Director Stanley Joseph tells Alys Francis why he wants his movies to break free of the Bollywood mould. And how his first filmMy Cornerstone did just that
Stanley Joseph’s career as a film director nearly ended before it began.
After moving from Bangalore to Sydney in 1997, the music producer was looking for his next project when he happened to switch on the TV and see every teenybopper’s favourite show: Video Hits on Channel 10. Inspired, he decided to make a music video.
“I wrote and produced a track called ‘Merry Christmas’,” Joseph says. This wasn’t your average schmaltzy Christmas song. Wanting to try something new and unafraid of raising eyebrows, Joseph blended Indian and Western styles, with “Indian girls and Australian girls singing”.
But there was a problem. “I shot it on one of those super VHS cameras, because I couldn’t afford a film camera,” Joseph explains. “I was so ignorant that I didn’t even ring up Channel 10 and ask them what format they wanted.”
When Joseph gave his finished clip to the TV station he was shattered to see it get rejected. “They said ‘Sorry we don’t accept material that’s been shot on a VHS camera,’ they wanted something shot on film,” he says.
Dreams crushed, Joseph shelved his big screen ambitions until years later, when advancements in digital technology made movie making more affordable.
But Joseph still struggled to get people to take him seriously. “People would laugh, they would look up and down at me and go, ‘Okay you’re Indian. You want to make a movie? Are you going to make a Bollywood one, where the people are wobbling their heads and shaking their hips?’”
“I said ‘No, no, no, if I was doing that, I’d be back in India. But I’m here! I’m here basically to make good Australian films’,” he says.
Today Joseph is doing just that, making what he says are the first Indian-Australian crossover films. Audiences got their first taste of his masala-Aussie styling on the big screen in October, when My Cornerstone was shown in Village and Event cinemas.
Shot in Sydney and Mumbai, My Cornerstone follows the story of a pretty Indian nurse who moves to Sydney and gets a job living with a wealthy Indian-Australian family, caring for their elderly grandmother. Hilarity and romance ensues, at the same time showing a slice of the Diaspora experience down under, much like Bend it Like Beckham did for Indians in England.
Amazingly, My Cornerstone was one of two movies shot by the same cast and crew in little under a month. As Joseph tells it, they holed up in a swanky rented holiday house in Coogee, eating, sleeping and filming there, and working well over 20 hours each day to get both features wrapped. “Peter Jackson broke a record with The Lord of the Rings—he shot three features in one go,” Joseph said. “So now I’m the first guy to do two features in Australia at the same time!”
The desire to be a game changer, moving ahead of the pack, has been with Joseph since he was a boy at school in Bangalore. Back then his love of music led him to form a band with a fellow student, but he didn’t want it to be any old band. Joseph persuaded his friend, saying, “Let’s do something different, let’s not go do a rock band,” like was popular at the time. So they veered to the extreme, becoming the first students in their school to start a band, and Joseph believes the first band in Bangalore to play hardcore heavy metal music. “We were head bangers!” he laughs.
But fast forward to today, and is Australia ready for Indian-Australian crossover flicks? It seems the jury is still out on that one.
Joseph said those who watched My Cornerstone loved it, but he did struggle to pull in an audience. Getting bums on cinema seats has long been a challenge for Australian filmmakers, and Joseph said he had a doubly hard time. “The movie lacked publicity because being an independent filmmaker, I didn’t have the funds,” he explained. “Somehow we managed by word-of-mouth and Facebook and other things.”
Getting mainstream viewers interested in a film about multicultural Australia was another challenge, according to Joseph. “The moment an Anglo-Saxon person sees an Indian face on a movie poster the impression that they think is, ‘Oh my god, this a Bollywood film! I don’t want to go watch a Bollywood film, if people are wobbling their heads and shaking their hips,” he says.
Australia’s long-suffering film industry has not put Joseph off his Sydney base, although he does to travel to Mumbai intermittently for work. “Australia’s a beautiful country and I thank god for the opportunity to come to this country,” he said. “I know my roots are back in India but [when I’m there] I feel I’m still missing Sydney, and that’s home.”
And he’s still not afraid to dream big, revealing of his determined “mission” to “make Australia like Hollywood and Bollywood”. “It’ll be another big [film] hub in Australasia… like Ozziewood!” he said excitedly.
With plans to shoot a number of future film projects in Australia, including a sequel to the epic Ben Hur, it’s clear Ozziewood is far from a pipe dream for Joseph. In the meantime he had his hands full laying the groundwork for My Cornerstone’s debut cinema run in India.
Meanwhile, Love You Krishna is being pencilled in to screen in Australian theatres during the Krishna Janmashtami festival in August next year.
Published in The Indian Sun / Indian Magazine in Australia