A month ago, Aamir Khan presented Chinese director Jia Zhangke, one of the finest filmmakers in contemporary cinema, with a major honour at the Mumbai film festival. The real prize, however, may have gone to Indian cinema.
A few hours later, Jia was in Khan’s Bandra home, sipping tea and discussing movies with the Bollywood hearthrob. The talk between the two giants in the mammoth Indian and Chinese film industries was about collaboration. “I am very interested in Aamir Khan’s style of production,” Jia told The Financial Express on Sunday, at the 38th Cairo International Film Festival last weekend. “Our talks are in the initial stages, but probably we will make a Chinese film together,” said the dimunitive director, who picked up his second major honour in three weeks at the Cairo festival.
The talks between the two are apparently heading toward the first adaptation of an Indian film in Chinese. “I found out that in some of the stories Aamir Khan has told, it is possible to make adaptations into Chinese,” said Jia, touted among the ‘sixth generation’ of Chinese directors. Jia, who was invited by Khan to his home, watched the trailer of the Indian actor’s newest film, Dangal. “I expect it to be a big success,” said the visibly impressed filmmaker.
“We will probably cooperate in the future. I think Aamir Khan is open to the idea,” said the filmmaker, who won the Golden Lion at the Venice festival in 2006 for Still Life, set in a tiny hamlet waiting to be submerged by the building of the Three Gorges Dam. “I love Aamir Khan,” beamed Jia, who has twice been in the prestigious competition section of the Cannes festival. Soon after their meeting, Jia posted his pictures with Khan on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, where he has 16.5 million followers.
Though it is too early to predict the film Khan and Jia will agree to remake, the Chinese director, who owns a production company called Fabula Entertainment in Beijing, is aware of the entertainment prowess of the actor’s big hits. “I have seen Three Idiots, it is very famous,” Jia said. The new-found love between Indian and Chinese cinemas may even extend to original productions between the two. In the backdrop of this year’s India-China coproduction Xuansang, based on the Buddhist monk’s journey to India in the 7th century, Jia hinted that he was more interested in telling contemporary tales. “It is not only ancient stories about monks, but between the two countries there are many young people having stories,” he said.
Jia, who spotted billboards of Chinese mobile phone giant Huawei on Mumbai streets, also noted that there are several Chinese people working in India, especially in the telecom sector, in which he could smell possible characters for a future film. The filmmaker, known for his workaholic ways, admitted he “wrote a lot” while being in Mumbai. “It was very inspiring and exciting,” he said about his trip to India, where he also found time to visit the 5th century Elephanta caves near Mumbai known for their rock art. In Cairo, he visited the Great Pyramids in nearby Giza. The Mumbai film festival, which honoured Jia with a lifetime achievement award, along with veteran Indian filmmaker Sai Paranjpye, also screened two of his films— Still Life and Mountains May Depart—at the festival. In Cairo, he received the festival’s biggest honour, the Faten Hamama Excellence Award, as well as presented his 2015 film Mountains May Depart, which was screened in the Cannes competition last year, in a tribute section, and The World (2004) in a programme honouring China as the guest country.
It is Jia’s screenplay writing year, as he emphasised, but he couldn’t resist the temptation of visiting the two countries recognising his contribution to cinema because India and Egypt have a “long history of human life” and the fact that “they are both developing countries at the moment”. “It helps me organise myself,” he said about the two visits. “I see the relationship between me and the world.”
Faizal Khan is a freeelancer