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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.

By Kalyani Vittala/ contributor / June 13, 2011

Crowds in New Delhi celebrated the release of ‘My Name is Khan’ in February, a film set in the United States and starring Bollywood megastars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol.

dnan Abidi/Reuters/File

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Toronto

Nabila Kanji was 7 years old when she fell for Bollywood megastar Shah Rukh Khan. She vividly recalls watching him in "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" ("The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride"), the epic love story of two first-generation British Indians struggling to persuade their culturally conservative parents that they should be together.

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"I remember thinking they were so hip and cool but I could still relate to them because they were like me, like my family," says the second-generation South Asian who grew up in Markham, Ontario.

Ms. Kanji wasn't alone in her love for "DDLJ," as it is referred to by its millions of fans. Released in 1995, it was really the first Hindi film to present a story from the perspective of nonresident Indians. It went on to become the largest-grossing film in Bollywood history and the first to make a significant chunk of its earnings in Western markets.

Kanji has never lost her love of Bollywood or Mr. Khan, who she hopes will make an appearance at the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) being held in Toronto on June 23-25.

She snagged two $300 tickets for the glamorous awards show and has been offered up to a thousand dollars per ticket. For Bollywood fans, "it's kind of like the royal wedding," she says.

The Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai has had a global following among the South Asian diaspora and in other Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries since the 1950s. But over the past decade, the world's most prolific film industry has been making inroads into mainstream North American and European consciousness and in so doing seems to be helping to burnish India's global sheen or its "soft power," to use the term coined by Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye.

Just as the American culture industries, especially Hollywood, were instrumental in constructing and disseminating the narrative about the attraction of the United States that helped make it the most influential player on the world stage in the 20th century, the rise in the popularity of Bollywood films could help to do the same for India in the 21st, Professor Nye says by e-mail from a book tour in Europe.

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