A story set in eighteenth century Iceland, based on a classic play about a romance between outlaw Fjalla-Eyvindur (“Eyvindur of the mountains”) and rich widow Halla, which is based on real-life events, may become the first Icelandic Bollywood movie. That is, it will feature Indian actors and Hindi dialogue, singing and dancing.

Director Arnar Sigurðsson stresses that the film is still very much in development, but its concept trailer, which opened the recent Indian film festival, has already drawn considerable attention. He already has some Bollywood experience, having worked there for half a year, originally as an assistant director. “It was when ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ came out, a Western movie that uses themes and settings in India,” he tells me. “So everyone was looking for the next crossover and I was asked to give the ‘Western view.’”
Still he doesn’t think Fjalla-Eyvindur will be too hard on Eastern eyes. “I don’t have to change anything in the story for it to make sense to Indians. The realities of 18th century Iceland aren’t that far away from present day realities in some places in India. It will be in Hindi, but it’s not technically Bollywood as it’s not shot in Mumbai. But we want to use that Bollywood tradition of celebrating every emotion, which sometimes strikes Western audiences as overly melodramatic,” he says.
It’s not all about India though. “It’s much more about Iceland than India to me,” he says. “Perhaps it’s an attempt to open up what Icelandic culture is, rather than narrowing it down. The fact many feel it’s a bit crazy raises interesting questions. We feel making pictures that look to Hollywood or Europe as a standard is the most natural thing in the world, so why not India? And this is a certain exercise in exoticism—do we view films differently based on the form they’re put in? Do we allow ourselves to enjoy things we’d sneer at in another context?”
But Arnar stresses that this shouldn’t be just a gimmick: “Of course there is a certain built-in artistic irony. But I want to put this together with honesty and integrity. And I haven’t found anybody in India that finds the project strange at all. Taking a good story that has proven itself over centuries and making it in Hindi is the most natural thing in the world to them.”
Having been abroad for a good part of the last decade, he says it’s striking how concerned Icelandic artists are with being Icelandic artists, rather than just artists. “I don’t really feel like participating in projects that will narrow down what Icelandic culture is. I’d much rather open it up,” Arnar says.
Inspired by Bollywood
The singing and dancing will certainly be most foreign to Western audiences. “Many people here think of the song and dance as opposites to the story, an interruption to the plot,” Arnar explains. “But I believe it’s essential to the plot. The song and dance emits the emotion that the love is so strong they’re ready to give up a privileged life and go hide in the mountains. And after every song and dance scene, the mood changes and there is a shift.”
And Bollywood may not be as far removed from Iceland as we might think. “Many feel Bollywood is very kitsch. But in many ways we treat Icelandic nature the same way—with a lot of drama. And in a way the Inspired By Iceland advert was really the first Icelandic Bollywood film. The approach they took, with people dancing within well known tourist locations and enthusiastically emitting their joy—that was very much like Bollywood does it. Icelandic nature has been made so kitsch that it’s already a big Bollywood drama.”
The music in the trailer is Icelandic and while most think it’s impressive, Arnar isn’t sure that he has found the perfect musical way of bridging the gap between these two worlds. “The aim is to have both Icelandic and Hindi music—music that works within both worlds. That’s not easy and it’s one of the reasons this development process will take time. I’ve been looking into this with some Icelandic musicians; it doesn’t matter if the musicians that perform the final music will be Icelandic or Indian, what matters is that it works within both worlds. We’re trying to put two things together that have not met before and try to find harmony. But Icelandic rhyme singing and Indian mantras are not really too far apart. There is kinship there.”
Movies on Facebook
He admits that there’s added pressure with such early attention, but sees the benefits of having a dialogue with the audience at such an early stage. “Films are using social media much more before they actually shoot. Look at ‘Iron Sky’ [a film currently showing in Reykjavík, which revolves around Nazis fleeing to the moon], which began as a poster in 2007. Then they used crowd sourcing to budget the film. This is what many producers are starting to look at. We might not need the gatekeepers anymore—those who decide what is a good idea and not. Now you can speak to the audience directly.” That dialogue has already started and those who want to participate can find “Fjalla-Eyvindur og Halla” on Facebook or check out the film’s website, http://www.loveoutlaw.com. The concept trailer can be found at both locations.
“Many feel Bollywood is very kitsch. But in many ways we treat Icelandic nature the same way—with a lot of drama. And in a way the Inspired By Iceland advert was really the first Icelandic Bollywood film.”

Ásgeir H Ingólfsson

Originally published in The Reykjavík Grapevine on May 31st 2012.