Nov 1, 2007

On the word 'Bollywood'

By this time, I must have read the word bollywood 2,45 million times. As a Dutch guy, who first heard of it about 7 years ago, I thought the meaning was pretty simple. Bollywood movies are the movies from India. The ones with complex love stories, dance and happy endings. And that's what most of us Dutch probably think it means. Hollywood with a Bombay touch.
Having read the word a little more, I have noticed the word is a multiplicity of meanings. And a word with its own power.As said, popularly used, it means movies from India. In more academic studies, it is more often referred to as the popular cinema from Bombay, which means it is spoken in Hindi with a touch of English and Urdu. Besides that there is a lot of regional cinema, from the different states of the country (Like Tollywood, from Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh). And, besides that, there is a small stream of alternative cinema, also referred to as realist cinema. Some people say that realist cinema is the real and good cinema, which means the popular stuff is mere entertainment. Others I've come across see in this an elitist point of view that underestimates the power of popular culture. 'Aight!
I haven't made my choice yet, but in a few months, I should be able to provide you with some arguments on this issue :-)
Last week I read an article that made me write this post. Madhava Prasad says that the word bollywood ( is only recently used, in India as well as outside. Before that people spoke of Hindi cinema or Indian popular cinema. The change in name also reflects a change in society, according to Prasad. It is a society where a new class in society has come to be of more importance, namely the Non Residential Indians (NRI's). These are the Indians in the diaspora, the ones that work and live abroad, approximately already about 11 million people. A huge market for the indian film, since a perfect way to stay in touch with the motherland is through films! As a result, a lot of movies have new heroes these days, for example in the shape of Shah Rukh Khan as a Nasa-technologist who feels homesick for the simple village life back home in the movie SWADES. The popularity of the word bollywood, reflects the popularity of an Indian identity that is English speaking and globally oriented. Not to forget, an identity that makes a lot of money as well. The word bollywood is shaped by changes in the country, and is shaping the Indian film culture as we know it around the globe.
But I have noticed that the popular cinema culture in India is much richer than just this. Indian cinema is as complex and as diverse as the people of the country where it originated. A lot to study :-)

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