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The Indian who pioneered cinema in Caribbean!

January 06, 2005 10:47 IST

Meet Mickey Nivelli, the Dada Saheb Phalke of the West Indies. The Indian expat, better known as Harbance Kumar, is often credited with pioneering the art of filmmaking in the Caribbean.

Maker of noted West Indian movies like The Right and the Wrong, The Caribbean Fox and Girl from India, Nivelli's life reads like the typical rags-to-riches tale.

Born in 1937, Nivelli started his career as an extra in Bollywood. At the age of 23, he produced a film titled Bijli Chamke Jamuna Paar, which bombed at the box-office.

Nivelli then worked as actor Sunil Dutt's manager for a few years before making it big as a filmmaker in the West Indies. Nivelli is now looking forward to having co-productions with Bollywood producers for the international market.

He is already working on a musical comedy called Rainbow Raani, which reflects a 'rainbow society' where black, brown, white, and yellow skinned people co-exist.

"Like the Beatles started from Liverpool and made an impact on the entire world, my story has a band called The Rainbows. The film is about a foursome comprising of Afro, Indian, Chinese and a white performer, their loves, conflicts, dreams and aspirations," says Nivelli.

Nivelli has fond memories of his first venture as a filmmaker in the Caribbean.

"I imported a movie-making camera from Germany to make the first West Indian feature film - The Right and the Wrong - in 1969," he says. "The actors in my film were seeing cameras for the first time in their lives.

"The film even featured songs by Mukesh and Manna Dey. I flew down to India to have these songs specially recorded before picturising them with local actors," he says.

The success of the film, based on the ill-treatment of workers by a plantation owner, spawned the era of filmmaking in the West Indies.

Attuned to what the masses wanted, Nivelli went on to make more successful films. But his success also turned out to be the cause of his inconveniences.

"Other filmmakers started envying my success. Their ventures were flops and they were hostile because I was an Indian from India married to a West Indian of Indian descent," explains Nivelli.

Nivelli confesses that to achieve success at the box-office, he did have to sometimes compromise on his films.

"For box-office success, I had to sprinkle a bit of music, sex and comedy. But my movies do make social statements and offer probable remedies," he says.

"Moreover, I have to maintain a West Indian flavour, otherwise I will fail. Since nearly half the population of West Indies is of Indian origin, I do have to cater to their needs. Half of my characters are the local Indians and the other half are African West Indians," he says.

At the same time, Nivelli does not find a great deal of difference between Bollywood and West Indian films.

"Human emotions are nearly always the same. I do not spend too much money on having great crowds or big sets. I cannot afford it. I score with my themes and comedy."

All movies in the West Indies are made in English, though it's an accented version quite unlike the Queen's English. The cost of making movies has also spiralled in recent years.

"Earlier the costs were not too high, so I could make my movies for $150,000 to $250,000. But I expect Rainbow Raani to cost between $500,000 to $750,000," says Nivelli.

Now based in New York as an American citizen, Nivelli is often asked why he changed his name from Harbance Kumar to Mickey Nivelli.

He attributes it to 'divine intervention'.

"An innocent child, murdered by the Nazis in the concentration camps, happened to be born on the same date, year and month as me. His mother lived only to find someone to carry forth the Nivelli name and I happened to meet her by chance," he explains.

Nivelli wrote a novel based on this incident entitled Echoes of Love from Heaven Above, which is all set to be made into a film.

The 'pradeshi' tag notwithstanding, Nivelli still considers himself quite close to India.

"I keep visiting India. Many of my family members are still here," he adds.

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