It’s been a long time since you gave an interview to the Indian media. Did you miss it?
Indian media… No, I just… I have not shied away from interviews, I just haven’t because I am not here, so I have not given any interviews. No other reason. And because of social media… a lot what I say comes out in social media anyway. And when I travel, we do interviews, like at the Macau Film Festival. I did interviews there, I just haven’t been here.
Do you miss the Hindi film industry?
Yes, I do. I would very much like to make a film here. There is so much talent here that I am sometimes surprised that we are not further ahead in international cinema than we are. I think we suffer because we have a big market in India, and therefore we are aspiring only for our own market. But I fear that the market is contracting, not in the way that people think, because the numbers are going up. But everything has comparisons. The numbers internationally are going up much, much more.
I think India is a huge film market but, unfortunately, we just don’t have the screens. People are surprised to learn that there are not more than 8,000 screens in India while, in China, they are adding 15 screens every day. So there is no way we can compete. That’s one thing, the other thing is that cinema is becoming more expensive. Only 5 per cent of India goes to multiplexes!
So when we used to say that cinema is a mass medium, it is not really any more. Not in North India, South India is still there, because of the way South India prices tickets.
Also, the taxes are different there.
Yes, the taxes are different. I am talking about Hindi cinema, really. Even the single theatres are expensive, so it’s no longer a mass market. You can see some recent films on ShareIt, an app. We can share it multiple times with our friends. So we all don’t have to go to the theatre. In a way, while theatres have become much more expensive, the number of seats sold is contracting. And then there is competition from Hollywood because a lot of people watch dubbed Hollywood films, and then something like Titanic or what was that last movie that released this year and did a huge business…?
…The Jungle Book.
Yes, The Jungle Book will consume the audience. So audiences are recognising that there are higher quality films then ours, and they have the same ticket prices. And they are already getting used to it through television, so they prefer to go and see these films. Otherwise Hollywood films do much better business than ours. Hindi films are being squeezed through outside.
Do you watch Hindi movies?
Yes, as much as I can. I live overseas, where it is not all that easy to catch Hindi movies. But I try and see them whenever I can. I have to tell you, as Netflix and Amazon Prime and other platforms come in, I will be happy to watch Hindi movies on these platforms because then I can catch them anywhere in the world.
But, remember, when our films come on to Netflix, they are competing with the best films in the world on the same platform. I think that’s a good thing. I think anybody who goes to Netflix has a choice, and in that choice is a Hindi movie, so you suddenly feel like walking to a theatre. You can watch Titanic and you can watch a Hindi movie on the same platform. This will be an interesting trend to watch.
You have been a part of this industry for several decades, as an actor in the 70s, 80s and 90s, and as a director. What are the changes you have observed over the years?
Hmm… I am not sure. I think Hindi movies have become far more hyped, with social media, the press and everybody taking it over. But I feel they are less important than they were because there are other means of entertainment now. I have a feeling they are less important than they use to be, although the hype is greater. I think I am being diplomatic. (Smiles).
When you give interviews abroad, are you often asked about Bollywood?
I think not many of them have watched Bollywood movies. Everybody knows about Bollywood, it’s a big brand all over the world. But when you ask them, what is it Bollywood? They say, ‘Oh it’s pretty good, lots of nice dancing, good music and a bit silly.’ They will add ‘a bit over-the-top.’ They are curious about it. They have heard of Amitabh (Bachchan), they have heard of Shah Rukh (Khan), they have heard of Aamir (Khan). These are the three names they have heard a lot. Shah Rukh because of the foreign press and Aamir is quite well known in China. But they don’t know all that much about it, they don’t know much about Bollywood. So it’s like a big brand that everybody knows exists but nobody knows anything else.
For Hollywood, India is a brilliant market, where their movies are doing very well. Our actors are going there and working very well. But they are not interested in watching Hindi films. Why?
That’s because we don’t tell international stories. Our films don’t translate into their culture, that’s all. That’s why. one film, 3 Idiots, did so well in China because they have the same problem. In China, all the parents insist on giving their children education and training. Every child wants to rebel and do their own thing, and become an innovator or something else. But they are forced to do engineering. So it is very relatable, but normally our stories don’t relate, and that’s the problem.
I think that if we told an international story, a relatable story, then our films would do really well all over the world and business would be much, much better. Like The Lunchbox, which is a Bollywood film. The Lunchbox wasn’t funded in India yet everybody absolutely loved it. It was different.
I am curious… how did Hollywood happen to you?
Because of Bandit Queen! Bandit Queen was shown at the Cannes Film Festival and it caused quite a stir. So I had lots of agents and producers coming to me after Bandit Queen, that’s how it happened.
Do you think visits to film festivals help?