…and importing it: the rising exchange of influences between India and the world in cinema, music, and pop culture.
Is India a kind of invisible, powerful magic vapor, something in the air, which seeps into everything? Look around you and you will find that around the world, desi vibes can be found in almost every aspect of global pop culture, as East and West merge in the world of entertainment. Indeed, the Indian hand seems to be in every aspect of cinema, music, and dance.
You have Amitabh Bachchan starring in the $150 million adaptation of The Great Gatsby along with Leonardo DiCaprio, playing a gambler in the remake of this classic American novel.
Photo: Amitabh Bachchan and Leonardo DiCaprio in the same film? Indeed, the adaptation of The Great Gatsby heralds such exciting possibilities of offering heavyweights of both film industries in a single production.
Mick Jagger and A.R. Rahman together? This may sound like an unlikely combination but the two musical powerhouses have teamed up with Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart, soul singer Joss Stone, and reggae star Damian Marley to form a band called SuperHeavy. SuperHeavy, indeed!
Immortals is the big buzz 3-D picture which reached No. 1 spot in the U.S. box office, scoring an opening weekend of an estimated $32 million, beating out other major movies like Adam Sandler’s comedy Jack and Jill, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s biopic J. Edgar directed by Clint Eastwood. There’s an Indian hand in there, too—director Tarsem Singh, whose The Cell also opened at No.1 in 2000.
Photo: Tarsem Singh, second from left, at the Immortals premiere, is now a Hollywood insider.
Photo: Frieda Pinto, star of Immortals, is on a Hollywood roll.
Indian actor Freida Pinto is up to her eyeballs in Hollywood assignments. She has been on a roll since Danny Boyle brought her into the limelight with Slumdog Millionaire. She now has several topnotch Hollywood credits to her name including Miral, Immortals, and Planet of the Apes which grossed more than $450 million worldwide.
And yes, let’s not forget Lady Gaga. She released another exciting Bollywood-inspired remix of her hit single “Edge of Glory,” produced by Bollywood DJ, DJ Aqeel in conjunction with Desi Hits.
One hears that Priyanka Chopra is recording her first album with Universal. Britney Spears released a Bollywood inspired remix of her hit new single, “Till the World Ends,” produced by Culture Shock, in conjunction with the fusion media company, Desi Hits.
Major Hollywood studios are churning out Indian movies, almost like a cottage industry; A.R. Rahman is creating the music for Broadway and West End musicals; Anil Kapoor seems to be becoming a Hollywood regular; Reliance is setting up its own chain of theaters across America—and of course, across the globe, Bollywood has fans from China to Australia to France.Bollywood, which for many years got no respect, has suddenly become trendy. In fact, it’s even helped save a life in the war zones of Iraq. Bobby Ghosh, Deputy International Editor at TIME magazine, recalled how he escaped with his life, thanks to Bollywood and Shammi Kapoor! Ghosh, who was TIME's Baghdad bureau chief, related a dire situation from which he was able to extricate himself due to the head honcho’s love of Hindi cinema.
Why this fascination with Indian pop culture? And why now?
A lot also has to do with India’s growing economic clout, its ever-expanding youth population, and the large Indian diaspora. India has 1.2 billion people, each of whom carries India in their hearts, whether they walk the streets of Indian towns and villages, or wander to far-off lands, be it Canada, the U.S. or Australia. No matter what activity they get involved in, India is never far from their minds. They have brought their food, their culture, and their cinema and created ethnic outposts to give themselves a whiff of India.
As they have made friends with the mainstream, they have shared not only their samosas and their chicken tikka masala with the larger community but also their music, their dances, and their Bollywood DVDs.Americans have, as a result, not only developed a taste for heat and spice in their food but also in their music, their dance, and their movie stars. Look at Freida Pinto’s rising star, with even a Woody Allen movie to her name. At an Amitabh Bachchan film retrospective, I sat next to avid American fans who watched every single film of the star shown on that day, back to back.
Photo: Jennifer Hopfinger, editor of The Bollywood Ticket: The American Guide to Indian Movies.
There are American blog sites devoted to Indian cinema, such as Bollywhat.com and The Bollywood Ticket: The American Guide to Indian Movies. “The Bollywood Ticket looks at Hindi films from an American perspective, helping U.S. fans explore India’s fascinating cinema with relatable news, reviews, and commentary,” says the editor, Jennifer Hopfinger, who also launched a social network, the Global Hub for Filmy Fans. “It’s the place for the world’s three billion Bollywood fans—Desi and non-Desi alike—to connect and share their love of Hindi films.”As Indians have spread far and wide, their sheer numbers have ensured that they are counted when TV stations check out their demographics. Indians living in the U.S. might not be big in numbers but are a very vocal minority, savvy with social media, technology, and English—an ideal audience for mainstream media.
Little surprise then that The Wall Street Journal created an India-centric blog, and The New York Times followed soon after, with “India Ink,” a blog devoted totally to India and Indians.
A recent conference in New York, SAMMA, the South Asians in Media, Marketing & Entertainment Association, brought many movers and shakers from the worlds of cinema, television and music for a thoughtful discussion on the desification of global culture— why was it happening and why now.More and more you realize it is a global world and there’s a kind of all-embracing dance between East and West. Indian entertainment honchos have also become aware of the benefits of promoting their products in mainstream pop and industry media: with Don 2 being released in the U.S., its trailer appeared on November 30th on the front page of IMDB.com, the film industry’s leading database site.
