Bollywood's global push
India is home to the world's most prolific film industry, one that is quickly making inroads into more established Western markets.
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"Hollywood played a significant role in developing the soft power that helped to end the Cold War. I hope that Bollywood can help India with its image among its neighbors [such as traditional rivals Pakistan and China]," Nye says, who observes that in many countries Bollywood films are more popular than Hollywood films.Skip to next paragraph
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Sangita Gopal attributes the enduring popularity of Indian films abroad to the extravagant song-and-dance sequences that don't require viewers to understand the language in order to enjoy them. But the author of "Global Bollywood" says it goes beyond that. "On one level they are utterly commercial, but they also probe themes ... that are incredibly resonant in societies battling between tradition and modernity" – themes such as class, family, and interreligious conflict. "These films often take up the question of how to live with people who are different from you."
This type of social-justice theme wrapped up in "emotion and melodrama is a very powerful narrative form ... in countries like Nigeria, where these films are extremely popular. They are more easy to relate to than Hollywood films," agrees Tejaswini Ganti, an assistant professor of anthropology at New York University and author of the upcoming book "Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry."
Professor Ganti points out that Bollywood has "always been a global cinema.... It is just now that the mainstream American media is catching up."
There are several factors for this increased awareness in the West, she says, including the influx of information-technology workers from India in the 1990s and improved production values. Technology also plays a role: It is much easier to access Bollywood films online, both legally and illegally.
Finally, Ganti says "the Indian government has also finally woken up to this and sees it as something to be promoted now.... [Bollywood] has become part of the Indian package of a contemporary, emerging global power, which is very different from 15 years ago."
Shashi Tharoor, an Indian politician and author at the 2009 TEDIndia (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conference in Mysore, confirms this. "It is not the side with the bigger army, but the side with the better story, that wins. India is already the 'land of the better story.' As a pluralist society with a free and thriving mass media, creative energies that express themselves in a variety of appealing ways, and a democratic system that promotes and protects diversity, India has an extraordinary ability to tell stories that are more persuasive and attractive than those of its rivals," such as other emerging global powers like China.