Thursday, July 6, 2017

From ‘Bollywood Boom. India's Rising Soft Power’ by Roopa Swaminathan

….Syria, where Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is the only public figure, other than Syria’s political leaders………..

In ‘Bollywood and Africa: A Love Story’, Sylviane Diouf states that Senegal has a history of supporting and watching Bollywood films……Akon, originally from Dakar, the capital city of Senegal, grew up watching, loving and singing Hindi songs…….

What Kunti was to Indian mythology, Mother India was and is to Indian cinema………a pioneering, landmark and a solidly feminist film.
And this movie, till date, remains the most beloved and sought after in all of Africa.
This idealized image of a woman and a mother was and still is revered as ‘the movie’ of all time in the African continent. African women wanted to be and still want to be like Mother India….they have seen it multiple times…..while they may not understand the meaning of the words in the movie, they’ve seen it enough times to be able to mouth the words verbatim……Cultural geographer Brian Larkin shares a comment made by a distributor ….at Kano in 1997: ‘I have been showing this film for decades, and it can still sell out any cinema in the north.’

Bachchan ruled the Bollywood roost as he ruled the African roost. ….African men seethed and simmered with him…….other Indian actors who Africans loved. These were typically male actors who looked tough and acted even tougher….Dharmendra….was nicknamed ‘Sarkin Karfi’ or ‘King of Strength’. ….Sanjay Dutt ……was ….called ‘Dan Daba Mai Lasinor’, a hooligan with a license!

Bollywood’s influence is strongest in Nigeria, especially within the Hausa community in northern Nigeria……. Bollywood arrived in the African continent in the 1950s……became…big in Nigeria in the 1980s ……..Brian Larkin, a communications scholar…in the late 1990s, visited Kano, the capital city of Hausa in northern Nigeria, and was more than a little surprised to find that Indian films were shown five nights a week in the local cinema as opposed to just one night a week for Hollywood cinema. In his extremely illuminating paper called ‘Indian Films and Nigerian Lovers: Media and the Creation of Parallel Modernities’, Larkin also found that video stores at Kano reserved the majority of their stock for Indian cinema, followed by Hollywood and Chinese films…..Despite the incredible reach of Hollywood films in the African market from the 1950s, it was the much less distributed Bollywood films that found favour with the people of Hausa. Like the rest of the African continent, Larkin attributes Hausa’s obsession with our cinema to the sense of belonging that the Hausans felt with India and Indians…..they ‘connected’ and felt that they were a part of the ‘imagined Indian community’. ….Perhaps the most significant aspect of Bollywood’s extraordinary success in Hausa is that it happened despite the lack of a significant Indian diaspora community to either support, spread or popularize Bollywood cinema, and neither is there any evidence that the Indian government at the time even knew or flexed their soft power in Nigeria…..happened before the rise of the Internet…..Nigerians did not read, write or speak any Indian language ……Increasingly, the predominantly Muslim women in Hausa, who practiced the veil, loved Bollywood movies, because despite the extremely paternalistic and patriarchal nature of Bollywood films at the time, the films also showed how well the main male leads in the movies treated their wives or girlfriends. ….where the men would do anything – all in the name of love – in order to win the women they fell in love with. From caste and class differences to taking on parents and potential in-laws to societal norms, they took on all of this and more and did it with flamboyant flair. ….These somewhat overwrought themes resonated with the Muslim women of Hausa who then hoped their men would replicate such behavior……..
……Larkin said that the older Bollywood films appealed to the very Muslim, traditional, modest Hausa women, and the chaste representation of love in these films attracted them, dreaming of having such a love for themselves within the confines of a traditional and patriarchal society like Kano seemed very possible unlike the blatant images and content of Hollywood films. The sheer exuberance of Bollywood’s songs and dances also appealed to members of the African society whose culture was representative of such oral traditions of music and dance.
 …..In parts of Africa, Bollywood music was appropriated into what Africans call Bandiri music. The Bandiri musicians in Nigeria added their own words to Bollywood film music, which are typically in praise of Prophet Muhammed. ……Evidence paints disturbingly ludicrous images of Bandiri singers singing Bollywood songs in praise of the Prophet, as pictures of the lead actor in the said film are shown doing push-ups or romancing the lead actress……is robust evidence of the great depth and reach of Bollywood in a state that has otherwise no lingual or religious commonality with India.....Indian films also inspired a small cottage industry of book publishing in Hausa. These books were romances written mostly by women and dealt with themes very common to Bollywood cinema ………They were called littatafan soraya or love stories and they were part Mills and Boon and part Bollywood.

