Shalom Bollywood: The Secret Life of Jews In India
India has always been a cauldron of diverse cultures. Jews too have been a prominent part of the country for a long time. In fact, a large population resides around Mumbai and Pune. It is no secret that the Jewish community was also a great part of our film industry. Shalom Bollywood: The Untold Story of Indian Cinema, is a documentary, narrating the stories of Jewish people in Indian cinema from the era of silent films to the end of the 20th century. Director Danny Ben-Moshe spoke to the viewers post the screening at Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival, about finding this subject, the discoveries he made while making the film, and how the history of Jewish people in Bollywood tells a larger story. Excerpts from the interview:
Audience: Take us through the entire 11 years process of making the film.
Danny: Well it wasn’t like a continuous 11 year process. It was more of a start-stop thing. It really started when Dwight’s father gave his sister an obituary about Nadira passing in 2006 when I thought, “Wow, it’d be interesting to make a film on her.” But when I went to India, it turned out that she wasn’t the only Jewish actress in Bollywood, there was Pramila, whose son Haider was a great help; Nadira was the last of the long line that went all the way back to the silent era with Sulochana. What started with just one story turned out to be 20-30 stories. When I first pitched the story, it was more of an inter-faith tale, while everybody then just wanted a ‘good, happy story’.
Audience: One of the most interesting things is the connection between the Jewish faith and the film industry. How do you think it affected you whilst making the film?
Danny: Interesting question! I haven’t really thought about it. One of the things that attracted me to the story was that I loved these characters. A filmmaker should always love his/her story. I had a burning passion to tell the story of these great Jewish stars of Indian cinema. For me it was a level beyond that of a filmmaker, stumbling upon a great story. In a way, my faith pushed me to tell this particular story. Haider’s own personal story reflected that kind of inter-cultural dimension which I feel was kind of new and fresh.
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Audience: What kind of audience do you hope to show your film to? Also, what is the next thing that you are working on?
Danny: One of the things I remember during all my time of making the film was that I constantly got calls and queries from film festivals, embassies, the media; people who had heard that the film was being made. Normally, you have to ask and plead to get your film shown, but I was getting requests all the time! That kind of kept me encouraged to keep going. In terms of audience, Indians and Southeast Asians all around the world. The film is also scheduled to screen for the Australian-Jewish community. It’s having its London premiere at the UK-Jewish Film Festival. I have also secured a theatrical distributor in America. Even though it is a specific historical story, it will appeal to people interested in the Jewish community, and people interested in Indian cinema.
I am just finishing a film for SPS in Australia called The Outback Rabbis. It is a road trip, with some Rabbis set in the outback of Australia. I’m looking for Jews in the least likely of places! I have also just finished a film for the BBC called My Mother’s Lost Children which is actually a real story about my mum. It’s coming out soon.