Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


This conversation is closed.

What do you think Bollywood is doing to world culture?

For decades, Indian music meant sitar and Ravi Shankar to the west. The mainstream popular music from India, produced by play back singers and artists of Hindi Cinema primarily was of little interest outside of the subcontinent. It was known for its melodrama and garden rains and super human heroes chasing nubile desi beauties with those songs. Freddie Mercury, originally Farokh Balsara, a Persi from Bombay or Cliff Richard, an Anglo-Indian from Calcutta did not appear to have a future in India in the 50s.

70 years down the line, Bollywood stands as the world’s 2nd largest Film industry and a popular culture of a musical and dance genre. So much that Baz Luhrmann’s musical film Moulin Rouge! (2001) was directly inspired by Bollywood musicals, complete with a full song and dance routine. In 2008 another less known American comedy-drama movie Ghost Town featured a complete song sequence from a 60s Bollywood movie in the title track. The same song features in the interesting Heineken Ad, The Date.

The Bollywood is invading the west, they say, in a good way of course. From bridal party music and dance ( to Ice Dancing Championships (, there is a talk in the air that it is transforming the musical and cultural expression in other countries in a way deeper than one will imagine.

Are we seeing a reverse flow from the time of Freddie Mercury and Cliff Richard? ??

Or ??

Can it influence anyone from anywhere?

Is it just music/dance or something else?

What do you think Bollywood is doing to world culture?

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    Aug 11 2013: I've lived in the us and india, and several places within the us. I did see bollywood movies, with indian friends. The only people I knew that watched bollywood movies were indians or of indian origin.

    India might have one billion people IN india, but there's also a very large number who aren't counted in that billion because they've emigrated. So, when I hear that bollywood movies were an international hit, I can believe that it was popular with people of indian origin living internationally.

    i've seen bollywood themed episodes of the big bang theory and sanctuary. Indian origin people are also part of the target demographics.

    Bollywood movies are very indian-culture centric.

    Did you see english vinglish?
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    Aug 1 2013: Thanks for providing links and for reminding me of a huge, albeit short-lived, Bollywood boom that took place some years ago where I live now. It was not only about being invited to movie theaters to see films (I remember seeing less than three films when the boom was out and about, I didn't always say yes to those invites, I prefer more existential cinema ;-)), there were also Bollywood parties!

    Your links to me to other links and I enjoyed a lot of them, but back to your question:

    Bollywood is about entertainment and fantasy, as said in the debate you provided link to. It also spreads an unrealistic image of India across the globe. Indian Disney for adults. None of the latter make the films less esthetic or enjoyable and I guess we can agree that not all art is about documenting the problems of the people, Bollywood films are not documentaries. However, all art is propaganda, as George Orwell famously concluded.

    I've never been to India. I must say that having contact with distant culture, may it be through reading or watching Bollywood, is always an enriching experience, but what is the latter doing to world culture?
    From my perspective - a) bringing Indian culture to distant cultures but distorting it while doing so b) possibly distracting the Bollywood consumers from other things in India that should be put into focus. The industry produces million-level profits but about 35% of Indians have access to the films and/or can benefit from the profits, if my reasoning is correct.

    I find it ironic that the finale scene of Slumdog Millionaire was a bollywood scene. A film showing how difficult it can be for Indians ending in... a fairytale ending. An Indian dream? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.
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      Aug 2 2013: An Indian dream? Why not? But I argue its a waking dream and a very happening one!
      Every culture has a niche audience for movies. While they form clubs of distinguished people of taste, they do not necessarily determine a movie market or a popular culture. I can understand what you are indicating as unrealistic but interestingly the mainstream movie goers in India are very aware of that unreality. They prefer it as an escape from the reality they live 24X7. The main bulk of revenue an average Bollywood movie brings comes from small towns and rural areas. Even in big cities, the high end multiplexes cater to negligible percentage of movie viewers.
      Let me examine your arguments (a) and (b) a bit critically.
      (a) For decades Hollywood presented the west rather funnily, I would say, then. Most of the common Indian perception of America comes from mainstream Hollywood movies. After a time Indians do check it and know that the image that Hollywood portrays about the US is not correct. However, they can also understand the value sets and tastes of American people. I think the same should apply to Bollywood. Moreover, there are lines, albeit fine, between realistic, surrealistic and unrealistic. Indian story telling is of 'nautanky' school, where things are larger than life.
      (b) Bollywood is an enormous industry that supports millions. Its one of the most rewarding place to seek work for the artistically minded. But it weeds out everything but the best and only criteria is competence. So the billion level profits it earns trickles down to the bottom (despite considerable part being retained by the stars and celebrities).
      Anna, I think I understand the European sensibility of film appreciation, particularly based on post WWII social existential reality. I like that fine understated narrative myself. But it may not be fair to expect that narrative in movies of other countries.
      Did you check what those Ethiopian boys were saying?
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        Aug 5 2013: Thanks for taking time to reply to my musings and ramblings, I'm effectively dragged down to Earth by what you wrote. My first thought after seeing your comment was that I'm most probably incompetent when it comes to Bollywood and India, sorry for trying to mix the film and social situation of the country without really having the insight.

        The Indian dream sounds appealing. The American dream does too but, as many have remarked before, it is only a dream and you need to be asleep to believe it. Interistingly enough, there seems to be no European dream.

        Back to Bollywood and Hollywood - it is indeed true that all film productions sell, or are trying to sell, create or perpetuate, a certain vision, idea, thought, reflection on what is or might be happening. this may be for different purposes - show a phenomenon or community, entertain, explain, broaden the horizon, inspire... In a lot of diferent ways, some may be mainstream, some niche.

