Are Bollywood's globalisation plans going awry?

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
9/28/2004 12:00:00 AM
This is a crucial time for Bollywood in Hollywood. 

Mira Nair has just come out with a big film, "Vanity Fair", which has opened to a mixed response.

Gurinder Chadha's hefty colourful homage to Bollywood, "Bride & Prejudice", makes its appearance in Britain next month and the US for Christmas.

And Deepa Mehta is all set to release her "Water" about Hindu widows at yearend.

Is Hollywood ready to welcome Bollywood and all that it represents? Looks like not. The coldest and harshest response to Nair's otherwise spick and span epic "Vanity Fair" has perhaps been to the Bollywood incorporations in the plot.

Says a young cosmopolitan Indian actor, "I saw 'Vanity Fair' with the audience in a theatre in New York. The Americans were laughing at it. It's time we stopped thrusting Bollywood down their throats. They're not interested.

"Nair got away with such artistic licence in 'Monsoon Wedding' because the whole film worked. In 'Vanity Fair', the Indian portions are a complete washout."

The Indian bits in "Vanity Fair" include a song and dance in the middle of an English banquet where a group of English women dance together to do a typical item number from a Hindi film.

At the end, Nair departs from the novel to take her protagonist Becky to India amidst elephants and peacocks.

Still, "Vanity Fair", budgeted at $35 million, is expected to make a neat enough profit to keep the studio happy.

The box office is also awaiting the response to "Bride & Prejudice".

Since the film is a full-blown song-to-song dance-to-dance homage to Bollywood cinema, it is essential for "Bride & Prejudice" to get a wide audience out West. Otherwise dreams of Bollywood being legitimised there would remain no more than an idea.

So far all plans to give the fabled song and dance formula of Indian cinema a life beyond the diaspora have come to nought.

Deepa Mehta is another Indian director trying to fix that. If "Monsoon Wedding" was Nair's homage to the big fat Punjabi wedding, and if "Bride & Prejudice" is Bollywood culture incarnate, then Deepa Mehta's "Bollywood/Hollywood" was the director's tribute to the spirit of the Hindi film industry.

Mehta now casts London-based Lisa Ray as a Hindu widow in "Water", hoping the cosmopolitan faces in the film will make Western audiences take to a theme that's purely Indian.

Other directors who are in the process of putting together their own homage to Hollywood include Piyush Jha. In "King Of Bollywood", Om Puri plays an ageing fading star of Hindi cinema who continues to gyrate to the sounds and sensations of stardom long past his prime.

Jha's film, which has come in Hindi and English two weeks before Chadha's "Bride & Prejudice", could pave the way for a season of tongue-in-cheek homage to Bollywood as seen through the eyes of the expatriate filmmaker.

Both the films are also being put out in India in dubbed Hindi versions, thereby subverting the homage into a full-fledged masala experience for the non-metropolitan audience.

But will the audience in Bhatinda and Patna react to the spirit of ebullient subversion with gusto?

Conversely, would the audience in the West accept Bollywood with all its extravagant melodrama as entertainment?