Bollywood in Africa

Jun 16 2007, 00:00 IST
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The popularity of Bollywood movies outside India is usually, at least initially, an outgrowth of homesick Indian expatriate communities. But in West Africa, without any significant help from Indian audiences, Bollywood flicks developed a large African following as early as the 1950s.

I stumbled on this assertion in the middle of a dry treatise on India’s “burgeoning relationship” [hyperlink] with West Africa. Following the footnote led to a research article by Brian Larkin, now a professor at Barnard University, that focused on the movie choices of Hausas in Nigeria. Fans of Indian movies argue that Indian culture is “just like” Hausa culture. The wearing of turbans; the presence of animals in markets; porters carrying large bundles on their heads, chewing sugarcane; youths riding Bajaj scooters; wedding celebrations and so on. Indian movies are also praised because (until recently) they showed “respect” toward women. Major themes of Hindi films, such as the tension between arranged and love marriages, do not appear in Hollywood movies but are agonizing problems for Nigerian and Indian youth.....

The themes of Indian movies are often based on the reality of a developing country emerging from years of colonialism. The style of the movies and plots deal with the problem of how to modernize while preserving traditional values—not usually a narrative theme in a Steven Spielberg movie. Although not quite to the same extent as China, India also forged ties of solidarity with the newly independent countries of Africa in the ‘60s and ‘70s and it is trying to capitalize on those bonds now in the new scramble for African resources [hyperlink]. According to the UK’s Royal Institute of International Affairs, India is sill something of a poor sister to China, but it is working hard to catch up. But priorities of globalization rule the day now. “Current global equations and recent Indian policies confirm that India’s engagement with West Africa has shifted from the old issues of colonialism, non-alignment and South-South cooperation to issues of trade and energy.”

Which brings us back to Bollywood. Contemporary films are more sexually explicit. Indian films are just like American films [now], and it’s hard to tell any significant difference between Chinese oil companies and Indian steel companies and the robber barons of yesteryear. One world, indeed.

Andrew Leonard How the world works www.salon.com/tech/htww

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