Monday, June 27, 2011
In a postmodern world, the distinction between high and popular cultures is relevant only to the deliberately snobbish or the ignorant.
Popular culture is entertainment driven and dominated by cinema.
The global reach of Hollywood and western media has given the West a serious advantage across the world to mould public opinion by managing public perceptions.
In a world where entertainment sector - dominated by players from the West - has grown into a globalised behemoth, steamrolling or gobbling up everything in its way, the hardy sustenance of popular Hindi cinema is remarkable.
Hindi cinema has effortlessly succeeded in staving off the immense and invasive reach of the West’s (read America’s) giant entertainment industry.
In the process, it has become truly global in its reach and influence.
And it isn’t just the popularity of Raj Kapoor in the former Soviet Union in the 1950s, or Amitabh Bachchan’s craze in the Middle East in the 1970s.
Hindi cinema touches everyone everywhere. I've heard that when Omni started the free telecast of Hindi movies on weekends in Canada, enthusiastic response didn't just come from the South Asians, but every major market segment of Canada's vast multicultural market.
Last night, as we got into a cab at Bay and Adelaide after a long trudged from Rogers Centre, the cabbie, Mohammed Farrah, an immigrant from Somalia began to chat animatedly, “Shahrukh Khan is here, but nobody else; that’s a pity.”
For good measure, he wryly observed, “This used to be Amitabh Bachchan’s show, but he’s not part of it anymore.”
His nuanced understanding of the internecine politics of Hindi filmdom was astounding only to me; to him it seemed natural.
I had a similar experience in Washington DC when I got a serious discount on a jacket from a South American owner, who was a serious “Bollywood” fan.
In my extremely partisan view, the IIFA in Toronto lived up to its billing, although many felt it was a dud that didn’t match its overblown hype.
Thanks to my friend CP Thomas (publisher of Indian Voices, and a serial entrepreneur), I attended my first (and perhaps the only) film awards show with my family. And I had an absolutely wonderful time.
Toronto will not see a gig of this kind for a long time.
The 25,000 fans at Rogers Centre were there for one man: Shahrukh Khan.
The effervescent yet dignified superstar entertained the crowd for nearly 5 hours. Of course, ably helped by an all-star cast of actors.
For me, the biggest moment of the evening was the lifetime achievement award to Asha Bhosale, the versatile diva, who, at age 77 and without the accompaniment of music, sang a flawless stanza of one of her hit numbers. Earlier, Sharmila Tagore and Dharmendra also received similar citations.
This trio symbolised the passing of an era that lasted from the inception of Hindi cinema to the 1970s when although entertainment was a serious business it hadn’t lost its innocence, grace and dignity.
Dharmendra’s rambling, unending, meaningless and repetitive speech may have got the younger audiences restive, and Sharmila Tagore’s sophistication may have irritated those unaccustomed to erudition in women actors. Added bonus was the fleeting presence of Zeenat Aman, Hema Malini, Rishi Kapoor & Neetu Singh.
The combined power of the younger lot couldn’t match the simple charm of these veterans, with exception to Khan and Priyanka Chopra.
But these are minor piffles, unnecessary quibbles.
The evening demonstrated the undeniable and the amazing pull of Hindi cinema.
One people, one world, indeed.