There was a time, not too long ago that Bollywood films were treated like a poor relation of cinema. Discounting a glorious heritage of some of the best films ever made, Bollywood went through an identity crisis of sorts in the 1990’s, with only a handful of films surviving the test of time and joining the hall of fame. Films had bad production values, stories heavily inspired by Hollywood and a general lack of direction. Often in comparison to Hollywood, Bollywood was simply not a contender.
Of course, the Nineties were a difficult time for Bollywood. With underworld money the main source of funding and the superstar system still fully in force, a quality product was hard to come by. No wonder films like Hum Aapke Hain Koun…![Who Am I To You -1994], Diwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge [The Bravehearted Will Take The Bride -1996] and Kuch Kuch Hota Hai [Something Happens-1998] were such monster hits, because films which had a good story, decent production values and good promotion were hard to come by. It was hard to envisage a time where most films would try and indeed, even match the standard set by these very popular films.
But nowadays, it seems this is the case, with many films improving their production values and with baby steps, walking towards thinking outside the box. Bollywood is no longer being seen as a inferior version of Hollywood but a worthy competitor. With wide appeal and emerging markets, Bollywood finally looks set to go fully global within a matter of years. So much so, that even Hollywood studios are getting in on the act. So we have a Sony Pictures producing last year’s Saawariya and Warner Bros producing the forthcoming Chandni Chowk To China. UTV Motion Pictures, who are behind some of the biggest films in the past year alone (Taare Zameen Par, Jodhaa Akbar, Race and Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na are all UTV productions, sitting comfortably in the top slots of highest grossers this year) have made it into the top twenty distributor lists in the US.
This investement has also filtered through to the star system (which is still very much part of Bollywood) with actors like Aishwarya Rai starring in Hollywood projects and Hrithik Roshan being signed up to the same talent agency as Brad Pitt. Mega star Will Smith has also expressed a desire to work in a Bollywood film and even admitted Aishwarya was the first choice for the female lead in his latest film Hancock (which was portrayed by Charlize Theron). Bizarrely yet excitingly, we have Snoop Dogg rapping alongside Akshay Kumr in a promotional video for next month’s Singh is Kinng (sic). And now, with Sylvester Stallone making a cameo in the forthcoming Kambaqt Ishq (This Damn Love) opposite Kareena Kapoor, it is inevitable we shall see Bollywood and Hollywood stars sharing space on the silver screen.
Is this necessarily a good thing? Whilst Bollywood will certainly benefit from adapting the regimented business practices and disciplines of Hollywood, it also means a lot of money will be put into Bollywood, which may be a disadvantage to the aspiring filmmaker who wishes to cast a top star but cannot do so, simply because the star may be demanding too much money. In addition, Bollywood’s USP is its supposed promotion of Indian values, something that may not sit easily with Western audiences – on the other hand, water it down too much, and there is a risk of of alienating the core Bollywood audience, who have played a key role in sustaining and helping Bollywood reach its current stage.
One positive aspect that has emerged from the global interest in Bollywood, is the affirmation that Bollywood films are primarily made for the Indian market. India has the audience and the means in place to sustain itself. Any foreign territories and new markets that pick up the films are a bonus rather than an essential part of the process. Bollywood did go through a phase of courting the Non Resident Indian (NRI) market for a while and still does to some extent but the upshot of this is some films which may not have originally found audiences in India have done well abroad and received a new lease of life back in India.
How Hollywood and indeed the world’s interest in Bollywood will play out remains to be seen, but in the meantime, here’s my list of five Bollywood stars who I think could be in a Hollywood film in a New York minute:
1) Aamir Khan -Amazing actor, competent director, risk taking producer, a Hollywood film would sit quite nicely in Aamir’s resume. Aamir is so Hollywood its a surprise that he has not been snapped up and offered some plum projects.
2) Sushmita Sen – With Karma, Confessions and Holi still awaiting release, this actress and woman of substance may finally get her due if she was in Hollywood, getting roles that would show off her talent and beauty to the hilt.
Agree or disagree? Post your own suggestions below!