India, Indonesia to bond more, co-produce films

New Delhi, Oct 17 (IANS) Incredible India will engage Remarkable Indonesia with co-production of films and training of personnel, giving a boost to tourism and the entertainment business, as Asia's two large nations come closer on the people front.

The two countries committed to building on their close historical and cultural links after talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta last week. Recognising the popularity and impact of films in bringing the two people closer and promoting tourism, both sides agreed to encourage cooperation in production and post-production between their film industries.

"Both (countries) would explore joint production. Indonesians would also be trained at the Film and Television Institute of India (Pune) and the Institute of Animation in Hyderabad," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told IANS.

Shooting of films in both countries would also be explored as this would promote two-way tourism.

Countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Singapore and South Africa have all been locations for Indian films and have registered a significant rise in tourist footfalls.

"India-Indonesia tourism is very small. It can benefit a lot from this kind of engagement, a new area of cooperation," says Indian Ambassador Gurjit Singh, given the huge popularity of Bollywood films which have been a part of the everyday lives in the archipelago nation.

Indonesia offers "virgin" locations that are much cheaper than those in many other countries of the world.

Mari Pangestu, Indonesia's minister for creative economy and tourism, has said the government will help international filmmakers by setting up a one-stop clearing house for the permits they need for shooting.

Ahman Sya, director general of arts and creative economy, corroborates this, saying Indonesia is creating a single window for clearance of foreign shooting teams to promote the country as a film destination.

The film industry of Indonesia grew at over seven per cent last year and there are plans to add thousands of new screens in the coming years.

The industry produces 80 to 100 movies a year for commercial release. But in comparison to its Southeast Asian neighbours, Indonesia falls behind Thailand and Singapore as a production and post-production hub.

Commercial Indian films were first imported into Indonesia by the allied armies in 1945, after independence, as entertainment for the Indian troops, who were part of the British army.

Under Indonesia's first president Sukarno, Hollywood films were banned for their "explicit" political and sexual content, and this helped Bollywood to dominate the popular imagination. And that popularity has not subsided since then.

Indonesia has a thriving community of Bollywood fans, many of whom have formed clubs dedicated to individual stars. The Shah Rukh Khan Fan Club Indonesia holds regular meetings to discuss upcoming movies featuring the star. The "Rukhsters" watch every newly released King Khan film together.

Then there are "Ranians" who collect Rani Mukherji merchandise such as films, posters and pins.

Sanggar Mohabbatein, a dance studio in Jakarta, teaches children and adults dances from popular Bollywood movies.

Sociologists say the sensibilities of Indian cinema emphasise family ties, traditional values and humanity more than in Western cinema, and thereby touches a chord in the audience. The love for Bollywood films lies in their ability to evoke strong emotions.

"People really enjoy seeing people they can identify with, emphathise with," said an Indonesian official this IANS correspondent met at Istana Merdeka, the presidential secretariat during Manmohan Singh's recent visit.

Also, Indian storytelling traditions, such as the Ramayana, resonate throughout the country. Garin Nugroho, an Indonesian director, has directed Opera Jawa, a modern interpretation of the Ramayana.

Film historians say Indian films served as an important model for Indonesian films in the 1950s. And it was during the 1990s with the wide spread of television in the country that Bollywood films moved from cinema halls to living rooms and saw what Bettina David calls a "dynamic upward mobility" in Indonesia's public culture.

It was the successful run of the Shah Rukh Khan starer, "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" in 2001, which revived the Indian films' market among the Indonesian upper class.

Moreover, production houses and TV channels run by immigrant Sindhi families have helped forge linkages with the Indonesian entertainment industry.

And now, following the agreement between the two countries, it is expected that substantive collaboration between the two film industries will take off, maturing Indonesia's love affair with Bollywood.

(Saroj Mohanty can be contacted at saroj.m@ians.in)

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