The Melbourne woman who helped Indian cinema conquer Australia

Indian cinema in Melbourne is synonymous with the name Mitu Bhowmick Lange. Since migrating to Australia in 2001 with her husband Roy, she has since contributed to every aspect of the local film industry.

Mitu Bhowmick Lange is a leading figure in the Australian film industry.Credit:Simon Schluter

Her company Mind Blowing Films is the leading distributor of Bollywood and Indian cinema in Australia, she is the director of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, a festival launched in 2010 showcasing South Asian cinema that has been sustained with Victorian Government support, then in 2016 she developed film production arm Mind Blowing World. As of this year, she can now add receiving an Order of Australia to her list of stellar accomplishments.

“Australia has been good to me. I’ve met so many great people and I have managed to create this whole little world,” she says.

Bhowmick Lange’s exemplary career in Australia has garnered the respect of stalwarts of the Australian film industry, including film editor and icon Jill Bilcock, best known for her work on Baz Luhrmann’s productions Moulin Rouge! and Romeo + Juliet.

But it all started with Salaam Namaste. This was Bhowmick Lange’s first Melbourne film project and the first Bollywood film to be shot completely overseas. Following its success with local audiences, Bhowmick Lange subsequently started distributing Indian films in Australia.

“[Salaam Namaste] went on to create so much awareness for Melbourne in India. There was a hike in tourism to Victoria from India, with students coming to study here,” she says.

Through her work, Bhowmick Lange has not only created a space for diaspora audiences to connect with mainstream and independent South Asian cinema, but built an ongoing relationship between the local and Indian film industries.

“We are all a product of our worlds and until we expand this world, there’s a limit to what we will see on screen.”

“One of my biggest mentors was Yash Chopra, founder of Yash Raj Films. He got me started in distribution in Australia, and was the producer of Chak De! India and Salaam Namaste along with being a patron of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne when it started.”

Pathaan starring Shah Rukh Khan is currently in Australian cinemas. Produced by Yash Raj Films and distributed locally by Mind Blowing Films, the feature reached $US13 million globally in its opening weekend, a record for a non-English language film without the clout of a Hollywood action budget. The interest from diaspora drove local box office numbers ($2.2 million over its opening weekend in Australia) and with streaming giants continuing to showcase films such as the Oscar-nominated Telugu language film RRR, the market for South Asian cinema has expanded beyond the diaspora and the continent.

“Western thought is not necessarily the benchmark the rest of the world follows. As the world is getting smaller and audiences get more global, diverse creative expression across cinema and the arts is important. Thanks to streaming platforms, people’s palates are changing. Audiences are willing to watch films with subtitles from Hindi language films to Telugu, Tamil and Urdu,” says Bhowmick Lange.

Through the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, she has brought out some of the biggest Indian stars to the country, including Abhishek Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Malaika Arora Khan, Kangana Ranaut, Prabhu Deva, Fawad Khan and even Shah Rukh Khan himself. These high-profile connections cement her local and international influence, as well as the mass tourism draw of the festival itself.

“South Asian creatives are such a big part of the world, but it will not be reflected in local cinema until they are producers, writers, directors as well as executives and present in boardrooms. We are all a product of our worlds and until we expand this world, there’s a limit to what we will see on screen,” she continues.

The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne is underpinned by the core values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Following the diagnosis of her daughter with Down syndrome, Bhowmick Lange was motivated to return to her film production roots to develop stories that are reflective of our diverse society.

Mitu Bhowmick LangeCredit:Simon Schluter

“Often we are only as inclusive within our comfort zones or what is comfortable for us. Screen is so important for bridging prejudices. You can’t be what you can’t see and this has driven my work.”

This led her to launch My Melbourne in 2019. Initially starting as workshops, the venture will see established Indian filmmakers to mentor local writers. The stories build on ideas of race, gender, disability and sexuality and are inspired by the writers’ lived experiences with a diverse crew behind the camera. It will premiere at the 2024 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.

“In some ways, audiences are the ones that dictate what gets made,” says Bhowmick Lange. “That element of everyone having the same emotive experience – without audiences who are we making the films for?”

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