India is known for their fantastical Bollywood movies where there is drama, romance, singing and dancing– a LOT of singing and dancing. But Indian cinema has matured over the years with more realistic storytelling and branching to other genres like thrillers, mysteries – and now science fiction.
In 2014, India sent the Mars Orbiter Mission into space, and became the first country to send a satellite to orbit the Red Plant. The patriotic feeling that followed the Mars mission has fuelled the latest example of Indian space cinema: Mission Mangal, a fictionalized account of the Orbiter Mission, starring and produced by Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar.
Contrary to most Indian films, Kumar, one of the highest-paid actors in the world, says he had long wanted to work with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to bring realism and science to the big screen.
Sci-fi isn’t a new genre in Indian cinema — Kaadu was made in 1952, which was a Tamil-American co-production, and is often considered the kickoff to Indian Science Fiction filmmaking, it has nothing like the profile it has in the United States. It only established itself after the country opened up its economy, allowing the entry of satellite channels and foreign movies, as well as studios such as Disney and Warner into Bollywood production. Before then, what little there was consisted mostly of low-budget fare involving superheroes.
While Hollywood has a long tradition of making more naturalistic films about space travel – from 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and, of course, Star Wars– it’s only now, with the enormous strides in India’s own space exploration, that such films are beginning to resonate with moviegoers.
Another key factor over the last decade has been the boom in India’s visual effects industry – to which Hollywood outsources much of its own special effects – that has enabled higher quality film-making. While the popular Koi … Mil Gaya looked like a bad 80s TV show, it received the National Film Award for Best Film on Other Social Issues, and was screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival and the NatFilm Festival in Denmark. The film garnered the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. It also started a superhero franchise. The fourth instalment is released next year, and each film has exhibited a giant step forward in Bollywood’s use of CGI.
While India might still have a long way to go to catch up to Hollywood, with some high profile space missions, sci-fi is set to become a milestone in Indian cinema.
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