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Interview American Australian

Bollywood had a big impression on me: Australian film editor Jill Bilcock on her brush with Hindi films 

The renowned film editor was at the Kolkata International Film Festival as part of the celebration of Australian cinema.

Australian film editor Jill Bilcock at Kolkata International Film Festival 2018

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo+Juliet (1996), Muriel’s Wedding (1994), Elizabeth (1998), Moulin Rouge! (2001), Road To Perdition (2002), The Dressmaker (2015) — what do these films have in common? The fabulous Jill Bilcock. One of the most sought-after film editors, Bilcock was in the city of Kolkata as part of the Australian delegation to showcase Australian films in India. 

Bringing a curated selection of the best of Australian cinema to the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), the 100 Years of Australian Cinema section includes a selection of some of the most significant films made in the country, along with a showcase of internationally acclaimed contemporary cinema and a retrospective of the works of filmmaker Phillip Noyce.

In a conversation with us, Bilcock recounts her first trip to India and her work in the Hindi film industry in the 1970s.

Some excerpts: 

I was very curious when you mentioned that you’d come to India for the first time when you were 22 years old. What was that experience like?

I came to India because I’d seen the Apu trilogy and some other of his [Satyajit Ray's] works and I was really taken with India and the fact that he was an auteur. He was such a master of so many different areas and I always believe that if you are very creative, you can do anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s cooking, you can be creative in the home, do landscape design, build things, you can make films, you can do the costumes... you can have a kind of comment on every area. That appealed to me because I studied art for two years and then specialized in film and was the first batch of students from our very first film school.

So, I came to India on my way to London. I had a job in London and I came here for two weeks. I went to Kashmir and was overwhelmed when I saw the beauty…and I decided to stay on and I ended up staying for a year! I came down from Kashmir to Amritsar down to Delhi and then to Bombay and I travelled by train and bus....Because I was going to England and I had a suitcase filled with very nice clothes, I was the one that got all the jobs, the better jobs. The other westeners got 40 rupee a day jobs in the movies when they wanted to earn some money and I used to get 70! So we’d come up occasionally and sit on a fence on a hotel at the back of the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai, Stifles hotel and we would sit like little birds and wait. A bus used to come around and pick us up and take us to studios, all different studios. You never knew where you were going.

This was the 1970s?

Yes, 1971. So I would go to the studio and I remember walking in one time and people saying “Helen is here, Helen is here” and I didn’t know what the film was called but she had lots of legs [on her costume], she was like a spider dancing. So that was exciting and the air was full of incense burning, to make the set look artistic! Your eyes would burn from all the smoke! Then the bus would take you to another studio and you would never know where you were and all my friends used to lie on the floor because they thought that’s how we did parties, just lying about like that!

I would have the role of being the villain’s girlfriend, so some would come and kick the glass out of my hand and people would be really rude to me in the parts and there was mini-dancing, not too much. I think the film is called Andaz, the 1971 film. I am the girl in the bed and this guy says, 'Come on baby, get up' and I go off sulking. I do remember being in a movie where the man that I was the girlfriend of, they made his chest hair into a tree pattern with a very curly moustache. He was an ordinary man but they were making him out to be some sort of an Elvis Prestley!

While you were acting in Hindi films did you get to see any of them? I wonder that at that time, what was the impression that you got of our films? 
I loved the costumes and the participation and I also loved the fact that people would go to the cinema because it was a true event for everybody. It wasn’t a place that I could go to easily at that time because there were too many people and you didn’t want to be in the dark. If I went early in the day, it was not so bad but it was quite overwhelming, the style was very foreign to us because everyone is shouting and screaming and I was used to this very serious type of film viewer that would watch everything very carefully and analyse it. You didn’t seem to need to understand it, you got it that someone was chasing someone etc….

Bollywood obviously had a big impression on me. I convinced Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin to come to India and you can see in Moulin Rouge! a huge influence of that and we came here for all the fabrics, the colour, the decorativeness appealed to me extremely.

Watch this space for the full interview.

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Kolkata International Film Festival