t’s an overcast October day in Berlin, and 150 people are waiting on the steps of the Friedrichstadtpalast Theater. They’re bundled up against the cold in overcoats, stamping their feet to stay warm. At last the doors swing open, and a slender man with a brush of unruly, jet-black hair emerges. The crowd rushes forward, straining against the arms of the bodyguards, shouting greetings in German, English and Hindi.
Shah Rukh Khan, Bollywood megastar, is in town filming “Don 2.”
Kerstin Bergelt, an editor at www.asianoutlook.com, traveled from Munich just to watch part of the six-week shoot. Bergelt fell in love with Bollywood—the affectionate term for the movies made by the buzzing Mumbai film industry—five years ago, when she saw “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (“Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness”). “I was so fascinated by the way they told the story—the emotions, the music and the colors,” Bergelt says.
|yash raj films; aditya chopra filmfare and yash raj films
|Son of one of India’s most famous directors, Aditya Chopra, above, wrote “The Braveheart Will Take the Bride” in 1995 at age 23. It became India’s longest-running film and launched the career of Shah Rukh Khan, shown at top with actress Kajol in one of the film’s promotional stills.
In India, theaters sell an estimated three billion tickets a year—twice as many as us cinemas. On top of that, more than a third of Bollywood’s revenues now come from outside India, especially from the Middle East, the us and the uK. And it’s not just the 30 million members of the Indian diaspora who are watching.
West Africans are flocking to Bollywood releases; Dubai is the hot launching pad for red-carpet premieres; Prague’s six-year-old Bollywood film
festival saw record attendance
last year; and Bollywood films seem to break their own previous box office records every month in the us and the uK. Increasing investments from Hollywood include Fox Searchlight’s distribution of “My Name is Khan” last year, which grossed more than $40 million in more than 40 countries. As an industry, Bollywood is projected to grow more than 14 percent a year, outperforming the 6.8-percent projected growth rate of the Indian gdp.
Aditya Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan,
A. R. Rahman and Farah Khan are four
of the biggest names in India’s film business. They’re also bringing Bollywood to the world.
n a Friday night in Fremont, California, Priya and Manesh Bhatt guide their children through the crowded lobby of Big Cinemas, one of 16 multiplexes that India’s largest theater chain has opened in the us. The smell of popcorn and samosas—spicy, potato-filled pastries—fills the air. The Bhatts moved here 10 years ago from Chennai, India.
“Bollywood films are such a good way to keep the kids in touch with India,” Priya says.
“They’re a good way to keep me in touch,” laughs Manesh.
But these days, the film the Bhatts will watch might actually be about people like themselves: “nris,” or “Non-Resident Indians,” who live with one foot in their Indian culture of origin and the other in their culture of residence. This onscreen shift to a more international representation of Indian identity has occurred largely thanks to Aditya Chopra, the son of Yash Chopra, one of India’s most renowned producer-directors. Aditya Chopra is now vice chairman of his father’s Yash Raj Films, one of India’s top media companies.
In 1989, when Aditya Chopra began assisting his father, the characters in Indian films tended to stop at the border. nris, if they appeared at all, “were usually portrayed as sinister characters,” says Sangita Gopal, professor of film studies at the University of Oregon. “They often betrayed the family, betrayed the girl and lost their Indian values.”
In 1995, at the age of 23, Aditya Chopra wrote and directed “Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge” (“The Brave-heart Will Take the Bride”). It might seem like a typical Bollywood film, with singing, dancing and pining lovers. But the main characters were nris who managed to successfully straddle the
disparate worlds of India
“Ddlj” became the longest-running Indian film of all time. It launched the younger Chopra’s career and solidified the fame of its star, Shah Rukh Khan. It also ushered in a new wave of Bollywood films about and for cosmopolitan Indians.
This was very good business, as well. “Tickets overseas can be eight or ten times the cost of a ticket in India,” points out Tejaswini Ganti, author of Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema.
But the overseas audience also needed better access to the films, according to Minal Hajratwala, author of Leaving India: My Family’s Journey from Five Villages to Five Continents. “We mostly watched copies of copies of scratchy videocassettes,” she says. “They weren’t subtitled in English, so they weren’t as accessible to a second generation who couldn’t speak Hindi.” Back then, she adds, the technical quality of the movies couldn’t compete with Hollywood’s slick productions.
So, in the 1990’s, Yash Raj Films made another shrewd business move—setting up its first distribution center in London. By 2004, Yash Raj Films was the largest Indian distribution house. In 2006, the company embraced technology, opening its own state-of-the-art studio in Mumbai to equal Hollywood’s visual and sound quality. Yash Raj Films has also experimented with new media, including its own channel on YouTube.
