India: Bollywood’s “Ten percent”, “proof” for the director

(AFP) – The adaptation of “Ten percent”, the successful French comedy series, to the colorful world of Indian cinema is “pretty clear”, Shaad Ali, the director of the version, told AFP. India for Netflix: “Bollywood breathes comedy”.

“We live a similar story” in Bollywood, he continued, in a video interview from Bombay.

The adaptation, titled “Call my agent: Bollywood”, is literally modeled on the original series rewarded this week by an Emmy Award for which twenty spin-offs have been signed worldwide.

“Indian sense of humor”, said the director.

The series centers on four celebrity agents, whose contracts must be kept at all costs within their agency, overturned by the sudden death of their old boss.

“The way agents go through their ups and downs, their emotions (…)” seduced him from the start, added the director, who is best known in India for “saathiya”, a multi-award winning feature film in 2002.

These agents, the lead roles, are embodied by two rising stars: Aahana Kumra and Ayush Mehra alongside two of the biggest names in Indian cinema, Rajat Kapoor and Soni Razdan.

Since then, Shaad Ali has had fun observing the planet Bollywood through his “cute little telescope”, he says, “comedy breathes everywhere, all around us”.

– Filming “in the midst of a pandemic” –

He sees “no risk” in making fun of the environment, he argues, “I make fun of it, but I’m a part of it too”.

“All the stars play the game”, he added, “without being pushy or making up, it’s only natural”.

Casting Bollywood superstars including Ali Fazal, Richa Fadda, portraying themselves in fictional roles, was a “selfless process” of tailor-made writing while negotiating their contracts.

But the “big daily challenge” above all to shoot and protect the team, for forty days, “in the midst of a pandemic” in 2020, he said.

Aahana Kumra was filming a sit-com when she was asked to play Amal, Andrea (Camille Cottin)’s alter ego in the French version.

– “Another facet of glamour” –

The actress remembers being stuck in “Ten percent” until the end of last season.

“I absolutely adore all her characters,” the bubbly brunette told AFP, “I really love that she humanizes the other side of glamour.”

Aahana says she has also become aware of the ingratitude of stars vis–vis agents, tending to forget that they too have life.

“As actors, we really…”, he couldn’t find the word, Shaad Ali whispered to him: “imbus”. He nodded, continued his laughing expression, and added “but that’s the nature of the job!”.

Her screen roles are “always very corset”, she explains, to the point that Amal’s character, the lesbian impresario, is all passionate, “a little on the sidelines”.

“Contact my agent: Bollywood” is “very avant-garde” for India, he said, “even if in some way we progress in the story of a homosexual couple (…) it’s very important to start out of the woods”.

After seeing him kissing women on the show, his friends kindly mocked him.

– “Best compliment” –

The actress reported on her best friend’s comments: “Perhaps now you know whether you are heterosexual or gay…?” And Aahana to assert: “It’s just a role”.

He said he holds the memory of the “best compliment” received after a kiss was exchanged with an actress on the set: “You kiss so well (…) It’s my first time kissing a woman, it’s so sweet”.

However, continued Aahana Kumra, “I understand that, for the Indian public, this may not be very normal”.

The actress made sure not to be afraid of possible controversy.

“The most important thing for me is what my parents think of my appearance”, he underlined, they are “very progressive (…) they are happy”.

The adaptation was torn apart by critics in France, specifically described as “disaster” by the weekly Télérama and not particularly “credible” or “disappointing” in the Indian press.

Shaad Ali said he had never read “any reviews” but had heard that “the reactions were mixed, some liked it, some hated it”. “I don’t like half-hearted reactions,” he said, “so it was scary.”

Garfield Woolery

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