A poster of Kabir Khan's blockbuster Ek Tha Tiger starring Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif
Ek Tha Tiger, one of the biggest hits of this year, had many attractions to its credit like Salman Khan playing a RAW agent for the first time and romancing his former girlfriend Katrina Kaif. But it was the action scenes that left the critics and audiences spellbound and played a significant role in the movie's stupendous success.
Keeping the film's plot in mind, director Kabir Khan roped in Conrad E Palmisano and Markos Rounthwaite as action consultants, who have worked on hits like Rush Hour 3 and Bourne Ultimatum respectively. "Ek Tha Tiger demanded stunts for the action sequences.
Also the varied international locales where contemporary Indian films are shot necessitate collaborations between cinematic cultures. Ek Tha Tiger was shot in nine cities across five countries. Sometimes it was easier to access the crew the action director at the shoot. We were working with Conrad, who is from the USA, and the entire technical crew and stunt co-coordinators were from Canada. They just had to take a direct flight to Cuba where we were filming," says Khan.
This is not a one off move. Upcoming projects like Yash Raj Films' Dhoom 3 has Oliver Keller, who has worked on The Dictator, as stunt coordinator, while Sajid Nadiadwala's forthcoming film Kick has reportedly penciled in Philippe Guegan who has choreographed the action stunts for The Transporter, From Paris With Love and Taken.
Foreign hands at work
Indian filmmakers are not just roping in action directors from abroad. In the last couple of years, a surprising number of B-town projects have an international name wielding the camera. Spaniard Carlos Catalan captured the picturesque locales of Seville, Costa Brava and Pamplona beautifully and even bagged the Best Cinematography trophy at the last Filmfare awards for Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Greek cinematographer Nicos Andritsakis shot Dibakar Banerjee's Love Sex Aur Dhokha while Bulgarian Christo Bakalov has shot Ketan Mehta's Rang Rasiya. "Bakalov's work in Samsara, a non-narrative documentary film, impressed me a lot. I thought of him while making Rang Rasiya," says Mehta.
The gritty cinematography for Don 2, Delhi Belly and Rock On!! was the handiwork of Englishman Jason West. "I asked Jason to come down to India for an ad shoot after I saw his work in Cannes a few years ago," says Abhinay Deo, director of Delhi Belly. Likewise Vikram Bhatt collaborated with foreign technicians to perfect the 3D presentation in Haunted.
Besides American composer Wayne Sharpe, who has worked with Prakash Jha and Tanuja Chandra, New Zealander Mikey McCleary also composed tracks for Banerjee's Shanghai. McCleary says, "Shanghai was a gritty movie. The inspiration for its score came from the streets. I am glad to have worked with Dibakar Banerjee."
The skyrocketing budgets for Hindi films, shooting schedules in international locales and India's increased prominence in the global film scene has led to the influx of foreign technicians. Sham Kaushal, the action director of Barfi!, insists that most of the foreign stunt directors are used for overseas schedules. "Dhoom 3 was shot in Chicago, so it was feasible to use the services of foreign technicians. In India, there are not many foreign stunt directors," he explains.
Khan agrees. He says, "If I was shooting predominantly in India, then I wouldn't rope in a foreign technician." Trade Analyst Taran Adarsh gives a thumbs up to this trend as long as foreign technicians can make a project look better. "Today Hindi films are catering to international markets. This is a very positive change as it's all about going global today," says Adarsh.
Hiring a foreign actor or crewmember is no longer a major financial impediment. Deo points out, "Jason has been working in India for almost a decade now and his remuneration is on par with Indian standards." However, the cost does go up when A-grade technicians from abroad are roped in. "But they are not ridiculously expensive," says Khan.
India, though, is still far from being seen as a lucrative space for foreigners. Bhatt says, "The exchange rate is such that we will never be able to pay what they will get in America or Britain. After conversion, they realise that they are not getting paid too well."
However, what has furthered this trend is the adeptness with which foreigners take to indigenous shooting conventions and demands. Jackie Shroff, who starred in Cover Story made by Dutch director Laurens Postma insists that it wasn't difficult for the filmmaker to helm a movie in Hindi. "Laurens is a brilliant actor himself," Jackie says. "He actually understood what we were trying to emote, though he doesn't know any Hindi. He didn't show any jitters," explains Shroff.
Khan predicts there will be a cultural exchange in the near future. "When Conrad works with us, he observes the work of my director of photography. I am sure he would love to make some productions there," he adds. Reiterating the point, Deo cites the example of West. "Jason has been here for almost nine years now. A large chunk of his work is in India. The lines are blurring today. We are not far from the day when Indian technicians will also go abroad." India is finally becoming part of world cinema, observes Bhatt. "Earlier Bollywood operated on the fringe of world culture. Slowly, we are becoming part of what is called the world subconscious."