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Interview Hindi

Danny Ben-Moshe: I have been making Shalom Bollywood for 11 years

The producer-director of the documentary on the forgotten Jewish stars of Indian cinema has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise the final 1% to complete his long-delayed project.

Sonal Pandya

Producer-director Danny Ben-Moshe’s documentary, Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story Of Indian Cinema, is a real labour of love. Last month, the filmmaker set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the remaining funds to complete the project that has been in the making for 11 years. According to Ben-Moshe, 99% of the film is complete; he needs the final 1% to get stills and music from archives to enhance it.

The award-winning filmmaker, who is based in Australia, says this particular project has been a difficult one to get finance for. He spoke to Cinestaan.com about the difficulties in selling the film to different territories.

"Sometimes I pitch the film overseas and they will say, ‘It’s too Indian, it needs to be more Jewish.’ Others like it but they say it’s too Jewish, it needs to be more Indian," he said. "And then I’ve met other broadcasters who say it’s too historical, make it more contemporary. And others say it’s too contemporary, make it more historical. I kind of gave up and just carried on making the film and story as I understand and see it."

Most of the film’s funding has come from philanthropic foundations, mainly Jewish charities. Ben-Moshe adds that his goal is to finish the film, "no matter what". However, the money raised in the crowdfunding campaign will help towards strengthening the film audio-visually and go towards its distribution.

The former professor, now a full-time filmmaker, first got interested in the Jewish stars of Hindi cinema through the father of a student who brought to his attention an obituary of the actress Nadira. Ben-Moshe thought to make a film on her. "I’d always known there were Indian Jews and cinema, but I had no idea about Jews in Indian cinema and this Jewish superstar, Nadira," he said.

However, when he came to India, the people he met kept telling him about others — Pramila (real name Esther Abraham), Rose, and David. He recounted, “Everywhere I went, there were more and more stories. I went to India with the idea of making a film about Nadira, but I realised it was a much bigger story. And Nadira was not the only Jewish superstar, she was the last in a long line.”

These stars then became the primary focus of his film. "The film is not an encyclopaedia, it’s a story. So I couldn’t include everybody,” he said. "I focused on Sulochana, Rose, Pramila, David, and Nadira. All the Jewish stars who feature in the film, I’ve tracked down the family members or close friends who knew them well and could share stories and insights."

Since then, he has spent a lot of time over the years, tracking down the histories of these stars by contacting friends and family and finding out more about their careers. It has been an arduous task. Many of the studios that produced those films no longer exist; the producers are not alive. Yet he has persevered.

Ben-Moshe says that in certain situations where he couldn’t get any footage, he’s had to get creative. He said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” The end product, narrated by actress Ayesha Darker, hopefully, is an interesting film which, when it is released, should be seen by film festival audiences and later have a wider release.

There is a sense of urgency around the film now and Ben-Moshe explains why. "I think all these Jewish stars and their incredible story, they deserve their moment in the sun just as any actor. But this is a unique cultural story about this minority community in India and in retrospect, if I didn’t make this story now, it would be a little too late. People with [memories who] could tell me [more], in ten years' time they won’t be around."

However, he also points out that as a Westerner, he has made this film for a Western audience who may not know about these stars. But there is an interest in India as well about its forgotten cinematic past through the early stars who shaped Indian cinema. Danny Ben-Moshe is trying to bring their stories to notice and, hopefully soon, Indian audiences too can learn more about Sulochana, Pramila and Nadira on the big screen.

Click here to learn more about Shalom Bollywood’s crowdfunding campaign.