Over the recent decade we have seen a steady increase in the influences of Bollywood and Hollywood on each other. Indian audiences seem to crave American and other international movies, while American audiences are becoming more and more interested in films with a Bollywood related genre.
Recently another one of the United States’ film giants has made the move to set up a theatrical distribution headquarters in Mumbai, ready to cash in on the rapidly growing desire of India’s moviegoers to take in American cinema. Universal Pictures International (UPI) is poised to capitalize on both Indian box-office collections and on the ever increasing Indian diaspora in the US and other English-speaking countries. Additionally, Bollywood films have gained the attention of more mainstream audiences, making it apropos for American studios such as UPI to include Indian theatrical influences in their own films.
It isn’t exactly a new idea for the entertainment industry to take note of what’s making money at the box offices and follow the trends. It’s not even a new idea for American film companies to want to work with Hindi actors and actresses, or to dub Hollywood blockbusters for distribution in Hindi, as well as other Indian dialects such as Tamil and Telugu. What’s fairly new is the astronomical numbers involved in Bollywood movie production. Films from India are bringing in more than $100 million a year in U.S. box office tickets, movie soundtrack and video sales, more than films from any other non-English speaking country. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollywood)
In the late 80’s Sony, Disney, Paramount and Universal all started honing in on the potential for profit in Mumbai. Paramount Films of India introduced dubbing with the release of Jurassic Park, and has distributed hundreds of dubbed films since. Universal and Paramount came together in a joint venture called United International Pictures, but in 2006 Universal executive Mr. Marc Shmuger led a total re-structuring to create an independent international production company, Universal Pictures International. The company found astonishing success, breaking all international box office records in just the first two years. It’s this company that has recently opened distribution offices in Mumbai under the leadership of Sarabjit Singh as managing director and president of distribution, Duncan Clark.
Bollywood plots often lean toward the melodramatic, with catchy song-and-dance numbers woven into stories about star crossed lovers, long lost relatives, heroes and villains. Several prominent Indian actors have made the cross over into Western film making and some have brought the Bollywood influence into these types of movies. Sometimes the Bollywood image gets a little spoof, such as in the 2002 UIP film, The Guru, starring Jimi Mistry opposite Heather Graham and Marissa Tomei. While promoting this film Mistry was comment on the growing popularity of Bollywood, stating “Bollywood is everywhere! We’re the new curry! (http://movies.about.com/library/weekly/aatheguruintc.htm)
As the Indian community in the US grows exponentially and Western influences in India are steadily increasing, Hollywood has had more and more influence on the content and production methods of Bollywood films. The traditional, conservative ways of Indian culture continue to exist, but the movies more often feature Western activities like dating instead of pre-arranged marriages, and dancing in clubs instead of palaces.
Western films and TV are also gaining much wider distribution in India, and the desire for Americanized movies has led not only to dubbing hundreds of movies into Hindi and other Indian dialects but also to remakes of American movies, and sometimes to plagiarism of plot lines. The remakes do well in the Indian box office, including movies like Raaz, a remake of What Lies Beneath, and Kasoor, a remake of Jagged Edge.
Entertainment executives like Marc Shmuger knew what they were doing when they decided to expand their endeavors into the international film market, and Universal Pictures International is right on the money with the decision to establish offices in Mumbai. As the American way of life slowly creeps into Indian culture, so does the influence of Bollywood work its way into the Hollywood film-making industry. You can’t blame top Hollywood executives for capitalizing on the trend, nor can you blame Indian actors and producers for giving their public what it wants with more Westernized film plots. With billions of dollars at stake, Hollywood and Bollywood would do well to cooperate rather than compete. There are definitely enough box-office bucks to go around and share the wealth.