Happy Twenty Ten amigos.
Over the holiday break I watched quite a few movies, and many of them were influenced from a recent trip to India. It got me got thinking about what’s currently happening in Bollywood aka – the Hindi Film Industry – and how it could be marketed better to get more appreciation around the world.
Hindi Films have a monopoly on the Fashion/Music/Wedding industry
I wish Bollywood would go more global, but you have to first understand the Indian entertainment culture. There are certain limitations it puts on itself and that is simply due to the market it caters to.
Hindi films are a unique art form that exists in South Asia. Up to recent times, a lot of the films have these set pieces that are focused on NRI audiences (Indians living abroad). The story that is presented has this superficiality – the characters wear these designer clothes, and finally there are these formulaic “filmy” songs. India doesn’t have a strong mainstream music industry like we do in the West. Because of this, the venue to show songs is through the power of Hindi films. Thus majority of the songs being generated come from film. The songs in the film also become a venue to showcase all the latest fashion styles for the upcoming wedding season for Indians living abroad. You see the cycle here? Its one big entertainment/fashion package! It’s an art form is very close their hearts of Indians and to alter it completely would be betraying the audiences expectations.
In 100 years, there has yet to one breakthrough hit to come from Mumbai that both West and East can appreciate. Bollywood is very good at copying ideas off Hollywood, but Bollywood hasn’t had one copied from Hollywood. I mean one of the biggest and best Hollywood movies of the past decade, The Departed, is remake of a Chinese movie – Infernal Affairs. The biggest sci fi movie of the past summer was District 9 from South Africa! Slum Dog Millionaire is the only one that can be considered a cross over hit. But it took an English director to take an Indian story, with Indian actors in an Indian setting, to be presented in a way that appealed to people in LA and Mumbai. India is the home of Mahabharata and Rāmāyaṇa. It definitely is a country of story tellers! And stories have universal appeal. That storytelling talent just needs to be refined and presented in a manner that will allow Indian films to become global hits.
Lack of Realism
Indians love making these classic “masala”movies – boy meets girl, girl ignores him, some conflict or twist, eventually fall in love, big wedding, lots of songs in-between. Okay not exactly like this, but they do have a formula that just doesn’t translate as well as it used to. Its gotten predictable, just not interesting enough.
So sometimes now you will see the 1st half of the movie with songs, the 2nd half something else. I find the Indian film industry is going through a transition period. So the goal for new directors is to make it commerical but also take it to another level – the content, the humour – not play it up the way its usually done in Hindi Films. These kind of movies are now becoming big hits in the Indian box office. Watch movies like Rang De Basanti. Yes, it has songs, but there is realism, in that it ties along to pushing the story forward and in many cases adding to the overall flow and mood of the film. Janne Tu Y Janna Na, Paa and 3 Idiots (hilarious, amazing film) also come to mind, in merging song-story cleverly. Audiences are getting smarter, perhaps the directors have awakened to this fact now.
In some cases no songs are used, such as in the terrorist film, A Wednesday and also none in the office politics of Rocket Singh. In the instance of Wake Up Sid, the music is there, but its cleverly used in the background in the montage of shots. No lip synching! More focus on reality based stories and less on the music and sometimes no music. A refreshing change. Monsoon Wedding by Mira Nair was sucessful in capturing the euphoria and fun of Indian culture, and it did without switching from one village scene to some wide angle shot of a couple dancing on the mountains of Switzerland. Sell us the fantasy, but make it somewhat imaginable!
They spend all this money making the film, but then only pay 5,000 rupees for the English subtitles. Honestly, go rent a hindi movie from your local Blockbuster and you will laugh at the absurdness of the translation. It just sounds so childish, and that is not because of the dialouge, but mostly because not enough attention is paid to this. If the Bollywood big whigs want more foreign revenues , apart from what they already receive from the Indian diaspora, then it needs spend some of its budget on this! You may argue that they speak some English in Hindi movies, so this is a non-factor. Wrong. You can’t just do a direct translation or subtitle the jist of the scene. The context in which the dialogue is spoken in a particular scene – that needs to be worked on. It has to capture the feel of that moment in the movies progression. Western audiences love the dancing, but for them to take it more seriously it needs subtitles that capture the small nuances. Yes some cultural jokes still won’t come across as funny to non-native Indians. But still more effort needs to be made on this front as well.
What am I getting at with this? There is this myth that Bollywood is already global. That just because you pick up an Raj Kapoor dvd in Hong Kong or see a Hindi Film billboard in Mexico. However these are only small pockets of influence and that popularity is declining. The only reason you can say Bollywood is global is because there are global Indians watching. It remains a product mostly made for Indians.
There is a new big budget Hindi film coming out soon with Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, called My Name is Khan. And guess how much the budget was ? 15 million USD. Now that is the same amount many A-list actors get in Hollywood. Some Chinese films are made for 50 million USD. Only way to generate such budgets is to capture more from the global pie. Number one way to do this? Invest in the storytelling. Bring some realism to the plots. It has world class directors, excellent actors and great production values. It just needs to focus more on story telling. Slumdog Millionaire did it and reaped the benefits big time.