Bollywood Fever Grips Cannes

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Bollywood fever gripped Cannes Thursday as art films gave way to the Indian musical “Devdas,” a classic tale of doomed love set in a make-believe world of glittering palaces.

Billed as the most expensive Hindi commercial film ever made, “Devdas” stars Shah Rukh Khan and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, the Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts of Indian cinema.

The three-hour song-and-dance extravaganza tells the tale of Devdas, a man haunted by his childhood love and unable to return the affections of a warm-hearted courtesan.

Its selection for screening out of competition at the world's most famous film festival comes on the heels of the Oscar nomination this year for another mainstream Hindi feature, “Lagaan.”

The Indian film industry based in Bombay, known as Bollywood, turns out hundreds of movies each year, but few make it abroad.

“Hindi commercial film coming here is such an honor to the entire industry,” “Devdas” director Sanjay Leela Bhansali said.

“It has taken years for us to reach out of our country and be accepted here but the wonderful achievement is that we're accepted the way we are.”

Earlier, Indian films at Cannes included stark tales of poverty, feudal oppression and unemployment made by renowned directors like Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and Raj Kapoor.

“Devdas,” which took more than two years to complete, takes place in magical sets, including a stained-glass house, a mirrored courtesan's chamber and a house with 180 pillars.

Taken from a hugely popular novel, the story has been adapted to the screen several times before, becoming one of the most enduring tales of Indian film.

Audience anticipation is at fever pitch ahead of its June 28 release in India, where Khan and Rai have millions of adoring fans.

“It really is like trying to remake 'The Sound of Music' as far as an Indian audience and Indian cinema is concerned, so you are treading on real thin ice,” Khan told a news conference.

Bhansali has set the action in the 1940s and given his smoldering anti-hero, who slides into alcoholic depression, more opportunities to express himself.

He hoped the film would find a cross-over audience in Britain, where Bollywood mania has spread beyond the Asian community and Andrew Lloyd Webber's new stage musical “Bombay Dreams,” based on a Bollywood theme, opens next month.

But Bhansali brushed off suggestions that Indian filmmakers should change their style to appeal to foreign audiences: “I would not wish to change my style of filmmaking to try to cater to the West. It has to be accepted the way it is.”
Written By Joelle Diderich