A BRIT WHO
STUDIED THE GITA
The Berlinale festival’s sites throughout the city were plastered with billboards from L’Oreal, which included one of the newest models of the cosmetic line — Freida Pinto
Why Aamir missed
9 am screenings
Cox shares his Indian
Aseem Chhabra on the
sidelines of the Berlinale
Aseem Chhabra spotlights the Indian presence
at the Berlin film festival
Aamir Khan is not a morning person. Last month, the actor and producer was in Berlin as part of the international jury for the 61st Berlinale, but he would be often
missing from the 9 am press screenings
of the festival’s competition section
British director Phil Cox’s documentary The Bengali Detective is a remarkable, entertain- ing exploration into the professional and per- sonal life of a self-made man in Kolkata, who
runs a private detective agency dealing with cases
ranging from murder and catching counterfeiters,
while he also dreams of becoming a television or a
Bollywood dancing and singing star. The film opened
to rave notices at the Sundance Film Festival in
January and then at the Berlin Film Festival last
Aamir Khan’s picture, right, next to that of jury president Isabella Rossellini at the Berlinale Palast theater.
Not many people recognized Khan
director Anusha Rizvi.
Khan is often referred to as the most
astute film personality in Bollywood,
and despite his solid credentials — hit
movies and support for smaller indie
projects, he is often described as a difficult person. But in Berlin, it was very
interesting to watch the actor as he
would sit besides his co-jurors. He
would appear reserved, quiet, especially
after the films would end, not sharing
his thoughts as is the natural instinct for
most others. A journalist friend remarked that this was a master class in
international cinema for Khan, who
only in the recent years has shown interest in smaller independent films, including producing Peepli and his wife Kiran
Rao’s directorial debut, Dhobi Ghat.
Unfortunately, not many people —
other than a handful of journalists from
India and Indian film festival programmers recognized Khan. Perhaps that is
the way he wanted it. And fewer people
noticed that Rao accompanied him a
couple of times.
There was at least one recognizable
Indian face at the Berlinale. The festival’s sites throughout the city were plastered with huge billboards from L’Oreal
and included one of the newest models
of the cosmetic line — Freida Pinto.
There were many glamorous looking
giant images of Pinto, who within two
years has become a hugely recognizable
What is your background and connection with
I have been in and out of India for the last five years,
teaching documentary workshops in Kolkata and
Delhi. When I was younger — from age 4 to 12, I went
to an Indian school in London where we studied the
Gita and the Upanishads and learned Sanskrit. My
father was a doctor who practiced Ayurvedic medicine. He was born in India at the time of British colonialism.
Did you do some other work in India before you
directed The Bengali Detective?
I have been running a production company for 12
years and have made films in other parts of the world.
I have done reportage from India — in Orissa,
Kashmir and other states, but that was more current
affairs based. I had wanted to do something that had
a touch of Indian cinema. I was looking for a story that
would allow me to bring in Bollywood songs and
dances. I wanted to do it without making it into fiction, to find a character who would allow me to bring
in music and dance.
What came first? Were you also thinking about a
film about a detective and was it a coincidence that he
sang and danced?
Absolutely! I was looking for a character that
opened up other people. At one point when I was
teaching in Kolkata I saw these detective billboards.
And I wondered why were people going to these
detectives and not trusting authorities? Then I realized that this was a space when people came into office
that they would reveal themselves. They would talk
about social taboos, adultery, suspicions in families,
business, middle-class problems and money. And I