Bollywood has always been India’s surest bet on soft power—yoga is too globalised and diffused now to be a reliable wager. Bollywood has captured popular imagination of India abroad like no other pop-culture/high-culture export has done. The Soviet-era cultural exchanges that established Raj Kapoor as a household name in Russia were the first indicators of its potential. In the 1990s, with the the West-based NRI longing for a visual feel of “home”, Hindi language popular cinema tested substantial success. Since then, of course, it has caught on with Western, non-Indian-origin audiences as well. In fact, over the last decade or so, Bollywood has also come to mean a form of dance, a fixture in televised dance contests in the US and the UK. Now, Bollywood seems to be appealing to a wider audience across the globe, and more particularly, to Chinese audiences.
A Business Standard report details the success that films like Dangal, Secret Superstar and Bajrangi Bhaijaan have tasted in China. There could be a host of reasons why China, which had a tepid response to Bollywood for decades, is now warming up to it. It could be that that viewers there find the human interest movies that Bollywood routinely makes eminently relatable. But, it is more likely that, with China’s emergence as a world power, the Chinese themselves are increasingly getting curious about how they are viewed by the world and how they should look at other nations. Given how strictly media and social media are controlled in China and the country’s Great Firewall that stymies information flow across borderless digital media, popular cinema from a country has become the window to life and culture there; which is why even as Indian films are making headway in the Chinese market, so are movies from other countries. The Chinese are lapping up Hollywood movies, Spanish—and even Thai—movies. China aims, as per a Financial Times report, to displace India as the movie-production centre of heft—and what better way to get there than learning from the competition.