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A View from Henry Jenkins

Will India Rule the Media Future?

In an interview at rediff.com, Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth) makes some bold predictions about a shift in media power over the coming decades–with a U.S.-dominated media culture losing out to Asian media producers. Twenty years from now,…

  • November 5, 2003

In an interview at rediff.com, Indian filmmaker Shekhar Kapur (Bandit Queen, Elizabeth) makes some bold predictions about a shift in media power over the coming decades–with a U.S.-dominated media culture losing out to Asian media producers. Twenty years from now, he predicts the top box office star will be someone like Shah Rukh Khan and not someone like Tom Cruise.

Kapur puts forward some compelling data to support what is a provocative claim–that we are entering an era of “reverse colonization” in the media sector. Asia now constitutes 75 percent of the world’s population with a high percentage of that population falling in the demographic groups (teens and young adults) who consume the largest share of media content. Asia in general and India in particular is the fastest growing media market in the world and they have a large segment of early adopters which means they will be the first to embrace any new communications technology. Add to this the 27 million members of the Indian diaspora who live in other countries and who are a key influence shaping both the import of cultural goods and the education of the local population into Indian styles and traditions.

He compares the situation to the global expansion of American media coming out of our economic and political influence after World War II.

Some signs of the times: the high box office yield for Bombay Dreams, the first all-Indian cast musical to play in the West End. Kapur was a producer of the play, along with Andrew Lloyd Weber, which seeks to introduce the music of Bollywood composer A.R. Rahman to the western world. Kapur explains, “Everybody told me Bombay Dreams won’t work, including Andrew Lloyd Webber. It became the most successful show in town. Who supported it in the first month? The diaspora. Apollo is the largest theatre in town [London]. It’s now going up 80 per cent and 90 per cent every day and 100 per cent at the weekends. Still, it’s one year down the line. It was for the Really Useful Group – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company – the fastest payback for investors ever. Not even Phantom of the Opera returned it that fast. All investments were recovered within a year, in fact within eight or nine months it went into profit.” I attended an early preview of the play and was blown away to see an overwhelmingly Indian audience turn out in all of their finery to support this show – but I am also hearing that it is crossing over to attract a growing segment of London’s non-Indian residents and tourists.

Bombay Dreams is now bound for Broadway, where it will count on support from the American wing of the Indian diaspora. Already we are seeing Turner Classics Movies showing 20 Bollywood films over the past summer and Netflix offering several hundred Hindi titles for rental. Many of these films might have previously been available only in immigrant groceries, but you can now get them easily off the web. I have spent a good chunk of the summer watching Bollywood films and have enjoyed pretty much everything I rented.

When the BBC ran an internet survey to determine the Entertainer of the Millennium, the winner, hands down, was Indian action star Amitabh Bachchan.

Could this be the reason why Madonna was seen sporting Henna a few years back? As we dance our way into the media future, it may well be to the beat of Bhangra.

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