Bollywood fans flock to Aero, Svetozor cinemas for Indian film festival
The Prague Bollywood film festival draws to a close on Sunday, after bringing the sights and sounds of Indian cinema to the Czech capital for the third year running. The theme of this year's festival is Old Traditions - New Directions, and spans several decades of Indian film.
Prague's Aero cinema was packed on the first night for a showing of Veer Zara, a hugely entertaining film, an example of Bollywood at its best. Veer Zara is a serious story with a serious message - reconciliation between India and Pakistan. But above all it's a love story, with the usual Bollywood mixture of dancing, comedy, action, adventure and of course fantastic music thrown in.
Bollywood is certainly an acquired taste, but once you get it into it, it's easy to get hooked. Film-maker Radim Spacek is one of the festival's organisers. He remembers the first time he saw a Bollywood film:
"Of course I remember it. It was about five or six years ago, when I was in India for a short trip, and I went to the cinema because I was quite interested. But I wasn't so excited by the first movie. I thought - well, it's interesting, but I didn't know any Bollywood stars and I didn't understand the language and so on. But then during the first year of our Bollywood film festival, I saw a film called Dil Chahte, and it was really a shock for me because I found out that it was a movie which was really modern and contemporary and really breaks taboos, making some progress in Indian cinema and Indian society. So I really started catching up, and now I can really recognise good films, bad films. I like the stars, I like the music, and I'm really a big fan."
There are huge cultural differences between Czechs and Indians, and watching Veer Zara, one often had the feeling the Czech and Indian audiences were not always laughing at the same time. Often there were roars of laughter from the Czech viewers during the most serious moments of the film, simply because the acting was so ridiculously hammed up. Given that cultural divide, can sophisticated Czech cinema-goers really appreciate Bollywood films? K.R. Chavi is the first secretary of the Indian embassy:
"Yes, I think so. Because after all, everyone has the same emotions that one feels in every day life, so I don't feel any difficulty. There is a great understanding and admiration for Indian culture in the Czech Republic, and the success of this film festival is an indication of that."
But there is a serious side to the festival. Organisers hope it will help expose the rather homogenous Czech society to foreign cultural influences. Organiser Sangita Shresthova, a half-Czech half-Nepalese Bollywood dance scholar, says the success of the Bollywood festival is a clear sign that Czechs are hungry for the exotic.
"I love to add pickles and chillis to my dumplings. And I've noticed that my friends are starting to do the same. I think that's maybe how I look at the Czech attitude towards Bollywood, that they do have the capacity to take it on."
For more information on the Bollywood festival, which ends this weekend at Prague's Kino Svetozor, go to www.bollywood.cz