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December 2003 - January 2004


Indian Cinema: Aping America?

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

It 'looks' like an Indian Film. People look like Indians, in fact they are Indians. They speak 'Hindi', the national language of India. Yet, overall the product does not look completely Indian. This is a modern Hindi film. This film like an NRI, lives outside India most of the time, and visits its motherland occasionally. Problem with present day Hindi cinema is, it is becoming 'rootless' and 'faceless'. People from the film industry are very happy with this 'development' and the 'modern avataar' of the industry. But it appears they are unaware of the harm, film industry is doing to itself.

I hate to use that word, "Bollywood." This is not and should not be a synonym for Hindi Film Industry. It is very difficult to describe Indian film Industry, because of linguistic, regional diversity. At the moment Hindi films are regarded as Indian Cinema, the world over. O. K. We will accept that premise, for now. But for a long time it was called as a 'Hindi' Film Industry. When this word (Bollywood) crept in and exactly who introduced that word can be classic case for Sherlock Holmes and his likes. The capital of 'Maharashtra', is Mumbai. It's earlier name was 'Bombay'. It is also the capital of Hindi Film Industry. So, I think somebody took 'B' from 'Bombay' and suffixed 'ollywood' from 'Hollywood' to it. Thus a new name was 'born'. In the recent past this name has gained much currency. One reason behind this is, fast changing demography in Western countries. The population of Asians, particularly of Indians, is increasing in U.K., U.S.A,(and also in S. Korea, Australia etc.) Indians settled abroad are influential in one way or the other. Naturally Indian Film producers are eying this ever growing overseas market for their Films. A commercially 'Flop' film in India can recover its money in these markets. Sometimes it can earn handsome profits abroad. In a way Hindi cinema is charting the way Hollywood films are treading for so long. American Films can earn huge money, because they are released world wide. Actually Hollywood, for years, carefully nurtured the taste for its kind of cinema, world wide, and created a suitable market for its films or rather 'products'. This is not the place to analyse American films, or various genre Hollywood offers. It will suffice to say that it has created a style of story telling, that appeals to everyone in the world.

Discussing present scenario of Indian or rather Hindi Films, we will have to take into account some other issues, which are not directly related to cinema or Art as per se. In the early '90's, Indian polity opened up India's Economy. Foreign Direct Investment was and still is welcome. What was the consequence of the 'liberalization' vis-a-vis Indian Industry, Agriculture, Labour Market is a big subject to fill pages of a big book. But the first industry to take advantage of this 'openness' was satellite T.V. Thus foreign, particularly American T.V. programmes reached Indian households to sum up briefly.

It is not that because of satellite T.V. Indian media in general and Films in particular are heading towards Globalisation or rather Westernisation Westernisation of our culture started when western explorers and settlers set their foot on our soil. Tempered scale entered our music when we first accepted Harmonium. There was and still is a tendency to look to the west for recognition. This is a colonial legacy. Impact of the British Raj. But this westernisation was limited to a small class (often upper). Now satellite channels bombard us 24 hours a day. They come up with variety of programmes. Hindi film industry is well known (or notorious) for plagarism . Plagarism takes many shapes and shades in Hindi films. 'Rebecca' of Hitchcock 'inspired' 'Kohara' in early 60's.Bond movies were copied in the west also , so one finds many spinoffs in Hindi.'Namak Haram'(1973) directed by Hrishkesh Mukherjee was based on 'Becket' but had complete Indian touch to it, no one can complain about that.In early 80' 'Fast Forward' of Poitier became 'Dance Dance ' in Hindi, and that was a copy.In last 20 years or so 'Dial M for Murder' is remade at least four times in Hindi. Some times it is 'loosely'based or some times direct copy,worsening it with songs and dances. 'Sleeping with the enemy' starring Julia Roberts became 'Agni Sakshi'and that was one version of it Copying of scenes , dialogues are in abundance. .Nearly 40 years ago Hollywood remade Kurosawa's 'Seven Smurai' into 'Magnifiscent Seven'.Has Hindi cinema ever offered a powerful film to the west?

We have made good films but perhaps our film makers were afraid to promote them in big way due to Cultural Difference. They,in the name of Salability took shelter under copying western films. Globalisation is basically reffered to the Industry and Economic affairs. But with Free trade, New and Foreign ideas enter into the market and into consumer's minds. Satellite T.V. brought Foreign Programmes, to India and with them, Foreign ideas and Foreign values too. Every communication process is cultural bias. One can clearly see, that after MTV entered Indian houses song picturisation in Indian Films (Hindi as well as other South Indian Films too) changed radically. Lighting and colours used, use of camera angles, fast cutting, everything is now identical to those of western Pop or Rock music videos, shown on MTV. Indian girls are ready to shed clothes and dance in the streets to get a chance to show their face or body on AXN's 'Hot and Wild' show. Thus satellite T.V. did boost the pace of so called globalisation, in fact westernisation of our media. Indian T.V. Channels are happy to copy British or American T.V. shows. .[ For example; Kehta Hai Dil is a copy of 'Picket Fences' Kaun Banega Karodpati was copy of 'Who wants to be Millionair', Tol Mol ke Bol is based on 'The Price is Right', Zaban Sambhal Ke is based on 'Mind Your Language' ,'Yes Minister 'becameJi Mantriji and so on.)
On the top of Satellite T.V., Internet has spread, at least in urban India, like wild fire. Anything 'latest' in the west is just a click away. This has caught imagination of Indian youth .New Indian cinema is catering to this youth, termed as 'The Now Generation', 'Generation Next' etc. This generation belongs to rich class and higher middle class and middle class, often described as 'upwardly mobile class'. Their ambition is to settle down in U.S.A. or U.K. They have nothing to do with poverty in India, Environmental crisis, Human Rights etc. They think only in material terms and only for themselves. Attitude of this new affluent audience is changing the face of Indian and particularly Hindi Cinema. Now story (if any) revolves around rich people, living in palatial houses and characters go abroad for no solid reason. One can not find any trace of any social, economic problem. Situations are flimsy and characters are of cardboard. 'Kabhi, Khushi Kabhi Gum' and "Dil Chahata Hai' are typical examples of this new syndrom. Audience don't identify with such stories and characters but 'aspires' to be so.

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