The Journey

Fresh out of the University of NSW with my Master's in Films & Theatre and a thesis on Popular Indian cinema, I was finding it hard to be recognized as an Australian film professional beyond my cultural identity of an India migrant.

Encouraged by a favourable response from two Iconic film makers in India, I flew back to meet them. Visiting the famous Natraj Studios, I realised that I was not Indian enough for India anymore, certainly not for the film industry which was just beginning to get professional recognition and was largely an organised chaos. My struggle in India ended before it began but not before connecting with some film stalwarts who later became friends and who still refer to me as 'that Australian film graduate who wanted to come back to India'. Most of them advised me not to.

Australia and the Australian film industry had no idea how to professionally deal with this 'other' person. Multiculturalism was still new and evolving in Australia, and I seemed to 'confuse' them. I was not Aussie enough for Australia yet and of course I was not Indian enough for India any more.

As a struggling actor and director, I was acting as the usual Indian spice shop owner being attacked in Australia's Most Wanted, the Indian doctor in a corporate video. The Art Gallery of NSW hired me to research Indian short films and SBS gave me an early break reading and writing their Hindi language news, current affairs, and entertainment programs.

Then it dawned on me. There were so many opportunities in Australia waiting to be tapped into and there was no queue. There were opportunities in a growing multicultural and diverse screen sector where I had so much to contribute not in spite of my diversity but because of it. I was ignoring the most powerful tool I had, my international outlook and diverse background, which I was sure would be an asset for the monolithic Australian film industry of 1997.

I then hungrily started looking for ways to combine the Australian in me, the Indian in me, the film professional in me, and the Bollywood crazy fan in me.

At the same time, Indian film icon Feroz Khan came looking for locations to film in Australia. A bizarre Bollywood style meeting with him, resulted in me being offered a senior production role. Producing! But I trained for five years as a director and actor?!

Fed up with ticking NESB (Non English Speaking Background) boxes, and being marked in all applications, I knew I would always struggle as a creative migrant and a film professional in Australia. My supervisor Ross Harley at UNSW provided some wise words of guidance. The choice was - “Should I struggle waiting tables at a cafe or running my own production company?”

The decision was clear and a very profitable one, professionally, commercially, and financially. Creatively I would always struggle, I knew that.

I jumped into the Bollywood world and started knocking on every door to create this Bollywood world for me and my Australian colleagues, in Australia. Thus started the modern film links between Australia and India soon becoming a niche industry.

Over the next years (1998 to 2012), I witnessed first-hand the growing international interest in Bollywood, particularly in Australia. I experienced some of the most beautiful, bizarre, heartwarming, heart-wrenching, inspirational, depressing, and frustrating moments of my life dealing with Bollywood as a CALD Australian Film Professional.

  • I have a story to tell. But, It is not my story.
  • It is the story of how moving images became a religion in India.
  • It is a story of how the biggest film industry got the name of Bollywood.

It is a story of how when the Indian economy liberalised, they pushed Bollywood into a perfect marriage with the West
It is a story of a torrid love affair between Bollywood and Australia.
It is a story which proves that truth is stranger than fiction.
Every part of me has something to contribute to this story.

As a person of Indian origin, I have observed the growing international interest in Bollywood, particularly in Australia over the last 25 years. Bollywood is now an Australian subculture. I have seen the Australia Bollywood niche industry grow and face challenges and then shift gear to India centric Australian films.

As a filmmaker, and someone who is experiencing this amazing journey, I am very keen to share it through the medium I am most comfortable with - film.

As an Australian, I have always been an ardent supporter of diversity, before it was a buzzword, in front of and behind the camera. As a student of Australia's role as a servicing industry to Hollywood it has been interesting to see Australian film professionals embrace diversity and heartwarming to witness them overcome their own prejudices and stereotyping.

As someone of Indian origin, I have grown up watching many Bollywood films shot all over the world and now in Australia. It has been the most bizarre experience to see it all materialise from scratch as Australia, my adopted country, becomes an important part of the world's biggest film industry.

I see it as a seriously funny (pardon the cliché) look at the confused, well meaning, chaotic, unpredictable Australian reaction to the equally chaotic and confused Bollywood, as it invaded Australia.

Enriched with this first-hand experience, access to Bollywood, plus a team who share this passion with me, I was encouraged by Lisa Duff way back in 2003 to think about a documentary. The idea was born then. The story then did not have enough spice in it. Over the next 20 years the story brewed looking for the right angle, the right spice.

So in 2018 with private investors, moral and professional support of industry colleagues in Australia and India, the journey to narrate the journey on screen began. The crucial theatrical distribution and the all important provisional certificate from Screen Australia triggered the filming of Bollywood Downunder. Then came COVID-19 and we got the much needed time to sculpt a story from years of experience. As COVID-19 ended our sculpting shifted gear with Karin Steininger who then helped me make sense of it all and edited the film by co-writing it with me.

What you see in Brand Bollywood is my homage to the world's most prolific, followed, colourful, enchanting, ridiculed, engaging, and celebratory film industry Bollywood.

The Filmmaker's homage is in form and in content.

Hope you like it, learn from it, celebrate with it, and get coloured for life with the colours of Bollywood. Join me on a journey as we take this film to you and you and you around the world.

See you at the theatre soon.

Anupam Sharma