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A Minute With: India director Dibakar Banerjee on "Bombay Talkies"

Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin smiles as director Dibakar Banerjee (R) speaks during the opening news conference of the 13th International
Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin smiles as director Dibakar Banerjee (R) speaks during the opening news conference of the 13th International

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian director Dibakar Banerjee has marked 100 years of Indian cinema with a short film inspired by a story written by Oscar-winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray.

Banerjee has adapted the story "Patol Babu, Film Star", about a middle-aged man getting his moment of fame playing a bit role in a movie, as part of a Bollywood project by four Indian directors to show what the movies have meant to them.

"Bombay Talkies" opens in cinemas on Friday, one century after the first Indian feature film "Raja Harishchandra" held audiences spellbound in Mumbai and laid the foundation for one of the world's largest film industries.

"Bombay Talkies" will also be screened at the Cannes Film Festival this month and features short films by well-known directors Anurag Kashyap, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar.

Banerjee, 43, who most recently made the political thriller "Shanghai", spoke to Reuters about short films and cinema being viewed as human history.

Q: How different is making a short film from making a full-length feature?

A: It's just a different way. I took a short story written by Satyajit Ray, a very interesting story and I adapted it. It is similar and yet different. I have taken the core of the story and have changed the setting from 1960s Calcutta to 2013 Bombay and given it new elements and dimensions. The story is also about a man defining his own success for himself. That remains the same but the definition has evolved from there. It's about a man trying to succeed as a professional and a man trying to command the respect of his peers.

Q: Is it an emotional film?

A: I haven't tried to move away from any emotion and I hate over-sentimentality and over-emphasis on the same things, as if you are telling the audience to cry or laugh. Having said that, this is the most emotional film I have made to date. This one has a very apparent emotional level and it has a conclusion.

Q: Do you mean to say your other films don't have conclusions?

A: We really go into films to escape. So a few films like mine, which don't give you that crutch to escape, have to survive on the strength of other things, like a visceral attack or the way of telling a story which commands your attention, and respect for the audience's intelligence, rather than talking down to them.

Q: What are you focusing on in this film?

A: This film is about the presence of Indian cinema in our lives. At another level, it is an universal story. You take that as a means to say something that is bigger and more meaningful.

Q: Has Indian cinema changed over the years?

A: No, it hasn't changed. Cinema is who we are and cinema is who we want to be. When you see a Karan Johar romance or an Aditya Chopra romance, you can see what a young man of 1995 was. He's not there in the film but that's what he wanted to be. Similarly in the 1970s or the '40s. Cinema is the history of the subconscious. When you watch films, you get human history from the personal point of view.

Q: Are we forgetting regional cinema in this celebration of Indian cinema? Is it all about Bollywood?

A: If I was a Bengali filmmaker, I would have made it in Bengali, but I make films in Bollywood. If you go by the sheer number of people who speak Hindi, then yes, it pretty much represents a majority of Indian cinema. I would like regional cinema to prosper and the fact that it hasn't cannot be the fault of Hindi cinema. It is the fault of the people who are making those regional films because you are not being relevant, you are not reaching enough people.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Elaine lies)

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