Looking At Indian And Australian Cinema's Relationship From The Perspective Of 'Bollywood And Beyond'

The 2024 AACTA Festival featured a thought-provoking panel discussing a new chapter of on-screen storytelling.

Khushaal Vyas, Grainne Brunsdon, Anupam Sharma, Pradnya Dugal, Pallavi Sharda and Julie Julie Eckersley at AACTA Festival

Image Source: Supplied

Beyond Margot Robbie’s trailblazer award and two star-studded nights of glitzy awards, the 2024 AACTAs held earlier this month also featured a multi-day festival celebrating the diversity of the Australian filmmaking industry. 

The ‘Bollywood & Beyond’ event attracted a captivated crowd, as a panel of film industry professionals sat down to discuss the relationship between Indian and Australian cinema. 

One of the biggest developments in this space as of late has been the ratification of the Australia-India Audio-visual Co-production Agreement, which according to the Australian government is designed to “strengthen collaboration and creative exchange between Australia and India, allowing more films and television series to showcase the best of both cultures, landscapes and people”. 

Anupam Sharma, who’s a director and producer at TEMPLE films and casting, was one of the panellists at the Bollywood & Beyond event. He previously told Draw Your Box that the treaty is not only a mechanism to facilitate more screen industry employment and cultural exchange, but a gateway to helping tell the stories of the South Asian diaspora in Australia, especially the unique experiences of second-generation South Asians growing up between two cultures. 

Elaborating on this during the panel event, Sharma explained that it’s important that Indian Australians have their own voice and agency to tell stories in their home (Australia) and also in a format that’s authentic to them. 

“We need to tell our Aussie stories the way we want,” he said. “We should not be asked to modify our authentic butter chicken to suit a western palate.”

Fellow panellist, Pradnya Dugal (Jhumka Films), also commented on the significance of the co-production treaty in helping mobilise the stories of the next generation. As a second-generation Australian Indian and with her children being third-generation Australian Indians, they still find themselves feeling like the ‘other’ in certain contexts. It’s for this reason that Dugal welcomes the co-production treaty, as she hopes it will enable more India-centric Australian stories.

Others on the panel included Pallavi Sharda (actor and producer at Bodhini Productions), Grainne Brunsdon (Screen Australia) and Julie Eckersley (Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Australia), while Khushaal Vyas (Lawyer and Chief Operating Officer of Australia India Film Council) moderated the discussion. 

Screen Australia’s Brundson observed that there has already been a steady flow of compelling stories coming through after the co-production treaty was signed in late 2023, and also echoed Sharma’s hopes for more dynamic and inclusive stories being made by Australian talent. 

Last year SBS announced a new show, Four Years Later (previously Four Years) as part of its 2024 programming slate. The show created by Mithila Gupta is not only being filmed in Sydney and Jaipur, but uses the Hindi and English languages interchangeably. An all-South Asian writing team is also demonstrative of the project’s commitment to authentic representation. 

With so many ‘firsts’ being achieved by this show, there’s a great opportunity to observe how the show navigates various aspects of production, including the casting which was announced just last month. Two India-based actors have been selected to play the lead protagonists, with Akshay Ajit Singh (24: India) portraying Yash, and Shahana Goswami (Bombay Begums, A Suitable Boy) playing Sridevi. 

Khushaal Vyas, Grainne Brunsdon, Anupam Sharma, Pradnya Dugal, Pallavi Sharda and Julie Julie Eckersley at AACTA Festival 2024

Khushaal Vyas, Grainne Brunsdon, Anupam Sharma, Pradnya Dugal, Pallavi Sharda and Julie Julie Eckersley. Image Source: Supplied

As the Head of Scripted at SBS, Eckersley spoke of how Four Years Later is an important Aussie Indian story of migration, showcasing human strength and relationships which are ultimately universal themes that will resonate with diverse audiences. 

Pallavi Sharda is someone with experience in front and behind the camera. The star of Netflix’s Wedding Season expressed the importance of production houses in Australia ensuring their work gives an authentic voice to the diverse stories being told with proper consultation and collaboration. Indeed, that mission of turning multicultural stories from being “the other” into the mainstream forms part of Sharda’s own mission through her new production venture, Bodhini Studios.

“My ask at this weekend’s festival was to speak about the new Australia-India co-production treaty… and it felt incredible to raise awareness of the exponential storytelling capacity within the South Asian Australian diasporas,” Sharda also wrote on Instagram as she reflected on her involvement in the panel.

“A community which I feel so proud to represent on stages such as these.” 

There are two words in that sentence that really strike a chord – ‘representation’ and ‘proud’. It’s with more conversations like these where we can continue to build on the representation that’s definitely needed in our film landscape… so we can feel seen, heard and of course…. utterly proud of our Indian identities on the big screen.