Asia Society presents; 21
The easel society presents. This is a series of interviews with experts on Asian affairs designed to strengthen our understanding of Asian people and ideas. Your most on this transcribed series is the noted author on the ward winning broadcaster league Graham. Here now is Mrs. Graham. Although we've talked about India a number of times on this series I don't think we said very much about the film the films as they make them and films as we make them and they receive them. And we have an excellent opportunity to hear more about that on this particular edition of the Asia Society presents because our guest is James Ivory the noted film made them. Mr. Ivory is a partner in Merchant Ivory Productions. He's responsible for several films which I imagine most of you have seen one of them in the Delhi way the other Shakespeare Wallah Perhaps you've seen the householder I know I enjoyed that one tremendously. And also he is responsible for a film soon to be released called the
group. Mr. Ivory I read some thing a little bit about your life and I know that you began filmmaking in Venice. But you've gone on to other parts of the world Afghanistan of course India. But it seems that in India you were most compelled to stay there was something about India which attracted you and kept you there. What would you say it lives. Oh many many things but it was it was in a way sort of luck or fate or whatever it is that at first took me there. I mind you know I might very well have gone to another comp country I might have stayed in Italy to work which I also like very much but it just seemed of a number of things took me to India. And once I was there a number of things made me stay I mean apart from liking the country very well and getting on with Indians very well and being interested in its history and its art and just the sort of Indian scene. It's very easy to make films in India easy in the sense that it doesn't cost very much money. And
it was possible for me to make several feature. Well now three feature films therefore not a great deal of money. All those films would have cost. I don't know three four five times more if they've been made outside India. Wages are very low the actors don't have tremendously high fees as they do here and so you know partly just a practical thing. And then beyond that I I just I don't know it's one of those attractions that you have for a certain place it's very hard to say what it is you just you. You just like it or you don't and and I've always liked India but as I say it really was just a combination of things that sent me there first I might really have gone somewhere else and many people who go to India go because there is so much to see. If ever there was the cradle of art history you might very well be said to be India. And people look at the monuments and the sculpture and look at the colorful
activities and fascinating faces of the people. Yet many of these people do say it is a difficult country to travel in let alone to live in. And it's something that they might not want to repeat. But do you find it difficult is it hard to protect for a Westerner in the thing in India. Yes there is many kinds. First of all as a filmmaker there are a great many hardships. There's a shortage of equipment. It's very difficult to get good film stock because all the good films like comes from from Europe. You know there are things of this sort all kinds of breakdowns in Quitman that exists and then you have to wait to get it repaired and then there's all that kind of thing that the technicians in India are sometimes excellent and really good and sometimes they would like to be very good but they haven't had the experience they haven't they have used the latest kind of equipment which exists in in Europe or America because with the foreign exchange
regulations in India it's not imported there. So they're in a sense a rather backward in their technique. I mean I don't want to imply that you know that they're not up to and an international standard Some of them are but when you go to a country where there is little of all the latest equipment it's hard for the technicians to really. You know I mean I just can't I can't manage so well. But when you say that it's easier to make a film in India than it is in the United States it is then just a question that it's less expensive. Because if you have these hardship connected with the technical part of making a film in a way it must be harder. Well you know it's that's a sort of a that's a sort of odd question. It's harder in me it's harder in the sense that as I said that there are these that there can be these technical breakdowns all kinds of delays but it's it's simpler in that it is very very cheap.
There are superb locations that you can go to where you don't you don't even pay to use them half the time. There are a great many good actors. There's a tremendous amount of material that you can use. There's all the sort of built in probably the kind of built in atmosphere or or mood or whatever you want about the place that can sort of take the most ordinary material and make it seem so interesting and different. And well I mean not just exotic but you know something really more than that. There are other places like this in the world also I mean I think it was partly the attraction of Venice it's very difficult to go to Venice for instance and and take a bad photograph of this wherever you aim a camera you get something beautiful or or more interesting scenery cooperates with exactly and so it also doesn't India and also it's a different kind of naturally completely different kind of scenery and you have to be rather you have to like that kind of scenery and to do it. I think you in India this idea of the riot of landscape correct is that
one can just stay there and make all kinds. Yes you could you can just you can go all sorts of ways you got jungles and deserts and you've got the mountains and you've got a great dusty plains and then there's such a variety of architecture that you can use for locations you've got. The native indigenous architecture of India. You know all the temples and mosques and palaces and and all streets and houses and all that and then you've got a kind of decayed 19th century 18th 19th century British architecture which is very very interesting. And then you have a kind of 20th century international architecture which has looked very odd sometimes modern buildings plunked down in the midst of all this you know all the rest and you've lived there continuously for several years that it time I mean not continuously I've never I think the longest I've stayed there is 18 months. Oh when I come and go I make a film that I make a film then I come back it's distributed and released and
it's longer than the average you know yes which is bigger. How do you do if you have a hotel accommodation you know everybody thinks I've stayed with friends. I've stayed in hotels you know sort of. I for instance and when we were making the girl we were always you know put up at the hotel but sometimes we you know just stayed wherever we could. You hear that it's somewhat uncomfortable. Is it I mean is it a problem to get the right sort of food I mean just the right sort of water. Well I never felt there was I love Indian food and and and actually when you're sort of traveling out in the country or in trains and like that you know you know the food's not very good but it never is really I mean you can't get good food on trains here and I don't find it uncomfortable. I mean the day to day living isn't that not from you know not from a never has you know what sort of actors and actresses are popular in India.
