Bollywoods influence had already been felt on Madonnas Ray of Light album and on Baz Luhrmanns Moulin Rouge. Last summer, Turner Classic Movies ran an extensive retrospective of the classics of Indian cinema. Pastiches of Hindi cinema have made their way onto cult television series, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena, Warrior Princess. The next big wave will start as Miramax funds Bride and Prejudice, a Bollywood-inflected version of Jane Austin that will be directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham) for U.S. distribution.
Shakalaka Baby, indeed!
How did this happen? Four factorsglobal capitalism, South Asian emigration to the West, new media technologies, and American youth searching for cultural difference are adding up to a significant shift in the flow of media into the Western market. Critics had warned that new media would accelerate cultural homogenization, yet it can also insure the global production and circulation of cultural difference.
We can identify three different sets of economic interests behind the opening of the West to Asian media content. One is the national or regional media producers who see the global circulation of their products not simply as expanding their revenue stream but also a source of national pride. Secondly, there are the multinational conglomerates who no longer define their production or distribution decisions in national terms but seek to identify potentially valuable content wherever they can find it and push it into as many markets as possible. And finally, niche distributors are searching for distinctive content as a way to attract upscale, college-educated consumers.
As MIT media scholar Christina Klein notes, the U.S. entertainment industry has become more aggressive in recruiting or collaborating with overseas talent. Sony, Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers all have opened companies to produce films in Chinese, German, Italian, Japanese, and other languages, aimed both at their domestic markets and at global export.
And this collaboration extends to other media sectors as well. For example, Marvel will release a series of Spiderman comics, timed to correspond with the release of Spiderman 2 in India and localized to South Asian tastes. Peter Parker becomes Pavitr Prabhaker and Green Goblin becomes Rakshasa, a traditional mythological demon. The graphics, which depict Spiderman leaping over scooters in Bombay streets and swinging past the Gateway of India, are being drawn by Indian comic book artist Jeevan J. Kang. Marvel calls it transcreation, one step beyond translation.
U.S. involvement helps Asian producers to skirt harsh trade restrictions designed to protect Hollywood from international competition. While their cultural power expands, Asian artists under such arrangements receive limited economic benefit from their entry into the Western market.
The westward flow of Indian media content also reflects successive generations of South Asian emigration to Britain and North America. Each wave of new media technologies has increased Asians’ ability to remain connected to the world they left behind. Initially, Indian merchants would book space on local campuses or at movie theaters to show 16-millimeter prints of recent Indian movies. The immigrant community would gather for these events, welcoming the chance to speak Hindi, catch a glimpse of home, eat traditional foods, even conduct business. The songs from the movies would be on sale in the lobby on cassette tapes.
With the introduction of newer media technologies, immigrant grocery stores in major urban centers began offering videos and DVDs for rentsometimes very shortly after the movie went into theatrical release in India. The rise of the Internet enabled immigrants to remain on top of new developments in Indian cinema and, in some communities, local access cable provided a space for public discussion of these works. The emergence of satellite television networks such as B4U (Bollywood For You) and Zee-USA made Hindi cinema accessible in homes around the clock. Many South Asian radio stations are available via the Web, allowing Indian students in the West to experience the buzz that surrounds a new release. Electronic mailing lists alert patrons when an Asian movie is showing in their market.