NYT hails Guru's US debut as a 'cultural phenomenon'

Jan 14, 2007 IANS

New York, Jan 15 (IANS) America's most prominent daily The New York Times has hailed the premier here of the new Abhishek Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai starrer "Guru" as an event heralding "not only the arrival of a movie, but also a growing cultural phenomenon."

Giving Bollywood probably its most prominent exposure for mainstream audiences, the Sunday edition of the paper covered at length the Friday night premier of the film at New York's Times Square with Bachchan and Rai in attendance.

The "red-carpet event" marked "rare American treatment" for a feature from the Mumbai-based film industry, said the Times noting the presence of "two of Bollywood's biggest stars" in a story titled "Bollywood Glitz in a Times Square Debut."

"At the vast AMC Empire 25 theatre on West 42nd Street, it got a high-profile American debut that many said was unusual for a movie without the apparent crossover credentials of a Bollywood film like "Bride and Prejudice," it said.

Things have changed for Indian cinema since then. Seven Hindi-language films each made more than $2 million last year at the United States box office, said Times writer Kareem Fahim. Only one of them, "Water," had an American distributor, he noted.

Long available on videotape, Indian films can be seen on an increasing number of movie screens across the United States, and, since November, on cable television video-on-demand in almost two dozen states.

A press event before the screening was a relaxed affair, as film executives mingled with Indian journalists and ate finger food. Bobby Bedi, a producer, talked about the prospects for Indian cinema abroad, the daily said.

"There is a huge interest in the world in India, things Indian and in Indian cinema," the Times quoted Bedi as saying. But the formula for a successful crossover film eludes filmmakers, he said.

Films he described as more focused in scope, like "Monsoon Wedding," have done well. "They've not really been about the world; they've been about villages or about small episodes in people's lives," he said.

He suggested a strategy for expatriate Indian moviegoers to help increase Bollywood's exposure: bring two non-Indians along to the movies.

Bedi spoke from the dais with the film's stars; the director, Mani Ratnam; and A. R. Rahman, who wrote the music for the film. There was a pleasant exuberance to some of the questions from the audience.

"I feel this movie is going to be a super hit," a man in a trench coat said to Bachchan, who wore a salmon-pink tie. "What is your gut feeling?"

Another woman, addressing Rahman, the prolific film and theatre composer, could hardly keep it all in. "You revolutionised Bollywood with your music," she said. "I mean it is so exceptional." A moderator warned journalists not to ask personal or follow-up questions.

A very large security guard, Ivan Bozovic, looked after the striking Rai, who is regularly called one of the world's most beautiful women, the Times reported.

She talked about "Guru," mostly ("Every character is finely etched," she said), and about the talents of the director and her co-stars. A journalist went after rumours that Rai and Bachchan were engaged, asking whether there was any news.

"I have an announcement," Bachchan teased. "The film's going to start in 10 minutes!"

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