But you make a comparison I think between an American film star an Italian film star and one in the I think there are I think film stars or film stars wherever they are they're kind of a commodity and people want that particular commodity and are willing to pay for it and and pay a lot for it and and you know it's the same the same set up in India as anywhere else there are ok over the same kinds of appeal. I mean they've chosen for their looks you're of course you know much for their talent more for their looks and their talent. While I think they. Will I don't know I it's difficult for me to say because a lot of that. For instance the Hindi Hindi speaking actors met I'm told by a by people who know Hindi very well that that's such and such a person is a good actor and such and such a person isn't a good actor and I'm only speaking about when they are acting in Hindi. I don't really know I did it you know because of the kinds of film it all seems a bit exaggerated to me and just a bit too much and
overblown and and not not very refined but sometimes those very same actors when acting in English are terribly good and you know that is just as well I hate to use the word refined but but you know that they have just as good technique and are just as able to express complicated and subtle thoughts and do very difficult scenes as a Western and Western actor. Would you say though there are certain characteristics of Indian films which set them apart from ours. Do they tend I think to be longer and slower moving. Is that one of the things they tend to be longer and slower moving they're not very well constructed in terms of the story. They're usually just sort of all kinds of things thrown together with lots of songs and dances coming every so often. And of course the people in the audiences love those songs and dances and I like them also.
I think. There's a lot that distinguishes an Indian film from a western film I mean you know the content of the style it's done. And as I say the complete complete lack of any sort of formal structure. There's a very crude story is usually the thing you find. But then that's not just and that's not just because characteristic of Indian films I mean that's where you have any sort of any sort of mass film and so any country I think that has our own I think more patient and Ruth have better concentration I believe it will sit through a long film without feeling uneasy. Yes that's true. Well those films because they they very often present a very glossy picture of of a certain kind of life and there are you know in an Indian film as in the other kind of film there are glamorous people who move about in it. Rich heiresses. While off the young playboy types and all the rest of it
who you know a poor a poor movie going public can appreciate and identify with and you know they're very scapes most of these films people like to is that this sort of film then that's most popular. They don't go in for realism in their films you know Europeans No. No not at all. Very rarely within the almost NEVER they have in common with the films we used to put out. Yes but I don't think that I don't think our our films are ever that quite that far divorced from any you know from reality. And as I say I I don't know Hindi that well so I really can't. You know I really can't judge. Most most Hindi films. I mean I have a very good idea about you know they get what's going on and you know that it's all sort of overblown and preposterous and and sort of crude sometimes but. There may be other things in those films which are escaping me too I mean I
can I can believe that there may be scenes which are realistic and are which are rooted in everyday life and which have meaning for people beyond just this is sort of escapist stuff that surrounds them. Which films do you know of fiercely have appealed to you. Indeed quite a few of our films are still not on say Yeah and it's exclusively English language films which are shown in India. Yes a few English films come in but mainly the films of the American major companies. Well a mass mass film film that's a great success here is very often one there in India too for a good example is a film like My Fair Lady That was a great success in India. Sound of Music was a great success. A film like Guns of Navarone was a great success. But on the other hand films which are a great success here are not always
so successful in India I think a film like Dr Strangelove for example which was a tremendous success in this country was a tremendous flop in India because of points of view are so different about certain kinds of things and the references are so different and the mass audiences. I'm interested in certain certain things which interest us but generally the glossy escapist Hollywood kinds of films lots of music and and glamorous stars and all the rest those go down very well in India. So going to the movies one of the main divisions in the main diversion for most people I think I mean as far as you know time is concerned there's no television tall except just one in a little television that comes out of Delhi but I think I don't know how many sets are now in India I think a hundred or something so television doesn't exist there and so it's films and everybody goes well at
least the films don't have to worry about competition for the present time. Still you were saying that certain fields will not appeal to Indians and sometimes they are films which are successful here. And you mentioned Dr. Strangelove. You also mention a few of your own films done exceedingly well which were filmed in India did not appeal to any one of them would be what Shakespeare was Shakespeare Wallah which was a great success outside India a critical success and a fairly modest commercial success also when it got to India despite all the advance publicity it had and despite everything that the producer was able to do. Create a kind of atmosphere around it and all the rest of it. It didn't do very well in India. Partly this is because there are two reasons for that are several reasons for that partly because the distribution set up was not a good one. I don't want to go into that but partly because the theatre set up in India is is difficult for so-called art films there are no art theatres in India so that every
film has to draw a maximum capacity audience. And the other reason is just that the the theme and the way the film had a big Indian movie star in it Shashi Kapoor who is one of the one who is just sort of the leading young leading young hero type there. It didn't matter because the story was essentially. A Western story and told from a Western point of view and in a way which just was not terribly interesting to Indians and therefore the film except to a very tiny majority very tiny minority of people. It just didn't go well now you feel in the household it which was about a young Indian couple newly wed. Great job and I would think that that could have appealed in India. I don't know who did it that had a much better distribution that was distributed by Columbia Pictures and Columbia Pictures. You know it has contacts in India we didn't have for Shakespeare was
it also was done in Hindi and in English so it meant that the. Well I mean the English version was seen by the people who who. We don't speak Hindi or who don't go to Hindi films but who who go to English language pictures they saw it but then the Hindi version also you know had went to all the Hindi theatres and for that reason the householder apart from the fact that the story is much more Indian Its had a kind of longer life in India and its still being shown all the time we get the reports from Columbia Pictures and you'd be amazed I'm always amazed at the kinds of little theaters in the most remote sort of not Village but the remote a small town in India where that film us playing and I have said though that an American know any non Indian film producer. Cannot. Ever get to understand Indian attitudes well enough to make a film which could be considered So I don't say that.
