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IFFI 2017: When American film critic Roger Ebert wanted to screen Subhash Ghai's Taal

During a masterclass at the ongoing International Film Festival of India, Ghai recalled presenting his film to an audience of about 3000 Americans.

Mayur Lookhar

He was called 'The showman', and rightly so, for he delivered one hits after another. There's no better exponent of mainstream cinema than Subhash Ghai. The larger than life nature of characters in commercial cinema rarely pleases those who have a bent towards the art house or realistic cinema. 

The late American critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) was considered amongst the finest film critics in the world. He was, in fact, the first film critic to win a Pultizer Prize for Criticism. Now, would an Indian musical really impress a man known to be a harsh critic?

Yes, it did. The American critic had once invited Subhash Ghai to screen his film Taal (1999) to an American audience in the United States. Taal revolved around a simple village girl Mansi (Aishwarya Rai), who is also a trained singer. The film is most remembered for its music by AR Rahman.

During a masterclass at the ongoing International FIlm Festival of India (IFFI), Ghai recalled presenting his film to an audience of about 3000 Americans.

“One day I got a call from this noted American critic Roger Ebert. He invited me for the Overlooked Film Festival (now Ebertfest). He told me he had seen Taal and would like me to screen it at the festival. I signed for it and agreed to presenting it to the Americans [sic]. There were about 3000 Americans in the theatre with few non-resident Indians. I was nervous as American people have different sensibility,” Ghai said. 

Ghai further recalled addressing the audience gathered to watch his film, explaining the connection between Indians and music. 

‘We Indians are very musical people. We have so many festivals right from our birth to death, where we sing, dance and tell our stories. The whole cinema is based on music. Suppose if I have to tell a story about a child lost on an island, we can conjure even five songs in such a situation. (When the audience heard this) They started laughing. I told them the lost child will miss his mother, he’ll think about about his mother narrating a lullaby. I made up five situations within that story,” Ghai added.

One would think the cultural difference between the countries would evoke a different response for the situations in the film. However, the filmmaker was taken in for a surprise when the American audience cheered and cried at the same places that the Indian audience did. 

“We Indians are emotional. We are people of relationships, we are people of values, we are brothers and sisters as told by Swami Vivekanand. The screening began. I sat in the last row, I was really stunned to see how the American clapped and cheered exactly where Indians had clapped, they cried, too and thoroughly enjoyed the film for three hours. They gave me a standing ovation for five minutes,” concluded Ghai, evoking a rapturous applause from the audience at IFFI.

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