Bollywood films bridge cultural gaps

By Khyati Shah Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/13 0:29:03

Illustration: Xia Qing/GT


Picture a cool Friday evening in spring. Outside a popular theater, a group of Chinese moviegoers excitedly discuss which movie to see. Out of the many options including, Marvel's Guardian of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and local Chinese fare, they decide to see a Bollywood movie because word-of-mouth information about it has been good. Later, they exit the theater in awe.

The movie is Dangal, Indian actor Aamir Khan's latest release in China. The sports-themed film took the Chinese box office by storm.

Dangal has achieved a milestone in China's foreign film industry. Before it, PK (2014) - a satirical comedy starring Aamir Khan in the role of an alien, was the highest-grossing Indian film in China.

Before PK, the comical buddy gang of 3 Idiots (2009) made their way across the border to capture the hearts of Chinese.

Since the Indian diaspora in China is small, the high box office numbers reflect Bollywood's rising popularity among local Chinese.

I teach Bollywood dance in Shanghai part time and find that most of my Chinese students love Bollywood music, and of course, the first Bollywood film they mention is 3 Idiots!

While young Chinese love the musical song-and-dance culture that Bollywood embodies, the older population aged 50 and over almost always break into the song "Awaara Hoon" from Raj Kapoor's iconic film Awaara, which was released in China in the late 70s.

I translated the lyrics after being urged to explain their meaning by an elderly Chinese who was mesmerized by the melody. Juxtaposed next to each other, these incidents show a spectacularly large gap in the influence of Indian movies in China.

The huge hiatus of four decades can be attributed to a couple of facts.

China has very strict rules regarding the release of foreign films. Big-budget Hollywood movies take up a huge chunk of the pie, leaving non-English films only 1.5 percent.

Foreign films also need to meet strict media censoring criteria regarding content, cultural propriety and so on.

Even with these roadblocks, Indian films have been slowly making inroads in China. In spite of getting limited screenings, Dangal has wrestled its way into the hearts of many movie lovers.

This victory is attributed in large part to the content spawned by new age Bollywood, which is a departure from mere song-and-dance routines.

Movies with socially relevant themes like the stressful educational system experience explored in 3 Idiots resonated with young Chinese, and the preference for boys over girls portrayed in Dangal struck a chord as well. This is of particular importance in patriarchal cultures like India and China which share a similar family-centric culture and value system.

Cinema is an art form that can break the boundaries of language and ethnicity and transcend geographies to bridge gaps and bring people closer, and Bollywood is doing just that in China.

This article was published on the Global Times Metropolitan section Two Cents page, a space for reader submissions, including opinion, humor and satire. The ideas expressed are those of the author alone, and do not represent the position of the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus