Roopa Swaminathan takes a look at how the Indian movie industry has put India on the map.
Many local travel operators organize tours that mimic the Beverly Hills–Malibu–Hollywood tours in the US, and offer Juhu–Bandra–Andheri–Bollywood tours. These Mumbai suburbs are where the majority of Bollywood’s studios are located, and where the stars live. One of the bigger tour operators, Bollywood Tours, suggests that globalization of Bollywood cinema has really helped the tourism industry. They point out that unlike the Western studios in Hollywood, which may or may not be open to the public, Indian studios, for the longest time, were completely closed for the public. Until very recently.
Over the past decade, the global popularity of Bollywood cinema, especially in the US and the UK, has meant an increase in American and British tourists who visit India (many of them being wealthy diasporan Indians) and wish to see where and how Bollywood extravaganzas are made. An article titled A Date with Bollywood on the website Bollywood Tourism says that these days the NRI–Bollywood tour specifically charges and caters to the wealthy diasporan Indian as well as foreigners from the West, and gives them a tour of Bollywood studios so that they can enjoy the process of Bollywood film-making. Another tour operator says that Slumdog Millionaire put India on the global filmi map, and it’s time that both the Indian film and tourism industries got together and made it into a thriving big-ticket industry.
Recently, singer Chris Martin and his band, Coldplay, visited India in what was their version of spiritual tourism. Coldplay, along with global megastar Beyoncé (who plays a Bollywood actress), recorded the video for their super hit song Hymn for the Weekend in India. In the video, Martin and his band-mates travel around India partaking in Holi, the festival of colours, as Beyoncé sashays and shimmies wearing representations of Indian (and Bollywood) motifs like henna, bindi, vibrant-coloured clothes, and chunky Indian jewellery. This representation of popular Indian icons and Bollywood images is surely a reflection of the global reach and impact of Bollywood, as well as India’s soft power. The British Council (BCL) website reports on the growing number of Brits who take backpacking trips to India. A trip to see Mumbai and Bollywood locales is a must. Also, let’s not forget that many Brits have living family members who were either directly involved in or knew someone who was part of the British Raj in India. Many tourists from the UK travel to India out of a sense of nostalgia, in many cases borrowed nostalgia, in a bid to recreate the romanticized versions of the stories they grew up hearing. Given their own love and appreciation for Indian culture, especially Bollywood films, it’s not much of a surprise that the British are the second largest in the number of tourists to India.
When I ran into a few foreigners watching one of the final few shows of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) at Maratha Mandir, I asked them why they had decided to watch the film. Did they even know what they were watching, or was it just to get a cultural experience, à la Bollywood style? The difference was clear. The phirangi crowd from the US came to watch it because they had heard about Bollywood, and wanted to see this movie that’s been running in the same theatre since 1995. But those from the UK came because they knew about the movie. “So what about the language,” I asked? “Do you guys really understand it?” “It’s the language of cinema, dude! I don’t need words to understand. Just watching the visuals was a treat.”
Excerpted from Roopa Swaminathan’s book Bollywood Boom: India’s Rise as a Soft Power. You can buy the book from here.
(Roopa Swaminathan is a National Award–winning writer, filmmaker, and scholar. Her book Star Dust: Vignettes from the Fringes of the Film Industry won the coveted Swarna Kamal for Best Writing on Cinema in 2005. She has also written, executive-produced, and directed a feature film for NFDC, Five by Four. Roopa has a Doctorate in International Relations from Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Presently, Roopa commutes between writing in Pune and teaching in Shanghai, is working on her upcoming books, and trying to sell her screenplays to Bollywood magicians.)