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January 2005
Hooray for Bollywood!
Bite The Mango
Preparations for the 2005 Bite The Mango Festival are now under way

There may few surprises coming out of Hollywood these days but Irfan Ajeeb, Director of Bradford's Bite The Mango Festival, has been to India and Pakistan to find what is hot in both Bollywood and Lollywood.


West Yorkshire films

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Bite The Mango 2004

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The Bite the Mango Film Festival had barely ended as I set out to prepare myself for visiting the film industries in both Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and Karachi.

Though this was my fifth visit to Mumbai in as many years, visiting Karachi was a novelty as I had previously visited this huge city only once before. My mission was simple - to network the Bite the Mango Film Festival and to invite prominent stars to Bradford in 2005.

Irfan's first stop was Mumbai in India

Stepping out of the plane at six in the morning, an intense blast of heat welcomed me to Mumbai as well as an instant invasion of mosquitoes. After the onslaught of the dreaded insects, I was then surrounded by over-friendly rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers demanding I use their services. I had finally arrived in Mumbai!

The chosen taxi driver drove me to my hotel which was situated in an area called Juhu (India's version of Hollywood) where the crème de la crème of Indian thespians reside. In the 30 minute journey from Mumbai International Airport to the hotel, the chosen one talked incessantly of current Hindi films, classic films and his favourite stars and directors. The man had some serious knowledge about the Indian film industry and came across as an Indian Barry Norman driving a taxi.

Arriving at my hotel, the "Sun 'N' Sands" truly lived up to its name - the sun was there and the hotel was overlooking the Juhu beach.

Meera tells Irfan about her experience as a Pakistani working in India.

My first full day in Mumbai was difficult. The heat was proving to be a deterrent and travelling was wearisome - a 5km journey could take anything between 30 minutes to two hour. Hence, when I went to see filmmaker and good friend Mahesh Bhatt, it felt as though I had already been in Mumbai for the last few months!

Bhatt is very respected in India. He has a unique personality and is never afraid to speak his mind. He has visited the Bite The Mango Film Festival on two occasions, the last being 2004 where he delivered a scriptwriting masterclass and conducted a memorable interview with Indian cinema legend Dilip Kumar.

Walking into his office, the first thing that struck me was a long line of men waiting to see him with the slender hope that he may offer them a bit part in his film. Overlooking these men and adding to their nerves are framed posters of Bhatt's landmark films - Arth (1982), Naam (1986), Aashiqui 1990), and the autobiographical Zakhm (1998).

He welcomes me into his office where he is sitting with his brother Mukesh, producer of all his films. Though it has only been two months since I last saw him, Bhatt never fails to inspire me with his inimitable dialogue and piercing eyes. After a cup of Mumbai coffee, Bhatt introduces me to Daboo Malik who looks strikingly like the Indian music composer Anu Malik, composer for Gurinder Chadha's Bride & Prejudice.


"Sporting a tan and looking a million dollars," Rupak (here, with Imran) has now appeared in her first feature.

"Irfan, I'd like to introduce you to Daboo, he is the younger brother of Anu Malik" says Mahesh whilst chatting to other filmmakers on his two mobile phones trying to strike a deal for another potential blockbuster.

Daboo is a young music director who has worked on a handful of Indian films, mainly with filmmaker Sohail Khan. He is also a very close friend of Bollywood heartthrob Salman Khan. Next stop - Salman Khan!

I leave Mahesh in the comfort of his two mobile phones and the long line of aspiring actors which has grown considerably as Daboo and I set out to meet Salman Khan - the man who has wooed millions across the globe since he made his lead debut in Sooraj Barjatya's Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989.

Feeling quite nervous at the prospect of meeting Salman, my aim was to talk to him about the festival and to entice him into visiting Bradford in 2005.

