Steven Spielberg's Close Encounter With Bollywood
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MUMBAI – Steven Spielberg – who landed in Mumbai Monday – participated in a lively ninety-minute Q&A session with Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan in the presence of an exclusive, hand-picked audience of about 50 Indian directors and film personalities.
Also present were Spielberg’s wife Kate Capshaw, DreamWorks’ co-chair Stacey Snider, Reliance group chairman Anil Ambani and his wife, former Bollywood actress Tina Ambani. Held at the ballroom of the upscale Taj Land’s End hotel, the by-invitation-only evening Monday was organized by DreamWorks’ equal partner Reliance Entertainment. Bachchan – who has a role in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming The Great Gatsby — opened the session by welcoming Spielberg to India. Spielberg first came here in 1977 to shoot a sequence for Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He then returned for location scouting in 1983 for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom recalling that he visited various cities including Benaras, Delhi and Jaipur among others. (That film was eventually shot in neighboring Sri Lanka). “What I really remember is the warmth of the people here – they would just invite me to their homes even without knowing me,” Spielberg replied when Bachchan asked him about his impressions of India.
The session kicked off with how he got started in film, with the Oscar-winning director sharing his now famous story about crashing his toy trains as a young boy and filming them with his father’s Super 8 mm camera. “That really showed me the power of cinema, that I could watch the train wrecks again and again,” he said. Referring to Duel, the film that put Spielberg on the map, Bachchan recalled, “I remember the effective use of sound for the truck – was that deliberate?” to which Spielberg replied that he set out to create an “aural threat which gave the truck personality.”
Bachchan then asked Spielberg about how he chooses actors: “In your earlier years – and sometimes even now — your films are driven by characters such as a fish or aliens or robots. Lots of actors feel threatened by that!” As the laughter subsided, Spielberg smiled and replied: “As I move beyond middle age, I am turning more towards actors to save my career. So that’s why I work more with the likes of Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio.”
Bachchan specifically pointed to his “unusual choice” of casting Tom Hanks as a soldier in Saving Private Ryan. “Tom is a great leader,” said Spielberg. “He started as a comedian but in every comedy actor there is a dramatic actor. As Tom matured, his films became serious and I thought he could do anything so that’s why I cast him as John Miller.”
Spielberg’s fascination with the James Bond films is well-known and when Bachchan asked him if he made the Indiana Jones films as an homage to the superspy, he replied: “Well, it was really George Lucas who was inspired by the cinema serials we saw as kids (such as those by Republic Pictures) to do Indiana Jones. But I called (James Bond producer) Cubby Brocolli after I did Jaws and told him I’d like to direct a Bond movie. And Cubby replied that I was not experienced enough but if we do a Bond movie on water we might consider you!”
Delving further into his continued attempts to win over Broccoli, Spielberg added, “Cubby asked me permission to use the famous five musical notes in Close Encounters for Moonraker. I said sure and by the way, do you have a slot for me for Bond and he said no!” The saga continued with the Spielberg-produced Goonies. “One of the kids in the movie is a 007 fan and plays the Bond theme on his ghetto blaster so I called Cubby to get permission. He initially refused so I reminded him that I gave him the five notes from Close Encounters to which Cubby replied that the Bond theme has seven notes! Eventually he did give permission.”