West looks East
Where but India could marketers of pop culture get a readymade massive middle class audience with ready disposable income? And it’s an audience that promises to keep growing—and growing. India is, after all, a country with the youngest population in the world—over 80 percent is under the age of 25. Can you imagine the impact on every market, be it consumer goods, entertainment or apparel sales? The impact of the Indian and Indian diaspora consumers just cannot be ignored.
Bollywood is increasingly getting salaams from Western pop culture, with amazing partnerships between Hollywood and Bollywood in cinema, pop music and even television.Hollywood has been beating a path to Bollywood for joint collaborations and for establishing a footprint in the world’s largest film industry by producing films in India. These corporations are already assured of a huge audience, not only in India but also in the diaspora. Who can ignore such a guaranteed-to-grow film-mad audience?
Disney’s Indian films: its emphasis on wholesome family entertainment is a natural fit for the Indian demographics.
Virtually every major Hollywood studio is in India, hoping to get a footing in this lucrative market. They are realizing that what sells with this audience is music, family and drama. In a way that is almost a Disney formula of good, wholesome fun but with a tip of the hat to Indian values and culture. Do Dooni Chaar, starring Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, was a heartwarming comedy of a middle-class family and their dreams of acquiring a car in today’s India.Hollywood studios are also realizing the untapped potential of regional cinema. The battle between good and evil always sells, and Disney has ventured into Telugu fantasy adventure with Once upon a Warrior—a tale of a warrior, a young girl and a wicked queen. Feature films are released under four banners: Walt Disney Pictures, which includes Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, Disneynature, Touchstone Pictures, and Marvel. Through the Home Entertainment division, innovative distribution methods provide access to creative content across multiple platforms.
East looks West
Indian film-makers are also decking Bollywood films with Hollywood touches. Snoop Dogg did a special recording of the title song to the 2005 film Singh is Kinng with Akshay Kumar, and the East-West trend continues in Shah Rukh Khan’s latest Ra.One.
Aware of the cachet of including Western stars in Bollywood films, Rakesh Roshan introduced Mexican actress Barbara Mori as Hrithik Roshan’s love interest in Kites and Reliance BIG Pictures released it on more than 2000 screens simultaneously, including over 200 in the States. The Indian fascination for foreign locations (a craze that seemed to have been started with Raj Kapoor’s Sangam) was also tapped with the film being shot on location in Las Vegas, Sante Fe, and Los Angeles.
The producers then went one step further and released a reworked English version that came out a week later, entitled Kites: The Remix and presented by filmmaker Brett Ratner, and released in markets like Los Angeles and New York. At that time, Reliance BIG Pictures CEO, Sanjeev Lamba, observed: “Kites is a very important film for Reliance with a story that has international appeal. By releasing the original Hindi version and Brett Ratner’s Remix a week apart, we feel that we can reach the largest possible audience, including the younger demographic for whom 2+ hours is a challenge.”The press release for Kites, celebrating Ratner’s success with taking Asian action star Jackie Chan to crossover stardom with the Rush Hour series, noted that Kites: The Remix would target younger and hipper audiences than the original, catering to foreign film-going audiences: “Besides playing different theatres and neighbourhoods, it will also take on additional screens at many of the same multiplexes that will be playing the original version, an unprecedented strategy that will present an alternative to fans who want to see more—and less—of the film at the same time.”
The British Sugababes are a hit in India—seen here sporting Indian fashions.
Whether these strategies succeed or not, Bollywood and Hollywood are certainly engaged in exciting and creative collaborations. A prime example is Reliance BIG Entertainment Ltd. (RBEL), the media and entertainment arm of India’s Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group. It produces films in Hindi, English and other Indian languages for worldwide distribution.
It has also partnered with Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider on the formation of DreamWorks Studios and has development deals with Nicolas Cage’s Saturn Films, Jim Carrey’s JC 23 Entertainment, George Clooney’s Smokehouse Productions, Chris Columbus’ 1492 Pictures, Tom Hanks’ Playtone Productions, Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Jay Roach’s Everyman Pictures, Brett Ratner’s Rat Entertainment, Julia Roberts’ Red Om Films and Brian Grazer and Ron Howards’ Imagine Entertainment.
Expanding into different arenas of entertainment, Reliance also operates BIG Cinemas, with over 515 screens, including over 200 screens in the United States and an exhibition presence in Malaysia and the Netherlands in addition to BIG Synergy, a television venture. Through Reliance MediaWorks’ Los Angeles-based subsidiary Lowry Digital and its Japan-based subsidiary Imagica the company’s footprint includes a sizeable presence in motion picture processing, visual effects, film restoration, and image enhancement.
The future of Hollywood and Bollywood should be very entertaining to watch—with many such deals and collaborations on the way. So keep watching folks—the show has only just begun![Lavina Melwani is a journalist who writes for several international publications and blogs at Lassi with Lavina (www.lassiwithlavina.com).]
Website Bonus Feature
How a Late Bollywood Icon Saved This Correspondent’s Life
Read more: http://globalspin.blogs.time.com/2011/08/15/how-a-late-bollywood-icon-saved-this-correspondents-life/#ixzz1hxMWZgg5
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