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Bollywood vs... Hollywood?

Tags: hollywood film

It’s hard to explain this, but sometimes one gets tricked by Mumbai’s own description of itself.
Mumbaikers, rich or poor, are so, well, self-conscious of their place on the globe, and so aware of the fact that their city has such an international profile, that you get slowly into thinking – yes, this is indeed an International City.
After all, the English-language papers more often that not feature world news on the front page, the big poster hoardings are more often than not featuring global brands such as Levis etc, and the huge new skyscrapers make the place resemble Chicago (on a hot day!).

And then suddenly, something happens to bring you up short and make you reconsider that view… And then you realise that Mumbai is not just like other places. In Mumbai they do their things their own way (sometimes). It is unique.

The incident that made me think this is quite trivial really – but telling.
The Hindustan Times was carrying a piece on racism against black people in the city, and quoted theatre director Alyque Padamsee as saying “I blame Hollywood films – they portray black men as uncultured cannibals living in trees.” This was such a bizarrely wrong-headed statement that I thought I had misread it. While Hollywood definitely has issues, this was the statement of a man who surely has not seen a Hollywood film in fifty years! What recent film do you know that portrays black people that way?

Now, how could this be? Padamsee is not only a cultured man, he is also media-savvy too, with a background in advertising. How could he have come up with such a skewed idea of American films? I now prefer to think he must have been quoted “out of context”; but then arises the thought – how could the paper have allowed such a muddle-headed remark to be printed anyway?

We talked about this in a bar, and, after much talk, we think we may have solved the conundrum.
And here’s our answer: Indians, generally, and unlike the rest of the world, don’t really count Hollywood large on their horizons. So their image of its films might well indeed be vague.

After all, it is interesting to reflect that India might well be the only country left in the world where Hollywood does not rule in local cinema halls. Across the country, Hollywood plays a poor second to India’s own film industry, aka Bollywood.
(Of course, Hollywood is making certain inroads, particularly here in Mumbai where multiplexes are springing up; American blockbusters are beautifully suited to the multiplex environment with its sensurround experience. However Bollywood too is now turning out some beautifully crafted and tense films that can beat Hollywood in that multiplex strategy.)

You see, what I thought was that, because Mumbai has the reputation of being an international city, that then you’d get to see here all the world films that you’d get in say Manchester, or Berlin or Tokyo. But I’ve often been astonished at how hard it is to see a “decent” or important international film here. For example, even “Borat”, which I was much looking forward to, has not got a release here, while the chances of seeing a foreign-language film are virtually nil.
In fact, Bollywood rules, because the cinema mangers know that that is what audiences want to see.
And, in this area, film going, Mumbaikers rarely look very much outside their own indigenous movies.

Please don’t think that I am making a value judgement. In fact, I think it is rather pleasing that Mumbai’s filmgoers are bucking the globalisation trend. They prefer homegrown movies, and that’s fine (if unexpected).

So, to go back to the point.
How could a reputable commentator like Padamsee be so wrong about Hollywood?

"Well, because in this city" – said my friends in the bar – "Hollywood is the outsider. Bollywood is what matters! Hollywood is an interesting diversion, but it's not the main interest for Mumbai film-goers, not by a long shot."

And that - probably - explains it.

**
Links: Hollywood and Bollywood Compared (Blog)


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This post first appeared on An Englishman In Mumbai, please read the originial post: here

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