better than any other film industry. For instance, some of the great movies of the 1970s, movies like Sholay, Kaala patthar, or Deewaar manage to make profound statements about social issues while still offering a full meal of glamor and entertainment value. Even earlier, Raj Kapoor did this too - Shree 420 is packed with entertainment and glitz and it carries a strong social and political statement.
So, I find that the art/mainstream or serious/entertaining dichotomy is a bit of a false one. There is a continuum between thoroughly serious and thoroughly entertaining, and some movies manage to be both at once in very fascinating ways.
Your favourite setting in a particular film?
It is interesting that you have asked this question now, because lately I have been thinking a lot about the role of location in films. I took my first trip to India early in 2012 and found that seeing Indian cities, villages, landscapes, and environments in person has had a startlingly resonant effect on my experience of the movies. I described it like this in a recent review on my blog: watching Hindi movies has made India a fascination for me of limitless depth and life, and seeing India in person has made Hindi movies breathe with a new vivacity.
So I am especially fascinated by movies in which a location has so much vibrancy as to be a character in its own right - such as the Calcutta of Kahaani, or Chandni Chowk as brought to life in Delhi-6. In older films, most of the time locations serve only as pretty picture-postcard backdrops (like Kashmir in Kashmir ki Kali and countless others), some of them do more to bring their locations to life, like Calcutta in the classic Howrah Bridge, or the bustle of workaday Bombay in Chhoti si baat.
Most recently, I enjoyed the location scenes in the brand-new Ek tha Tiger, especially the segments shot in Cuba. As an American, I find Cuba an almost impossibly exotic locale - I have never seen a movie shot there and was completely thrilled to see it used so colorfully in that film. Who would have thought that after more than 200 Indian movies, the location that would feel to me the most foreign and exotic would be right here in my own hemisphere?
Is there a star you're missing on the big screen at the moment?
Well, I am looking forward to the movies that Madhuri Dixit is working on. I think there is a shortage of Hindi movies (just as there is a shortage of Hollywood movies) that tell age-appropriate stories about mature women, and I'm hoping that studios can be convinced to make such movies with actors like Madhuri, Dimple Kapadia, and the like. I am very excited about Sridevi's upcoming English Vinglish for that reason as well. [Ed: I loved English Vinglish.]
Filmi Geek's Favorite Movies: Too many to mention, and they often change, but my pretty constant top 5 for many years has been (in no particular order) Sholay, Jewel Thief, Lagaan, Shree 420, and Chalti ka naam gaadi. Please see my Favorites category for a much more comprehensive selection.
Filmi Geek's Favorite Actors: Again too many to mention; one of the reasons I love Hindi movies is that so many of the stars are maginificently charismatic and fun to spend a couple of hours with. Shabana Azmi was my first love and remains a deeply admired favorite. Some others worthy of mention include Ashok Kumar, Madhubala, Sharmila Tagore, Shashi Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Madhuri Dixit, Aamir Khan, Rani Mukherjee, and Vidya Balan.
Filmi Geek's Favorite Directors: I have not been as clued in to directors over the years as I would like to be; recently I have started to remedy that. And so I can name a few: Vijay Anand, Shyam Benegal, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Manmohan Desai, and Vishal Bharadwaj.