Oozing coolness, Bollywood's so called 'bad boy' was calm, softly spoken and surprisingly shy. We talked about the plans for the festival and how much his fans in Bradford would love to meet him. Accompanying him was his brother filmmaker/actor Sohail Khan. Brother Sohail looks after all of Salman's schedule and as we departed, Salman said, "See you soon!"


Cinema legend Dilip Kumar: "One can only look forward to the book his wife encouraging him to write!"

The following day I made my way to a film shoot at a derelict factory called Mukesh Mills. Taking the better part of two hours to get there, I arrived at the shooting of the film Nazar (Look). Nazar, directed by Sonia Razdan (wife of Mahesh Bhatt) features newcomer Ashmit Patel as the lead. Opposite Patel is leading Pakstani model-turned-actress Meera. The stunning Meera tells me about her experience as a Pakistani working in India and the other projects she is working on.

Finding my way around the set I hear a Birmingham accent call my name. I look around and see Rupak Mann, winner of the TV programme Bollywood Star. Sporting a tan and looking a million dollars, Rupak (who appeared at the 2004 Bite the Mango Film Festival) is appearing in her first feature thanks to Mahesh Bhatt. Rupak plays the role of a Muslim woman who acts as a guardian to Meera's character. Nazar is due for release this February.

The following two weeks were hectic to say the least with visits to more film sets at Film City and the legendary Kamal Amrohi Studio.

My final stop was at the residence of Indian cinema legend Dilip Kumar. Kumar also attended last year's Bite the Mango Film Festival. Arriving at his house, it was great to see this legend again. Accompanied by his wife Saira Bano, he took me out for a meal at Joggers Park, an exclusive club on the outskirts of Mumbai. Looking well and healthy, the legend reminisced about his visit to Bradford and his rare interview on stage. One can only look forward to the book his wife is encouraging him to write!


Karachi, the "bustling city that is at the heart of Pakistani television and film"

Other personalities I met during my visit to Mumbai were actors Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Avtar Gill, Emran Hashmi, Anupam Kher and Anil Kapoor, actress Isha Koppikar and directors Subhash Ghai, Govind Nihilani and Sangeet Sivan.

The second leg of my trip took me to Karachi, a bustling city that is at the heart of Pakistani television and film to a certain degree.

My main point of contact there was the lovely Samina Peerzada, an accomplished actress and director, and a major celebrity in Pakistan. Peerzada, who has attended the Bite the Mango Film Festival on two occasions, expressed her frustration at the demise of the film industry based in Lahore (known as Lollywood). Out of frustration, Peerzada moved to Karachi from Lahore 3 years ago and now has her own successful television show Heart to Heart With Samina Peerzada every week.

It was a good time to visit Karachi as their very own film festival was taking place. The Karachi International Film Festival is a relatively small film festival independently organised and in its fourth year.


Samina Peerzada, Irfan and film actor Momair Rana.

It is clear in Pakistan that there is a new wave of filmmakers who are tackling the traditions of Pakistani Cinema. The industry in Lahore is on its last legs as it has been utterly rejected both by the public and the government. What I saw at the Karachi festival was a fresh approach to filmmaking by a new generation who will undoubtedly have a major say in where the future lies for the Pakistani film industry.

The strong points in Pakistan are the television drama serials. India admires Pakistan's television dramas, whereas Pakistan respects India's film industry. But now we are seeing more and more joint productions. It is down to daring people such as Mahesh Bhatt and Samina Peerzada who will have a major part to play in the way how both countries and industries will work together in the future.

Overall, Karachi was a real eye opener and an enjoyable experience. I was fortunate enough to have an escort such as Samina. She also introduced me personalities such as cricketer Wasim Akram, leading film actor Momair Rana, TV stars and comedians Moin Akhtar and Omar Sharif, and singers Junoon.

All said and done, the Bite the Mango Film Festival later this year promises to be a real treat for all movie lovers. Watch this space!

Irfan Ajeeb

Bite The Mango runs from September 30th to October 6th 2005

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