Exclusive interview with ASHANTI OMKAR  (BBC)

By Jean-Paul Eliard
The 28 April 2016


You discovered your passion for Indian cinema, on what occasion?

I was brought up watching Indian films, from Tamil films to Bollywood, as my Parents watched Indian cinema and listeneed to the music. In Nigeria, West Africa, where I spent some of my formative years, we had a Hindi film showing on TV, every Saturday. I continued to watch them after moving to London, just before my teenage years, and continue to endeavour to watch at least 2 films a week to date, from the Independent spectrum, to popular cinema, both from Hollywood, and Indian languages, now, mainly at the cinema. Cinema and music, teamed with food and wanderlust, are where my passions are, so I follow them on screen, on stages, and while travelling.

Why did you choose to be a radio presenter & Indian film expert at the BBC?

It chose me, I'd say. I was head hunted for the work I do around film and music, based on a career in journalism, spanning 1000s of published print pages of articles in newspapers and magazines, some magazine editing, plus podcasts, video pieces, and a strong social media presence, as well as a gamut of film and music based consultancy projects, post my corporate career, working for several fortune 500 companies. This came as a natural progression, careerwise.

My favourite Indian movies are Mary Kom, Chennai Express, Swades, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Mission Kashmir, Lagaan, Mardaani, PK, Special 26, Jab We Met... I very much like actors like Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone. You have interviewed these actors and actresses.  How was it for you?

In the course of my work, I've had the chance to work directly with, and also write about, broadcast, and speak to many personalities across India, not just Bollywood, which is Hindi cinema. I have enjoyed chats with a broad variety of talent, in film and music, and it has always been enlightening, to hear their stories, moreover, see the hard work they put in, alongside extreme professionalism. It takes a lot to be a star, and I always come away from interviews, knowing that behind the glossy and glamorous success story, that smiling photo, is a sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears. 

Did you see Bajirao Mastani? What did you think about this movie?

I did indeed see it, on the silverscreen, as I try to watch most big releases at the cinema. I came out of the film, impressed, with every single detail from visuals to music, to the acting of the entire cast, led by a stellar director.

Neerja is not released in France for the moment, I think that a good movie, Is it released in England?

Yes, Neerja was released in the UK. It fared very well, deservedly so. The UK is a key market for Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, & Urdu cinema, so on a weekly basis, across the country, one can see a variety of Indian cinema.

Priyanka Chopra is beautiful and sexy, but I'm afraid that US cinema use Priyanka just on this criterion, despite her being awesome as an actress in Mary Kom, Bajirao Mastani e.t.c. What are your views?

I disagree. Priyanka Chopra is a versatile talent, from voicing animation for Disney in Planes, in Hollywood, to her role in Quantico, which has been a big hit on US TV, and is also doing really well in the UK too. She continues to prove that a 'Brown skinned' talent can thrive, whether as a recording artiste, or as an actor, globally. She has leveraged her talent, from her first foray in cinema, in the high profile Tamil film, Thamizhan in 2002, post winning the title of Miss World in 2000, to several awards for her work in Hindi cinema. TIME magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World recently, and she holds the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian award. It is in the 2017 Hollywood film of the cult TV series Baywatch, that she will make her Hollywood on screen debut, playing the role of an antagonist, against Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock. So there is indeed no need to be afraid - she is making all the right moves...

In Mardaani, Rani Mukerji is a very good actress. What do you think?

Rani Mukerji has proven herself to be a rightful heir to the Mukherjee-Samarth Hindi cinema family, as has her cousin Kajol (star of My Name is Khan, Minsara Kanavu). Both ladies have shown their acting prowess across carefully chosen roles, and a natural flair to bringing their characters to life, on the big screen.

Lagaan and P.K. are very good films starring Aamir Khan. Did you interview this actor?

I've had a chance with interview Aamir Khan, on a few occasions, as well as to work with him on his independent productions, as a consultant with Spice in Mumbai, on films like India's Oscar entry, Peepli Live, Kiran Rao's Dhobi Ghat, and the UK super-hits Delhi Belly, and Talaash. They were all off beat films, and Aamir Khan has always had the uncanny knack of working on projects that others would not touch, and make them great successes, both in commercial cinema, as well as in the independent sphere. His is a mix of savvy marketing, with his unique positioning.

The movies of Bollywood often have songs and dancing, but do you think that the Bollywood movie industry wants to come nearer to Hollywood and fear that it may lose it's identity?

I think that comparing the two, is a fallacy. Both have their own following, and merits, both also have song and dance, in their cinema. Out of the 1000 odd films out of India, where South Indian cinema produces over 600, a small portion will not have song and dance. But that escapism is what most people resonate with, when they go to see something entertaining. Most recently, Yash Raj Films had the big Shahrukh Khan starrer Fan, devoid of song and dance, which, while acclaimed by critics, was not a plus point with the fans. India has a 1.5 Billion fan following for films, when you include the entire population, and the worldwide diaspora. Why should India pander to Hollywood? Both industries are also just over 100 years old, with India following suit soon after Hollywood studios began work, with movies coming out, from the entire country. Hollywood is slowly making a mark in India, and in USA, where Hollywood is, Indian cinema, from Hindi, to Telugu and Tamil films, also hit high in the box office on a weekly basis. Both have their own ways of telling stories. I doubt either will loose their identity along the way, as they continue to evolve.

Thank you for this interview and you can find Ashanti on the BBC, via this link

I wish you the best, and hope to see you soon

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