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Indian summer comes to Switzerland

Song-and-dance sequences in Bollywood blockbusters are often filmed at Swiss locations

(swissinfo.ch)

The role played by Switzerland in one of the biggest film phenomena of modern times is the leading light of an exhibition at Zurich's museum of design.

Entitled "The Indian Cinema and Switzerland", it features posters advertising films made by Bollywood - the huge and prolific movie industry based in Bombay.

In recent years, Bollywood has captured the imagination of its traditional audiences in a way which even Hollywood might find it hard to match. It makes up to about 900 mostly Hindi-language films a year and ticket sales run into millions.

"There is a great potential to expand way beyond the Hindi audience," said Indian writer and film-maker Riyad Wadia at the opening of the Zurich exhibition.

Parallel to the exhibition, cinemas in Zurich and Basel are screening Bollywood movies - including Ashutosh Gowariker's Oscar nominee "Lagaan" - for mostly Swiss audiences over the next few weeks. Wadia believes it is only a matter of time before the films catch on with a much wider Western audience.

Alpine scenery

The posters on display at the design museum reflect the bright colours which are characteristic of scenes from the films. They do not look out of place in an art museum, and in several it's possible to identify the Swiss mountain scenery which provides a backdrop for much of the Bollywood output.

In fact Bollywood film crews have become a familiar sight in the Swiss Alps. "Switzerland is a dreamland for the Indian public," says the well-known Indian actor, Ranj Mukherjee.

But while Mukherjee's comment was welcomed by Swiss tourism authorities keen to receive more holiday-makers from India, it's not only the alpine scenery which attracts the film-makers. For political reasons, much of India's mountain landscape has for the time being been ruled out for location shots.

The essential ingredients of a typical Bollywood movie tend to be romantic love, some song and dance, a touch of melodrama topped off with the triumph of good over evil.

Formula cinema

"It's very different from the western cinema, but these are all vital ingredients," said museum curator Cecilia Hausheer. A former researcher in experimental films, Hausheer told swissinfo that she had become a great fan of the so-called formula cinema which is Bollywood.

Although some westerners might dismiss the movies as kitsch, there are nevertheless indications that the romantic escapism which exerts such a powerful appeal to Indian film-goers might soon catch on with a wider Western audience.

This year, a Hindi commercial movie was screened for the first time at Cannes film festival. And in August, some 30 Bollywood movies will be included in a special "Indian Summer" programme at the Locarno film festival in Switzerland's Canton Ticino.

by Richard Dawson

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