…..Nollywood has grown rapidly, producing more than 2,000 films a year. ….is third in the global hierarchy when it comes to production numbers, next only to Hollywood and Bollywood…….Nollywood films are all made for video and none of them are made for or get a theatrical release.  ………While Igbo is one of the most widely used languages in Nigeria……..Nigeria is populated with people who speak more than 5,000 languages and dialects…. More than two-thirds of all Nollywood films are in English. ……..The rapid rise of Nollywood signaled a simultaneous slide in Bollywood films’ popularity in Africa. One of the main reasons was that the look of Bollywood films from the 1990s changed. Globalization allowed Bollywood to discover its diaspora audience from the West …….This meant Bollywood films needed to be more sophisticated, deal with more universal themes, be less patriarchal, show more kissing and love-making on screen – all of which the still traditional and conservative African audiences felt more and more difficult to identify with. ……Another key reason for Bollywood’s relative decline in Nigeria and other parts of Africa in the 1990s was the closing down of movie theaters in the region ….in Cote d’Ivoire, videos mimic Bollywood stories but instead are in French and Dioula….Women in Mali still love Bollywood films but cannot watch them any more since the movie theatres have closed down……..In Benin, Bollywood….is causing problems for movie theatre owners who feel they can show other shorter, ninety-minute Nollywood or Hollywood films and have more shows a day as opposed to the three hours of an average Bollywood film. In Cameroon, journalist Jacques Mang says that the fervor with which Indian cinema was consumed has perhaps gone down. …….. ‘In the popular imagination, Indian cinema nonetheless remains a cinema of contemplation, of sublimation of love, of the wondrous, of enchantment, but also of magic and witchcraft – themes that are also explored in Nollywood and popular African cinema.’

As the content in Bollywood films changed and started to represent a modern and dynamic image of women in India, so did African women’s perspective and they started appreciating these changes. Larkin points out that the women of Hausa in the 1990s became more self-assured and wanted the men in their lives to acknowledge and appreciate them as well as respect their independence like the men in Bollywood films did.

…..older Bollywood films had worked because they represented a counterpoint to the much more liberal, sexualized world represented by Hollywood. ……..Now women in Bollywood wore modern clothes, danced in discos and were more upfront about what they wanted and went about getting it.
And that was no longer acceptable in a still patriarchal and conservative Africa.

……….top Nigerian producer and director Alhaji Rabi’u Haruna recently came all the way to shoot a Nigerian film in the heart of Bollywood, Mumbai. …….Alhaji claimed that he wanted to learn from Bollywood and how they went from a local industry to becoming a global industry.
Bollywood has and continues to influence Nollywood in other ways as well.

The newly appointed Nikita Khrushchev was looking for ways to allow Russians more than communist propaganda. The answer, part of a cultural period known as “Khrushchev’s Thaw” which began following Stalin’s death in 1953, was to let in Bollywood films. The then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was tilting towards Moscow…….films from Mumbai were preferable……what was it about Bollywood that appealed to Russians in 1950?
Many Russian intellectuals, commentators and opinion columnists at the time allude to the simplicity of the films that came out of Bollywood. The themes were very simple. Good always won over bad. There were no shades of grey in Indian cinema. The protagonists, who were often middle-class folks trying to eke out a living (much like the Russians themselves), found joy in the smaller, day-to-day activities of their lives, and the song-and-dance sequences were welcome breaks ….also for the audiences watching the movies.
In contrast, the capitalist-propagating, jazzy and glossy-looking oeuvre that came out of Hollywood seemed to rub the Soviets in their faces and was total anathema to the Russians. Indian cinema, with its simplicity and lack of any capitalistic sentiments, was a perfect fit. During the 1950s and 1960s, Russia formally imported up to twenty Bollywood films every year. The movies were dubbed in Russian and had theatrical releases …….Russian movie owners bought a print for a Bollywood movie, played it in their theatre for as long as the movie ran and then sold it forward to another theatre owner. Bollywood films travelled from one end of the country to the other and showed in every major city in the very large USSR….

Awara arrived in russia four years after it was released in India, in 1950, and with it Raj Kapoor became one of India’s most beloved ambassadors to the Soviet Union. …..Why was Raj Kapoor so popular? …..the overwhelming response points to one direction.
Raj Kapoor was a sexy, sexy man!
………..Raj Kapoor and his films came as a breath of fresh air. His films brought innocence and optimism to a country that was yearning for both. The simplicity of the tales appealed to a country that was threatening to cave into despair and cynicism………..
The love affair with Kapoor continued…….there’s anecdotal evidence of Russians who have seen Sangam up to fifteen times and more!
……..Mera Naam Joker ….failed miserably at the Indian box office ……..but the Russians fell in love with it.
……….two other films stand out – both for their intense popularity at the time they came out and for continuing to be popular to this date. The first one is Hema Malini’s Seeta Aur Geeta. …….the individual who perhaps rivalled Raj Kapoor with his massive popularity.
And as with Africa, the actor is Mithun Chakraborty.
From Russia to Africa, Disco Dancer catapulted Mithunda into the kind of stardom others could only dream about. I have more than a few Russian friend who can sing the song, ‘Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy’ in its entirety.
They don’t know what the words mean.
………..Unfortunately, the honeymoon between Bollywood and Russia would end. ……the 1980s, the Soviet Union went through a breaking-up-of-their-country……..Hollywood……was finally able to make an entry into Russia. The timing was absolutely right………in a complete turnaround, the younger Russians fell in love with everything that the older generation loathed about America and American culture……..

Matthew Allen in ‘Swiss Strive to Live upto Bollywood image’ says that the Swiss government recently announced that much of their tourism income comes from Indians since almost every Bollywood film has at least one scene shot in Switzerland.

…….Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi …….all of Afghanistan would come to a veritable standstill every night at 8.30 p.m. for that was when Afghani television would broadcast the popular Indian show.

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