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The Globalization of Indian Cinema

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February 2003
The Globalization of Indian Cinema

In some ways it?s nothing new ? even in times of Raj Kapoor, Indian cinema had quite a bit of international following. Mera Joota Hai Japani would be on the lips of many a Middle Easterner who did not even understand the Hindi language. Russia as well as the far away Africa too had legions of fans of what is now popularly known as Bollywood ? the Indian film industry.

Yet, despite the far-reaching pockets of fans, Indian cinema was by no means a global enterprise. What has made it so in the recent years is the burgeoning global Indian Diaspora that now stands at about 20 million strong! The direct impact of such clout has had a four-pronged effect on globalization of Indian cinema:

(i) Increasing interest in, and influence of Bollywood productions. Films such as Taal, Lagaan, and Devdas have competed with Hollywood releases at box offices in the U.S. and England. Conversely, Hollywood releases such as Moulin Rouge have known to be inspired by the dazzling sets and the song-and-dance routines of the standard Bollywood fare.

(ii) The catering of Bollywood to global Indian audiences. This is evident not only in NRI story-lines of films such as Pardes on to Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, but also in the Westernized settings and styles of many recent releases. Case in point is the multi-starrer Kaante, which is not only styled like a Hollywood thriller, but is also based on one - Reservoir Dogs. But regardless of the theme, setting, or style, global Indian audiences now play a critical role in the success or failure of Bollywood productions. Both Lagaan and Devdas, based on highly traditional themes, have had a considerable chunk of their revenues come from overseas audiences.

(iii) Interest in India-centric themes is crossing over to mainstream, as is evident in films such as Monsoon Wedding and the just released Universal Studios film The Guru. In England, it has been Cotton Mary, East is East, and the recent hit, Bend it Like Beckham.

(iv) Increase in numbers and visibility of NRI filmmakers such as Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Nagesh Kukunoor, Gurinder Chada, and many others. Such a trend further encourages aspiring novices such as Piyush Dinker Pandya (American Desi), Anurag Mehta (American Chai) and many others.

Elsewhere too, such references of the globalization of Indian cinema are on the rise. An event unimaginable just a decade ago is shaping up for May of this year in the midst of dazzling Atlantic City. The 5th Annual International Bollywood Awards will be held at one of the city?s landmark, the Trump Taj Mahal. Over the years, besides the glitterati from Mumbai, this event has featured their Western counterparts such as Richard Gere, Steven Seagal, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, and Michael Jackson. As its publicity blurb says, ?The Bollywood awards will bring prestige, glamour, visibility, credibility, and national and international coverage to Indian Cinema.? Judging from its track record, no reason to doubt that.

Locally, we continue to stay on top of this trend. This month we bring you an exclusive interview with Jimi Mistry, star of The Guru. This will soon be followed in upcoming issues by an interview with the talented Gurinder Chada of the Bend it Like Beckham fame.

Most excitingly though, we feature in this issue, a veritable ambassador of Indian cinematic talent who has been building bridges between Bollywood and Hollywood, much before its time. For four decades now, Ismail Merchant has been carving a name for himself in Hollywood. What?s more, a good portion of his films has had India-centric themes. We hope you enjoy our look at this icon of world cinema, even as things get juicer for us, the global Indian cinephile.

-Parthiv N. Parekh


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