        Since you mentioned niche audiences and European sensibilities, I took both the courage and time to peruse my film collection, about 130+ discs that I ripped in Poland and transported to my present home to remind me of my interests, and I was quite shocked by my findings. No existential reality in those films. OK, I did find Fellini, Bertolucci, some Norwegian and Swedish productions, but those were not the ones in majority. It seems, statistically, that I do like American productions, though not the huge ones. Emotionally (not statistically, those productions are about 30% of the collection, but that's probably because they're not so common in the world) what I like most is originality, focus on absurdity, the grotesque, the dark, the foreign.

        So - I guess I'm just not a typical Bollywood fan, but I still love to see and listen to such videos and my humble question is - do you need to be Indian to grow such long hair? ;-)
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          Aug 5 2013: No. :) I think I have seen braids and buns in straw colored hair and they are as beautiful. Indian men are traditionally impressed by long hair of women and women, a few that i know, complain in private about the stressful maintenance of the same.
          The directors you named are legends. But I also like the works of Keislowski, particularly the three colors series. I am kinda fan of Juliette Binoshe, though right now the movie that comes to my mind is 'The English Patient'.
          There are movies in Bollywood, and these days these movies are coming up in greater number, that will appeal to European sensibilities. But the narrative is not truly Indian style.
          The cinematography is by far a technicality - Indian movies have graduated to the international level. The films are sleeker, better edited, stunning camera work with brilliant care to details. But the heart of Indian cinema is in mythology, in fairy tale escapism, in emotional melodrama. While these do not essentially portray reality, they indicate Indian sensibility, jest and passion towards life.
          I find your comment 'there seems to be no European dream', very insightful. I feel that way too. I think when generations live through decades of wars, millions lose life and property a queer intransience sets in - that possibly determines sensibility, taste and philosophy of life. European cinema reflects that truthfully. If one takes the trouble of getting into that mind, this no-dream understated fatalism can be appreciated as a style in itself.
          My friend Magnus from Sweden says : when you come back from work and see that your home along with your family is a smouldering pile of rubbish, your cinema will change for ever.
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        Aug 11 2013: Kieslowski is also a legend, especially in country of his origin which also happens to be the country of my origin as well. You might also like Agnieszka Holland.

        It's interesing conclusion you and your friend came to when it comes to the spirit of European films (say 'tack så mycket' to Magnus for his thoughts :)). I'd like to add something to this approach and that is the financial aspect. Had European filmmakers been interested in inviting as wide and vast range of audience and making piles of money on the production, which inadvertently means investors with piles of money, the films might be different. The US has also experienced tragedies, has also seen war veterans after Vietnam and Iraq, people made homeless by financial crises and natural disasters and then - 9/11. Seen in this way, there should also be some amount of fatalism, existential hopelessness in the films but that's not what Hollywood makes money on. The latter would also be true if the letter H turns to B in the previous sentence, I guess.

        When it comes to hair - waist-length is not that uncommon, but knee-length hair, as in the video? Hats off, so to say :)

        Still on Bollywood, but losely associated. One of the TEDsters replying to my recently closed conversation shared this video from Georgia, reminded me of Bollywood, but in a different version, enjoy :):
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    Jul 31 2013: In my opinion, Bollywood is not something I would choose over any other kind of movies. I find it highly detrimental and having a monotonous feel. I bet 99% of Indian movies are musicals and how is musicals fun to watch, it just makes no sense. You know exactly what I'm talking about. And every movie focuses on love and relationships, i mean, how can anyone be satisfied watching the same story in a difference scene/situation everytime. Its weird.

    Bollywood is also why independent artists and musicians do not it gold in India. Not everyone wants to sing for the big screen. Some prefer being like normal artists creating their own music and getting famous which is not always readily available for artists in India which is why most musicians fail in getting where they wanna be.

    Finally, I want to say that I don't hate bollywood and its not like I don't like any bolly films. I do like some movies and some songs but that happens rarely but 'hate Bollywood' is the word I would have used if you had asked me that in person.

    In regards to what it does to World Culture, I'm not really sure about it in respect to the masses but tbh, none of my friends in abroad or in India like Bollywood. So technically, it has no effect whatsoever.
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      Aug 1 2013: Interesting response.
      Honestly, I am not a huge fan of Bollywood either, if one talks about it purely cinematically. I am not a huge fan of Hollywood too. When films count as films only, I like European films, mostly Polish, French and films made by world famous directors.
      But that's besides the point. I know Bollywood movies have low penetration in the eastern states of India. Manipur doesn't allow Hindi movies in cinema halls. In Nagaland, Korean movies are fairly popular.
      But when one takes into account the sheer popularity of Bollywood movies all over the world, the amount of business it does - it is difficult to dispose of Bollywood as 'it does not make sense.' Apparently it makes sense to many people.
      The most interesting aspect of Bollywood is that it nourishes a band of rarely talented artists of music and cinematography.
      I know about about such Bollywood movies that can keep me interested for months back to back.
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    Jul 29 2013: Let's see, beautiful ladies in spectacular gowns singing and dancing... what could that hurt?
  • Jul 29 2013: I don't know about the world at large, but I can tell you that where I live (Israel), its got little to no real presence or effect, as opposed to Hollywood.

    Might be different elsewhere. Its hard to say, as its not a topic that usually comes up.
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      Jul 29 2013: That's interesting. I have a friend from Israel who is a great fan of 60s bollywood music, but that may be because her parents migrated to Israel from India.
      No, it's not a topic that usually comes up. :)