Did you know that the history between Hollywood and the Bombay film industry goes back a century? For the first time, this ongoing “close encounter” has been discussed in the well-researched book Orienting Hollywood, throwing new light on how this relationship between two giant film industries has evolved over the years. Orienting Hollywood is authored by Nitin Govil, assistant professor of Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. As the book’s introduction explains, Orienting Hollywood moves “beyond the conventional popular wisdom that Hollywood and Bombay cinema have only recently become interwined because of economic priorities and instead uncovers a longer history of exchange.”
My connection with Orienting Hollywood is in the way Govil references and provides context to some of my articles and industry analysis which I have done for The Hollywood Reporter for over two decades as its first India-based correspondent from 1999-2020. (In addition, I have also analyzed the Indian music industry for Billboard as its first regular India contributor from 1997 to 2008). The book’s opening chapter titled ‘Narrating Encounter’, refers to my 2013 interview with Shah Rukh Khan when he discussed his first-time collaboration with a Hollywood studio in India, then known as Disney-UTV, which co-produced Chennai Express with his banner Red Chillies Entertainment.
Similarly, another high-profile inter-industry encounter is discussed in detail when Tom Cruise visited India for the first time to promote Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol which also starred Anil Kapoor, referencing my year-end wrapup as encapsulated in the THR headline ‘2011: When Hollywood Connected with India’.
The book’s concluding chapter ‘Close Encounters of the Industrial Kind’ takes a deep dive into what can be arguably considered the most high profile Indo-American meeting of cinematic giants when Steven Spielberg visited Mumbai in 2013 and addressed an exclusive session with Amitabh Bachchan.
Spielberg’s visit was to primarily promote Lincoln and more importantly, reflect on his business partnership with Reliance Entertainment which first invested in DreamWorks in 2008. Reliance still holds a minority stake in Amblin Partners. But Spielberg is no stranger to India considering he first visited the country in 1977 to shoot a famous sequence for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He again visited India in 1983 to scout locations for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom but ended up shooting in Sri Lanka after the Indian government refused permission, raising objections to some parts of the film’s screenplay. Discussing the importance of his 2013 visit, Orienting Hollywood references my THR story thus: “What the Hollywood Reporter called ‘Spielberg’s Close Encounter with Bollywood’ was, then, less a meeting between alien species and more of a homecoming.”
I had a personal and memorable connection with Spielberg’s homecoming at that event held at the Taj Land’s End hotel in Mumbai on March 11, 2013, but two decades before that face to face encounter, I had already experienced my first connection with him, via long distance fax communication. Back in 1994, Jurassic Park became the first Hollywood film to be dubbed in Hindi and get a wide release. At the time I had founded Connect, India’s first magazine on global entertainment chronicling the wave of 90s globalization which had begun to impact the cultural landscape. In the annual Connect reader’s poll, Spielberg was voted Entertainer of the Year given the breakthrough box office success of Jurassic Park which heralded the arrival of Hollywood films at the Indian box office in a much bigger way. As a wild shot, I reached out to his company Amblin Entertainment to see if he could share a message for Connect readers. His team responded and soon a fax message curled out of the machine with Spielberg’s message for Connect.
When I finally met him for the first time, and that too in the presence of the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, I had something else for Spielberg – a Super 8 print of Close Encounters which I had bought years ago in London along with similar ‘digest’ prints of Jaws, Sugarland Express, Star Wars, The Godfather and many more which are still part of my collection. Would he sign the CE3K print for me? “Of course!”, he said excitedly, massively surprised that someone in India was in possession of the rarity that is a Super 8 print of one of his most iconic films.
I didn’t know it then but now when I look back, it goes without saying that Spielberg’s message to Connect and the signed copy of Close Encounters ended up being my way of “orienting” Hollywood.