The UK is at the start of an Indian summer, with all things Bollywood beguiling Britain over the coming months. At the forefront of Hindi film in her home country, is writer and academic Jessica Hines. After the success of 'Looking for the Big B: Bollywood, Bachchan and me', Jessica has been in attendance at the IIFA awards and the British Academy of Film&Television Arts (BAFTA) honoring of Amitabh Bachchan. Hines, a frequent visitor to India who was reportedly associated with Bollywood actor Aamir Khan, talks to Steven Baker on her views on the Big B, the response to her book in both the countries and her love for Bollywood.
You have traveled to India 29 times, would you consider living in India permanently?
I love living in India but it only works, to my mind, if you have a specific job to do there. There was a point where I thought I would be living there more than London but that didn't pan out.
Where did your interest in Hindi Film begin?
It began in earnest at SOAS (The School of Oriental And African Studies). I was very earnest.
You have been responsible for bringing Bollywood into the public consciousness in the UK, with events like film festivals and Selfridges department store Bollywood month. When do you think Bollywood 'arrived' in the UK?
Well its funny, I wonder how much quicker Hindi films would have wooed the UK audiences had video not made its huge impact on the Indian community. Remember that almost overnight the number of cinemas showing Hindi films went from almost 100 to 0. It wasn't until the early 1990s that film culture started to inch its way out of the Indian communities living rooms again. I think it started to kick off again at the end of the 90s.
You launched your book earlier this year. What has been the response to it? Has the response been different in the UK compared to India?
Well in India the response was a bit nuts. But that was more because of my personal life and the fact that I had finally completed this book, than about the book itself. The UK is being its uniquely insular self and hasn't picked up on the fact that I have a certain notoriety in India, which is a very bizarre thing.
What was the most difficult thing about writing the book?
Being a single mum with a small baby and no money? Oh that's three.
When was the last time you met Amitabh Bachchan?
We just missed each other in Mumbai and London. I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago though when he called to congratulate me on my engagement.
What do you think of Amitabh's recent performances in his recent releases Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Baabul, Eklavya: The Royal Guard, Nishabd, Cheeni Kum?
I think that he is growing with the variety of roles that he is taking on now. Sometimes you would think that he could just mail in a performance but I know that each shot is thought about and planned and worked on. All actors have to constantly find the feelings over again or they fail as an actor.
Is Amitabh more popular in the UK or the US?
I think the UK although the sell-out performances and events that the NY Film Festival a couple of years ago show that there is a big fan following and a growing awareness.
There is very little mention of Abishek Bachchan in the book. How do you feel he compares to his father?
He is an interesting actor and an exceptionally nice man. I think it is going to be very interesting to watch him develop. The Bachchans all take time to become what they are meant to be. Amitabh did and so did his later father.
In the UK, Indian film stars are able to enjoy a certain degree of anonymity. How hard is it to be a celebrity of Amitabh Bachchan's status in India?
I think it is an insanely difficult thing. As Salman Rushdie said, I don't know how he remains sane.
As a western woman and an academic on Hindi Film, what is your perception of the portrayal of goras in Bollywood?
It is limited but that is expected. It is also limited in Hollywood. Villains or fops or loveable cockney rogues.
Finally, what is your favourite Hindi film?
My favourite Hindi film is Amar Akbar Anthony.