Sitting at Starbucks, talking to his friends, Mehul Shah had his first idea to make a movie. And he didn’t let the idea go.
In 2003, soon after he graduated from Southern Methodist University in filmmaking, Shah collaborated with one of his friends, Mansi Patel, and completed a short independent movie called "Diwali."
That was the beginning of a dream for the 27-year-old Dallas native. After five years, Shah is ready with his latest movie "Bollywood Beats." The movie premiered at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival this week.
A fun, comic movie that delves into various issues in the India-American community, "Bollywood Beats" raises questions on various levels. From homosexuality to extra-marital affairs and dreaming out-of-the-box, the movie talks about them but in a lighthearted way.
As Shah says, “It’s a dreamer’s story,” full of music and moves. Songs from different eras from Bollywood and lively music from the U.K.-based rapper Hard Kaur and Canadian artist Bilz liven up the ambiance.
Here are the excerpts from an interview with Shah outside The Magnolia theater hours before the screening of "Bollywood Beats."
How did your interest in film making start?
I’ve always been fond of films. Movies are always a great escape. Ever since I was a little kid, I was able to be watch Bollywood and Hollywood films. I got a good blend of both cinemas and that kind of affected my upbringing of wanting to bring those two together. I wanted to see what I could do with it. I just decided to major in it and study it more, go more in-depth about history of films.
What is "Bollywood Beats" all about?
It’s a dreamer’s story. It’s similar to "Bend it Like Beckham," which is about an Indian girl who wants to play soccer. This one is about an Indian guy in L.A. who wants to be hip-hop choreographer. He can’t really get his foot in the door and he starts a class with Indian women. And basically it’s just the six characters who come together and become a family. They turn to each other when they have a problem. It’s just a light, warm-hearted story, and it has a lot of dance elements to it. It has a lot of Bollywood kind of influences in it.
How and when did you idea generate for this film?
It’s a funny story. It was at a gym. I was acting in an independent movie called “Love Without Name,” in Bombay. I was just working out in the gym one day and looking through the glass window where they would have these aerobic classes, and I saw these Indian women who were dancing and grooving to hip-hop music, bhangra and Bollywood. I thought it as an interesting situation. It just started from there. And I started writing it. It took me about a year to finish.
What inspired you to write the story?
It’s a lot of different things. There are a lot of different characters that I’ve met in my own life. It’s a lot of …what I try to make out of it is all the characters are basically sort of drowning in their own world. They’re out of the norm, somehow finding some sort of family and acceptance with who they are and what they can bring to the world and just finding their place. I took that trait of Raj trying to do something out of the box from my own story.
You said you’ve grown up watching a lot of Bollywood movies. How much of influence did Bollywood have in the movie?
I had a very big influence. You’ll be able to see that through the song selection. We have a lot of Bollywood songs we licensed for the movie. I tried to take some of the best elements from Bollywood, which are probably the color and the energy and the dance, melodrama. I tried to infuse some of those elements into a Hollywood story and incorporated in a way that the movie is different and unique.
Let’s talk a little about the cast and crew. You have Lillete Dubey and Sarita Joshi in the movie. How did you come up with them? How did you approach them?
Lillete Dubey (from "Monsoon Wedding") was the first one who we got on board. She was Mansi [one of the producers and actresses] and my first pick for the role. We sent her the script. She loved it, and she said she’d do it. That helped us to get more interest from other people. Sarita Joshi, I wasn’t actually aware of her work. But she was just incredible, a comic actress. It is so hard to find a cast for that role because it’s a 60-year-old woman, who is an old Bollywood actress who can dance and is fun and funky and has a lot of energy. She fitted so beautifully. She told me that her daughter told her that she had to do this movie.
How was the shooting?
For independent movies, we don’t have that much time to shoot. So we actually finished it in 24 days. We shot from Feb. 11 to March 8. Four weeks, six days a week. It was a very ambitious project. We worked 12-13 hours a day. Luckily, we didn’t have any major difficulties.
What was it like to play a character in your own movie?
I know a lot of people asked me why would you do that because directors have so much to do on the set. But I felt like I had written it so long ago, and I had such a good grasp of what I wanted from that character, I thought I could turn it on and off a little bit easier. Luckily, it worked out. And the character had to have a lot of dance training and experience. So luckily I had that.
Why the hip-hop theme?
I think it’s something which is an emerging movement. It’s so similar to all the Bollywood stuff too, the beats. So it was an easy fit with Bollywood.
Being an Indian-American, how much of your roots and values have you portrayed in this movie?
I think what I did, growing up here and being an Indian, we have to adapt. We have a very modern take and our culture is very conservative. So I think I really tried to make that a big part of the movie where I show different kind of scenarios in the Indian-American life that aren’t the norm.
You’ve written, acted and directed the movie. Which one do you prefer?
I think all of them are so different in a way, and I like each of them equally. When I’m directing, I feel I want to be acting. When I am acting, I feel I should be directing. So it’s tough. I like all of them.
How do you feel now that your movie is there and people can watch it?
It’s nerve-wracking. We got to hear people respond and laugh and gasp. It was just weird to see that it worked. People are reacting and having a good time. So it’s a nice thing to be able to see that.
What is your future plans?
We want to go to as many festivals as we can get into. I’m working on finding a distributor nationwide and internationally as well. We would like to show it in India. I fell like this is kind of a Hollywood take on Bollywood. So I think it’s more geared toward Indian-American audience. But things are changing in India and they want to see different things. So if we can get somebody to show it in India, we’re not opposed to it. We’d love that.
We’ve started our own film production company called Kinetik Films. This is the second film. The first one is "Diwali." I was just want to keep continuing to produce movies and write films not just about Indian-Americans but broaden our horizons and hopefully make a production studio in Dallas that has the resources that other production companies have and make quality films that people enjoy.
Any immediate thoughts or story ideas that you have?
I have one that I’m working on. It’s like 40 pages now. And it’s about an Indian bride. That’s all I can tell you right now. It’s a comedy.
For more information on the movie, visit www.bollywoodbeatsfilm.com
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