Wednesday, 22 May 2013

India's love with Bollywood

Indian cinema is celebrating 100 years, but what legacy does it leave on its society?

When I was growing up in 90s, my parents didn’t approve of me watching Bollywood films. They thought most films were distasteful and could have a negative influence on me. They, however, handpicked some films for me that they considered good.  I remember watching my first Hindi movie, Sholay. My parents sat around me trying to explain things I couldn’t comprehend, but I loved it.

Later on, I was sent to an Anglo- India boarding school where Hindi seemed to be a foreign language. Bollywood was strictly banned.   When I graduated from school at the age of sixteen, I had very little knowledge about Bollywood, but by then, my parents allowed me to make my own choices.

It was only when I came to Delhi, I realized the popularity and craze for Hindi songs and films.  I was still very selective and started watching popular films of the day. I loved the songs, was always thrilled by the dances and enjoyed the new themes that Bollywood was experimenting with.

One of the unique aspects about Bollywood cinemas -and this is something I find fascinating- is that despite its huge popularity and being in social domain for 100 years, Bollywood hasn’t been that effective in influencing India’s social consciousness.

From the very beginning, majority of Bollywood films revolved around the theme of romance: stunning actresses, charming actors, outstanding music and brilliant cinematography excited the country. It became a trendsetter for fashion, eras were defined by it and actors became demi – Gods. But, unlike Hollywood, which forms an integral part of societal norms and expression, Bollywood’s narrative portrayed a world of fantasy. For ordinary Indians, it served as a break from the daily grind. Bollywood never really became a potent tool for counter –culture.

 A vast majority of Indians have never allowed cinema to influence their social notions and customs. Love remains a vexed issue in society, and traditional values and formulaic ideas overshadow the liberal messages of love as espoused by popular Indian cinema. Caste based marriages, honour killings, forced marriages, dowry and other social problems didn’t mitigate because of Bollywood.

As an industry, Bollywood served as an important tool for India’s soft power and public diplomacy over the last few decades. The popularity of Bollywood in the Middle East, parts of Africa, Central Asia, Russia and countries with huge Indian diaspora like the UK has been huge.

I was surprised when my friends in Ghana and Rwanda told me how their parents loved watching Bollywood.  In the UK, Bollywood has almost become a part of mainstream culture owing to mixed marriages – bhangra and other forms of Bollywood dances are popular with the new generation of Brits. Growing popularity of Indian cinema at Cannes and periodic interviews of Bollywood starts abroad bears testimony that Indian cinema has come-off an age.

India today makes the most number of movies in the world. Its film industry growing, and many Western production houses like Warner Brothers have entered into the Indian market. 

 One only hopes that in the years to come, Bollywood will be more experimental with its narrative and will cease to live less in the make- believe world. As a powerhouse of entertainment,  it has a public obligation to support regional cinema and actors. We hope the Bollywood will represent different aspects of Indian culture and values as well as be in sync with new technology and popular culture.