In recent times, two major Hollywood movies I watched, V for Vendetta and Inside Man both ended to Bollywood music. With the Wachowski Brothers, it comes as no surprise since Part 3 of the Matrix series ended to the chant of Asatoma Sadgamaya, but a Spike Lee joint beginning and ending with “Chaiyya, Chaiyya” came as a real surprise. At the same time, some friends of mine in the Philippines tell me the islands are being swept up by all things Indian, especially the culture. Bollywood movies play to packed halls in places as far apart as Israel and Japan.
Readers at my other blog know that soft power is a favourite theme of mine. Many of us get too carried away with elements of hard power (economics, military etc) that we completely forget about how successful the cultural domination of the United States has been in the past century, and therein lies a lesson for India. After all, India and Bollywood (used loosely here to denote the entire movie industry) possesses the only real threat to the cultural supremacy of the Hollywood machine, especially as the country becomes more relevant on the global stage. Andy Mukherjee picks up on a similar theme in a piece he wrote for Bloomberg a couple of weeks back.
The increasing acceptance of Bollywood — shorthand for India’s burgeoning film industry — in the mainstream of international entertainment is a telling commentary on India’s reintegration with the world after more than five decades of self-imposed isolation. Just last week, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corp., told Bloomberg News he would bring Bollywood entertainment to the $3.6 billion casino-resort he plans to build in Singapore if he wins the bidding for the project. It isn’t a coincidence that the forces propelling the globalization of Indian popular culture are gaining momentum just as the economic potential of the nation and its market of 1 billion people is capturing the imagination of overseas investors.
As Hong Kong was emerging as an Asian Tiger in the 1970s, kung fu fighter Bruce Lee was becoming an icon of global youth. In 1980, when the Japanese economy seemed unstoppable, audiences in the West were getting better acquainted with the land of samurais through “Shogun,” the hit television series. In 2001, the year China joined the World Trade Organization, the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” picked up four Oscars. Bollywood movies, especially their catchy song-and-dance sequences, are the new flavor, making their presence felt at the World Economic Forum this year in Davos, Switzerland. The changing global image of India is, in turn, shaping how Indians assess their chances of success in an interdependent world.