Diluted culture or evidence of modernity?

A preview of Ra.One

How surprised was I to learn that my favorite indian actor, Shah Rukh Khan, is going to play some kind of Spiderman in his upcoming movie, Ra.One. The trailer of Ra.One is totally unexpected for a Bollywood production; it foreshadows action, a lot of damage and showing off. Personally, I prefer when Indians don’t take themselves too seriously, when they sing, dance, laugh and also when they talk about love! It’s precisely this kind of good-natured character that Shah Rukh Khan would like to do away with. He recently admitted that he was sick of love stories. To break bollywood stereotypes, Khan and his wife Gauri are betting on movies like Ra.One that they produced via their compagny, Red Chillies Entertainments.

Cultural unsteadiness or globalization?

Known as the King of Bollywood, Shah Rukh is also one of the cultural ambassadors of India. Being elitist, he dreams of movies that would blend Western expertise with Eastern culture. Target marget? Not only some Westerners but also the lucrative market of the NRIs (Non-Indian Residents), these 20 millions individuals of Indian origin born or living outside India.

Since NRIs are not always fond of traditions and indian folklore, the Bollywood beau believes that more modern productions would allow the Indian diaspora to accepts its roots and values.

Unfortunately, Shah Rukh is not the only indian actor or producer with the same vision. Bollywood has already jeopardized its cultural identity with below-average movies like Salaam Namaste, Wanted or Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamana.

Promo picture for the Movie Don

There was also Don: The Chase Begins Again (shot inMalaysia) that gave me the uncomfortable impression of watching an American action movie with indian actors. Scenes like gangsters stopping halfway through a choregraphy to kill each other made the movie inconsistent. Even if Don wasn’t that bad, its western style confused me because I watch indian movies precisely to get a break from my North american routine. When I want to see action or a well-scripted drama, I watch American. Even though Bollywood should modernize, it has to remain more than just an indian version of Hollywood.

A colorful dance scene from Bole Haddipa
A colorful dance scene from the movie Bole Haddipa

Whether they live in Africa, South America, Europe or other Asian countries, Bollywood fans want movies that echo their values. They like to discover the imaginary of a similar culture with foreign sceneries. It doesn’t matter if the scenarios are unrealistic (like in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai), if the choice of color is blinding (see Jab We Met), if the actors are melodramatic (Mere Baap Pehle Aap) or if the songs and choregraphies are never-ending (Aaja Nachle).

For people like me, who don’t claim a nationality or an ethnicity, Bollywood allows to romanticize on cultural chocks (like in Dil Bole Hadippa) and also gives the occasion to laugh at men dancing with no inhibitions.

I may not be the right person to critize an Indian cinema that is trying to break stereotypes because I too, take delight in breaking myths about Africa. However, I allow myself to proudly defend the beauty of Bollywood because I have learnt how to live my cultural instability without denying my roots. I sincerely hope that Bollywood will succeed in seducing the Western world without forgetting its cultural riches…

I have been brought up in a very hindi-speaking grounded way but I’m also being brought up because of my schooling and my teachings in a little bit of westernized way. I think that’s what most NRIs are; their heart is in their country and their mind and their body is abroad. So, I’m like that. I think a little western in my approach to things  but my heart and my soul and my beliefs and my culture is indian.

Shah Rukh Khan in the Documentary Living With A Superstar – Shah Rukh Khan