Bollywood films’ popularity in China opening door for cultural exchange

By Bi Mengying Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/14 18:33:40

Indian actor Aamir Khan (right) and Chinese actor Wang Baoqiang dressed as Santa Claus attend a premiere for the movie Thugs of Hindostan in Beijing on December 24, 2018. Photo: IC

The Indian embassy in Beijing announced significant relaxations regarding its e-visa policy for Chinese nationals on Friday, concurring with the leaders of the two nations meeting for an informal summit. The new policy is sure to boost Chinese tourism to India, which already has been an attractive destination for travelers from China with its curry, Taj Mahal and, last but not least, Bollywood film industry.   

Nostalgic memories

The most classic Bollywood film in the eyes of many Chinese moviegoers has to be Caravan. The Indian thriller depicts the adventures of Sunita, a young girl from a rich family who seeks to take revenge on her husband for the death of her father. Directed by legendary Indian filmmaker Nasir Hussain, Caravan was released in 1971. It was dubbed into Chinese by the Shanghai Film Dubbing Studio in 1980, one of the earliest State-owned film companies. As the film swept across the country, the songs from the movie also gained in popularity among Chinese audiences, becoming an indelible memory for an entire generation.     

The film holds a 7.9/10 on Chinese media review site Douban from more than 4,000 users. Among the nearly 800 short written reviews of the film, many stressed the sentimental value it held for them. 

"In my memory, this was the first foreign movie that I watched in a theater in the country. Also, it seemed to be the only time our entire family watched a film together," wrote one Douban reviewer. 

Another reviewer noted that the film opened the door to other Indian films for her.  

"The plot was simple and straightforward. The dancing and décor were easy on the eyes. The music was great. Even looking back at it now, it does not appear to be outdated," wrote another reviewer. 

As one of the first movies from Bollywood loved by Chinese audiences, Caravan was also chosen to be screened at the opening of the Hainan Island International Film Festival (HIIFF), which was held from March to April in Sanya, China's southernmost province of Hainan.  

"This is the great initiative which will enrich and promote cultural exchange between China and India," veteran Indian actor Jeetendra, who played one of the leading roles in the film, told the Xinhua News Agency. 

Cultural ambassador

While classic Bollywood films like Caravan are remembered fondly by older generations of Chinese, Bollywood has a solid fan base among young moviegoers in China as well. There are several social media groups for Bollywood films on Chinese websites such as Douban and Baidu BBS. 

Some Bollywood stars have also earned their own solid fan bases in China. Aamir Khan, for instance, won a beloved nickname from his Chinese fans - Mishu, which means Uncle Aamir in Chinese. On China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, his official account and his fan page have more than 1.2 million followers in total. 

His works such as 3 Idiots and Dangal have all performed exceptionally well at China's box office. Released in 2009 in India, 3 Idiots hit Chinese mainland theaters two years later, where it grossed 13.98 million yuan ($1.97 million) by the end of its run. His later work Dangal, became an enormous hit in the Chinese mainland in 2017. Currently the highest-earning Indian film in China, Dangal earned 1.299 billion yuan ($183.3 million) in the mainland, more than double its earnings in its home market. The film also kicked off a renaissance for Indian film in China. Khan's 2018 film Secret Superstar ended up grossing more than 747 million yuan in the market, solidifying the actor as a major force at the Chinese box office. 

Besides Khan's box-office appeal in the world's second-largest movie market, he has also acted as an informal cultural ambassador between the two countries. According to a report by the South China Morning Post, some Chinese audiences have noted that the popularity of stars such as Khan have made them more interested in learning about India. The article also noted that Khan told fans that he wanted to help "improve India-China ties."

"I want to do a film with Chinese and Indian talent… It would be really wonderful… It would bring the two countries closer," he once told media.

Rise of co-productions

According to Chinese ticketing platform Maoyan, seven Indian films have been released so far in Chinese mainland this year. Andhadhun for instance, which hit theaters in April, grossed 324 million yuan during its run. Second on the list of highest earners this year is Mom, which grossed 111 million yuan, followed by Kaabil and 2.0, which grossed 35.15 million yuan and 20.55 million yuan respectively. 

While Indian films have been performing well at the Chinese mainland box office, exchanges and cooperation between the two countries' film industries have been growing as well. Several Chinese-Indian co-produced films are scheduled to screen in theaters in the Chinese mainland next year, including The Amazing Trip to India, The Chinese Wedding and The Zookeeper. 

At the same time, in the field of academics, Indian films have been gaining ground in China. On China's Quora-like Q&A platform Zhihu, topics such as "What can China learn from the Indian film industry?" have been drawing the attention of the public. And Indian film is frequently listed as a distinct theme or unit to discuss at various film forums, like the ongoing PYIFF (Pingyao International Film Festival) which hosted a forum for new Indian films this year.

"Hopefully, there will be more Indian films introduced to Chinese audiences, and India looks forward to importing more Chinese films as well. As one of the best mediums for cultural exchange, I believe this will promote mutual understanding between the two nations' peoples," said Kishor Jawade, founder of the India China Film Society, during an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.
Newspaper headline: Gateway to understanding

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