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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hindi cinema, its impact & influence on South Asian diaspora

Guest Post 

By Meena Chopra

(Excerpts from paper presented at panel discussion on impact of popular Hindi cinema and media on South Asian diaspora in Canada. The discussion was part of the Literary Arts segment of the Festival of South Asia) 

'Mera juta hai japani, ye patloon inglistani, sar pe lal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani'

My shoes are Japanese, my trousers are from England, and on my head I have a red Russian hat, and yet, at heart, I am still an Indian

I am a first generation South Asian, living in Canada. I am influenced, and I adore this spirited song of 1955 when I was not even born. I am still a diehard Raj Kapoor fan, of his grand films and melodious music that he produced with his brilliant team of Shankar Jaikishan, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri and Mukesh.

Tia, my 27-year-old daughter, is immersed in the Canadian ethos and milieu, and yet she still hums this 1955 song along with many others. She enjoys Hindi film music, both of the present times and of yesteryears.

The song is an anthem to many. It is a historical reference point of ‘unity in diversity and nationalism’ which epitomizes the effect of popular Hindi cinema on the Indian diaspora. In spite being uncompromisingly commercial in nature, popular Hindi cinema has been able to sustain artistic elements and emerge as a global phenomenon that transcends time, generations and national boundaries.

Incidentally, this iconic song was introduced in recently released Deadpool starring Ryan Reynolds. It is said that the director Tim Miller simply fell in love with the song when he heard it in a pub in New Zealand, and wanted it in the film. The film begins and concludes with this song.

The impact of popular Hindi cinema is not a new phenomenon. It goes back to 1950s and 1960s. Its impact has become noticeable because globally the South Asian diaspora has grown exponentially. Filmmakers have begun to cater to this demographic by making movies that appeal to this global audience. The mainstream, as well as ethnic media in the western world, has also been instrumental in developing this market dynamic.

The marketing structure of the popular Hindi cinema has always been territory or region based, the newer seventh territory of non-resident South Asians represents a sizeable market for films whose protagonists sometimes are a reaffirmation of the Indian identity transformed by globalization. Specifically for Karan Johar, Subhash Ghai, Yash Raj Chopra this is very true. Films like Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna, Kal Ho Na Ho, Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gham, Pardes, Dilwale Dulhania and many more revolve around a nonresident protagonist.

Quoting from Times of India, “Bollywood popular films are very wisely adapted to meet the emotional expectations of NRIs, as well as to provide Indians with guidelines to liberal modernity, are also part of the larger ambitions of India as a visible country”.  

Primarily, popular Hindi cinema follows a revenue generation model. It focuses on the emotional need of the expatriate who constantly pines for the Indian-ness in a foreign land to be connected with the self. Research says that the cinema theatre in west London is the highest earning screen in the world for Hindi films, and so is the Canadian market specifically for Punjabi films.

Whatever the reason, this dream world of entertainment is a reality of life for nonresidents. It provides an emotional substance to the nonresidents to stay connected to their country of origin. Now this heritage of the biggest entertainment industry in the world is being passed on to the second and third generations of NRIs. The new generation enjoys these films which connect them to the language, music, lyrics, dance and fashions of the subcontinent.

The popular Hindi film industry thrives because of its balanced combination of music, songs with powerful lyrics and choreographed dance sequences. These are amalgamated within the storyline. Choreographed song sequences have been the backbone of this industry which Hollywood started in 1910s and shunned in 1930s. This is what makes Hindi film industry unique and lends it an everlasting image. These songs though independently appreciated are also like cues and clues to the narrative structure of the story.

Popular music, singing, dancing and trendy fashions overpower and have made a place in the everyday life of the expatriate almost next to the religion. This unique Hindi film brand works and surprisingly without any insignia or a logo with a huge mindshare of nonresident community.  

Noticeability and recognition of Hindi cinema by the western world is opening a dialogue between the cultures of east and west. It is a dialogue of appreciating and understanding each other, a dialogue of “unity in diversity”. In turn, this is impacting the entire up and coming generations and giving an emergence to a new way of thinking and co-existence.

This cultural crossover can be observed now in the making of hybrid cinema which is a mix of Hindi film industry and Hollywood. There are many examples. Films like Leela, American Desi, Deepa Mehta’s films, Gurinder Chaddha’s films etc. Not to mention hugely successful films like Bombay Dreams the Andrew Lloyd Weber production which revolve around Bollywood film industry, was very successful with western mainstream audience as well.

American Author and scholar Jigna Desai of University of Minnesota, US, and author of Beyond Bollywood, in one of her articles on the subject states, “productions like American Desi and Bombay Dreams attest to the ways in which these texts suggest that Bollywood plays a feature role in not only constructing South Asian and diasporic identities but also significantly participate in structuring the pleasures and desires of these subjects as well.”

And again as a nonresident Indian, I would like to quote poet Shailendra in the voice of Mukesh, visualizing Raj Kapoor with the lilting music of Shankar Jaikishan

Mera juta hai Japani, Ye patloon inglistani,  sar pe lal topi Rusi, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani.
  • Meena Chopra is an artist and author 

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