Ask award-winning Indian filmmaker Kamal K.M. what he thinks about Bollywood and he throws back his head and roars with laughter. “Nonsense! Nonsense!” he cries.
For Kamal, the winner of this year’s Deauville Asian Film Festival for his film “ID”, Bollywood’s commercially successful diet of slick song and dance routines, far-fetched plots and cheesy dialogue is a bit “like opium”.
Producers and directors, he says, will joke among themselves that their films are “rubbish” but claim they have to keep churning them out because “the people insist”.
The Kerala-based independent filmmaker is sceptical and more than a little disapproving, believing the industry’s leading lights should take greater responsibility for what they produce and give audiences more choice.
“Bollywood is just one part of Indian cinema,” Kamal told AFP in an interview in Paris, adding that around 10 of India’s 31 states produce their own films.
“Among that, Bollywood is one... the largest film-producing state (of Maharashtra). It is strong in the diaspora across the world and so that is why Bollywood is appreciated all over the place,” he said.
Inspired by a real life incident, “ID” tells the story of a labourer who collapses at the comfortable Mumbai flat of young graduate Charu and her quest to piece together who he is.
The city of 20 million is a magnet for poor rural people from all over India who flock there in search of work, often leaving their families behind.
Forced to live lives of extreme precariousness, security can be limited to nothing more than managing to find a piece of pavement or wasteland beneath an underpass that has not yet been claimed by someone else.
Every day, thousands gather at so called labour points where they are picked up by employers to do casual work.
In a country of extremes, Charu by contrast is part of a new generation of well-qualified young Indians employed by multinational companies.
Her search launches her on a journey from one world to another, from middle class privilege and security to the grinding poverty — and anonymity — of the city’s slums.
According to Kamal, migrants often fall ill and die or are killed without their families ever knowing what has happened to them.
“That is nothing. In any of these cities where this drastic migration is happening, that is quite common,” he said.
“There is a dialogue in the film where she (Charu) is asked ‘why are you so concerned when there are so many unidentified dead bodies in this city?’. Someone says ‘the government has a system, so why don’t you leave them to it’,” he said.
For Kamal, the question of identity is pertinent in modern day India.
“The idea becomes more important when you are cut off from your roots, when you are displaced. There is a huge amount of this in India.
“In other places the displacement happens due to some war, some sort of calamity that is created by nature, but in India it is without (these) other issues that the people are getting displaced,” he said.
And with rapid development all over India over recent decades, a sense of alienation is by no means unique to the big cities.
“The process of urbanisation is happening in the rural parts also now, because of this new lifestyle that is coming through now with the urban values,” he said, recalling his own childhood in Kerala where food would be shared with neighbours daily.
“Society is transforming. You think are on your own. Earlier we were depending on other people for everything,” he said.
Accepting his best film award in the French resort of Deauville earlier this month, Kamal dedicated it to the “common man”.
“The emotional impact of the film reminds people that you have to look at the person beside you even the stranger on the street,” he added.