Not that they can get to understand those attitudes but I think. The Western presentation of those attitudes is is so greatly different from an Indian presentation of them that they may seem basically to be alien. I mean our films are really Western in in their spirit. Everything about them is Western I'm I'm an American and this great writer. Well I mean the point of view was is it's just basically Western But how in what way do we differ since you say some American films that might be a lady do very well in India. And that's I guess is Western as you can be. I don't know it's very hard to to really you know to say how how we differ but we do of course differ I mean I mean all our attitudes. Not different I mean there are many attitudes which are common between Indians and and foreigners but somehow the presentation of Indian life that
that we given of it. It's just not it's just not always palatable just doesn't go down. I for example to the script writer are European. She her point of view is it is thought by Indians to be one of mockery and that you know that your rights are quite loaded sort of satirical kind of thing. Well I don't feel that it is but they feel that and that they have the feeling that she that she somehow mocks them. On the contrary I think she she's extremely sympathetic and her Indian characters I think come out so well they're so full of vitality they have so much more real life in them. I don't mean in terms of I mean they're meant to have their they have a sort of symbolic symbolically they're more full of life and vitality whereas the for instance in Shakespeare while the English characters were they were noble but they were finished they were they were subdued. And you know all
washed up in a sense. And yet the Indian characters who were meant to have more life and be sort of lost in vigorous or were felt by many Indians do too. I have been somehow rather coarse and gross in their attitudes about life and whereas the English people who were you know the last representatives of the British Raj and all the rest they were thought you know to be fine noble people but this is just the kinds of things that we have you know found out and discovered when we talk to people over you know after several years about about a film where your forthcoming film The guru in the short time we have let you tell us who is in it and what you expect for it. Are you worried about how it will be received in India but you feel that it will be successful here. Well I'm not really worried about how it be received in India and I hope that I hope people like it there. Well it's.
It's as it was made in someone more or less the same way as our other films but it was financed by 20th Century Fox and it has its own color and. And you know in some international movie stars are involved and all the rest so that makes it somewhat different right there. But it's a it's a film I like very much and. It's it's about a a famous thought or musical maestro a man rather like Ravi Shankar really thought Ali Akbar Khan disciple goes and the disciple is a pop singer rather like George Harrison going to Ravi Shankar. And he starred in the pop singer have all sorts of Rouse and. There's a girl Rita touching him in the in the story and. It's very hard to talk about you know. But I think at the present time it should have with the way really understanding more and more about India and being drawn more and more to India that it should do
extremely well here. But I hope so. You what about it provided that not too much is made of all the Maharishi and all that kind of thing which has actually nothing to do with this film and which publicists were forever jumping on and trying to drag into it. I mean there is a guru there is there are several disciples the disciples happened to be Western. There are all kinds of conflicts between Western point of view and an eastern point of view or the point of view of a guru and a disciple and all that kind of thing. But that's as far as it goes. Well I think it's interesting that you dreamed up the story and worked on it before the Beatles ever went to India. But when they went that made it all seem more timely to do this. Yes. So I thank you very much Mr. Ivory for giving us a little background because I think of all with our films that track people these days it seems to be the film. I think that is creating more excitement than television is disappearing in its interest with many people with the film only in this country you see it in England it's quite different. Yes. Well I thank you for being here and I'd like to say to our audience that my guest on this program has
been James Ivory who is a filmmaker whose new film The guru Luthern be shown in this country. And this is really glam saying goodbye with a reminder that although East is East and West is West we do think the time has come for the twain to meet. That concludes tonight's edition of the Asia Society presents with Lee Graham. The series comes to you through the cooperation of the Asia Society. If you would like to comment on tonight's program or would like further information about the society and how you can participate in its many interesting activities please write to Mrs. Graham at WNYC New York City 100 0 7 and make a nod to join us again next week at this time for another edition of the Asia Society presents. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
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