Shattering myths

Bollywood

Shattering myths

With Indian cinema celebrating a 100 years, it makes sense to wonder about the so-called ‘global reach’ of Bollywood, the giant Mumbai-based film industry that has virtually come to be equated with, however mistakenly, the entire range of cinema in India, especially for filmgoers overseas.

I have had an opportunity to interact with students from across the world with their varied interests ranging from films to branding. Surprisingly, each time Bollywood was mentioned, most seemed to know next to nothing about what is admittedly the biggest film industry in the world.

Hence the question arises — has Bollywood truly extended its reach globally? After all, the huge revenues the Hindi film industry draws from its overseas market is quoted proudly, Bollywood stars get mobbed by swooning fans and the umpteen award ceremonies are held with fanfare in cities around the globe. But then, out of a vast number of students representing different cultures and nationalities, only a handful manages to recognise Amitabh Bachchan, and nearly nobody has heard of, or has trouble remembering Bollywood’s favourite ‘King Khan’!?

Global reach

An informal survey among the multicultural group of around 30 students from places as diverse as Nigeria, Italy, Greece, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Turkey, Russia, Norway and Germany was revealing. 

It turned out that most of these students had at some point watched one or more Bollywood films, but only four of them actually managed to remember which. And while most acknowledged the popularity of Bollywood in and beyond India, few of them were actually aware of any major star. Out of those who were aware, Aishwarya Rai’s was a name that was readily mentioned. Priyanka Chopra too got a mention, because of  her recent foray into music.

Some German students, however, associated Bollywood with Shah Rukh Khan. So, what is it about Bollywood, and Khan, that so intrigues Germany, when much of the rest of the world seems blissfully unaware of both? In Shah Rukh’s own words, “They (his fans in Germany) told me.....we have a button to drive a car, to make coffee...but we didn’t have a button to cry. Your films gave us that button”. 

Former Senior Producer of HBO Asia, and author of Lights, Camera, Masala! Making Movies in Mumbai, Naman Ramachandran, gives his nod to the burgeoning Bollywood fan base in the UK. However, the vast majority of punters, according to Ramachandran, are of South Asian origin, or, interestingly, belong to the Malay, Arab or North African communities. 

Earnings abroad

In 2012, Eros International of the UK distributed films like Dabangg 2, which collected some £940,814, Agneepath £742,583, and in 2013 the only big-budget release till date, Yeh Jawani hai Deewani, grossed a staggering £1.1 million. While Bhavna Mistry of Eros International holds the frequent ranking of Bollywood films in the Top Ten UK charts as a yardstick for the hype surrounding the films, blogger and media consultant Tirthankar Bandyopadhyay denies the existence of any such hype as far as the UK is concerned.

He hints at the presence of a niche market for the films in the country, and believes that to be the consequence of a massive, and ever-growing Indian diaspora in the UK which lives off these films. The diaspora population’s loyalty indeed accounts for the box office earnings and interest amongst people especially from parts of the European Union, seems minimal except, of course, Germany. 

Subsequently, one can perhaps justifiably conclude that Bollywood’s global appeal is, in fact, not so global after all, for much of its lifeblood abroad draws from its Indian or at least South Asian viewers. Having said that, who can dispel the fact that from humble beginnings Bollywood today is a towering figure in the international scene? Perhaps, as in Germany, the Bollywood fever could spread further amongst non-Asians. After all, “Picture abhi baki hai mere dost!”

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