Bollywood is alluring but lacks professionalism
Bollywood is hugely alluring for the Western media but bad marketing and poor professionalism are deflating much of that interest, according to noted British film scholar Rachel Dwyer.
By Krittivas Mukherjee, IANS
The Western media's interest in Hindi films has increased in recent years, thanks to a growing awareness among Bollywood filmmakers about their potential audience in the West.
But the Hindi film industry, which has little distribution strategy for overseas markets and is sloppy when it comes to market research, by and large runs the risk of losing favour with the Western media because of its inability to market itself professionally.
"The Western media is dying to see Hindi films, but you show them the wrong ones and they wouldn't come back," Dwyer, who has written several books on Bollywood, told IANS in an interview.
"The thing about Bollywood is that it's always seen in a crisis. But what interests the West is that the Hindi film industry is very big after Hollywood. It has a world reach. It is not government-driven and is from a so-called Third World country," said Dwyer, a reader in Indian studies and cinema at the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London.
Clearly, the West enjoys Bollywood only in parts.
"The stories are too local and there is no effort to explain things for a foreign audience. Subtitling is still not a priority.
"Then there is little marketing or distribution strategy. Bollywood figures virtually nowhere in the world press despite the interest it generates among the Western media," Dwyer said.
The British film expert, who is compiling a book listing the top 100 Hindi movies, wondered why Indian filmmakers had primarily Indian audiences in mind.
"It's clear that they don't mean their films to be distributed among the mainstream in the West.
"Hindi films are too long. The idea of movie going is quite different in India and in the West. Going to the cinema is part of an evening out for Western audiences, but it's different in India," Dwyer said.
So, what works for Bollywood in the West? According to Dwyer, romance is an everlasting theme.
"Romance works in the West. This is obviously because Bollywood has nothing to offer in the action or special effects genre.
"Then, non-resident Indians want to know how it works in India, where family is involved in a big way. This explains the overseas success of films like 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge' and 'Kuch Kuch Hota Hai'," Dwyer explained.
She, however, wondered why Bollywood failed to recognise the films that could do well in the West.
"It's surprising why films like 'Bombay', 'Satya', 'Dil Chahta Hai' and 'Maqbool' were not released overseas. These are films that would have done well with the Western audiences and the media.
"Instead, they release films like 'Asoka', a historical figure the West knows nothing about. No effort was made in the publicity exercise to explain who he was, no mention was made of Buddhism, which could have been a universal plank.
"A film like 'Maqbool' could have been marketed as the Bollywood's take on Macbeth. That would have caught the interest of people here."
On the success of recent crossover films, Dwyer expressed guarded optimism. "There is interest in fusion films, but in many cases they are not strictly Bollywood."
Even though Bollywood remains technologically primitive and a poor cousin of Hollywood when it comes to budgets, there is little doubt about the professionalism of the industry's leading stars.
"There is some sloppiness around, but Bollywood stars are professionals. It's amazing. Their working conditions are grim. No Hollywood star would work in conditions Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh (Khan) works.
"But to change all this and bring about a thorough technological upgrade, money is needed. That is tough when you know that you can make a Bollywood film with the money needed to make a Hollywood trailer," Dwyer pointed out.
However, Dwyer is happy that several Bollywood directors are willing to experiment with their cinema to make it more universal and are also technology-aware.
"The key to success are world-class professional marketing and distribution, and Bollywood films can go places," Dwyer maintained.