As a result, Yash Raj Films’ more than 40 productions have become some of the highest-grossing Indian films to date. India’s Filmfare magazine ranked the son-and-father Chopras among the most powerful people in the industry in 2005 and 2006.
Today, a fan almost anywhere in the world can watch Yash Raj Films productions—and other Bollywood films—on satellite, cable, Netflix, iTunes and YouTube.
Hajratwala sees this new technology as a gift. “The older generations watch movies on satellite, while my young teenage cousins, four generations out of India, download videos and music and watch them with their parents. The technology has helped them stay connected to the culture.”
Because the films are subtitled in multiple languages, they’re now accessible even to people who don’t speak Hindi - second- or third-generation Indians, or people who aren’t Indian at all.
|red chillies entertainments (3)
|Often playing characters who struggle amid conflicting ideas of tradition and modernity, Shah Rukh Khan’s rise to Bollywood megastardom parallels India’s own rise on the global stage. Here he stars in the 2004 film “Main Hoon Na” (“I’m Here for You”).
hah Rukh Khan is used to screaming fans like those in Berlin. He’s not just one of the most famous people in India: He’s known around the world.
As the star of some of the biggest hits in Bollywood history, “King Khan” (or “srk”) is like Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt wrapped up into one charismatic, action-packed, dancing bundle of energy. He has his own wax statue at Madame Tussaud’s in London, and in 2008, Newsweek magazine named him one of the 50 most powerful people in the world.
Last October, Khan reached a new level of fame. He was the focus of an academic conference in Vienna, “Shah Rukh Khan and Global Bollywood.” Scholars from India, Europe and the United States convened to discuss such topics as “srk and the Global Dispersal of Postmodernity.”
“It’s astounding to have an academic conference about a film star,” says Ann David, principal lecturer at Roehampton University, London. “It means Hindi film studies are finally being taken seriously.”
The conference also means that Shah Rukh Khan is saying something important. Anupama Chopra, author of King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, ties srk’s rise to the rise of India itself.
Many Bollywood stars and directors come from second-, third- or even fourth-generation Bollywood families, but srk was an outsider who broke into Bollywood by his own efforts at the same time that India itself was painfully vaulting into the modern world.
“He achieved a superstardom that crosses all borders and all demographics,” Chopra says. “He really represents all the great things that have happened within India in the last 15 years.”
The heroes in srk’s films often experience the conflicts that great global change imposes on individuals: What is my role in the world? What should my relationship be to my family? To my country? Khan’s best-known role is still that of Raj in Aditya Chopra’s “ddlj.” Raj is a sophisticated “global Indian” who lives in London and wears designer clothing, but he still manages to retain accepted Indian values. He even chooses not to run away with the girl he loves, insisting instead on winning her father’s blessing.
“Shah Rukh Khan’s characters—and his off-screen persona—manage to reconcile tradition and modernity,” says David. “That’s not just an Indian issue. It’s important for people all over the world.”
|A. R. Shariff
|A. R. Rahman named his 2010 world concert tour “Jai Ho” after his hit song on the soundtrack of “Slumdog Millionaire.” This year the composer-performer, who has sold more recordings than the Rolling Stones, won more fame in the West with his hit soundtrack to the film “127 Hours.”
ollywood’s music may be one of its best international ambassadors. Just ask any of the 25,000 people who gathered in the pouring rain at the Moses Mahibda stadium in Durban, South Africa to hear A. R. Rahman’s 2010 world-tour show. The show also played to packed arenas in the us and Europe.
“The crowd was going crazy,” recalls Mike van Heerden, official photographer for the Mahibda stadium. “All ethnicities, all ages. Everyone was laughing, dancing and singing along with the music. 'Jai Ho!’” He pauses. “I love that song.”
Rahman’s 2009 hit “Jai Ho,” and his soundtrack for “Slumdog Millionaire,” won Rahman a 2009 Golden Globe Award, two Academy Awards and a global spotlight. A Bollywood music icon, dubbed “The Mozart of Madras” by Time, Rahman has sold more albums than the Rolling Stones.
Most Bollywood films feature five or six song-and-dance numbers, often presented like embedded music videos. These film songs drive the Indian music industry: A whopping 65 percent of music sold in India comes from film soundtracks.
Devesh Sharma, a correspondent at Filmfare, believes Rahman’s global popularity stems from his global outlook. Rahman draws from Indian ghazals, bhangra, hip-hop, R&B, Michael Jackson and other international music to create a unique Bollywood-world beat.
“He’s created the sound of a new Bollywood,” says Sangita Gopal. “One that’s appropriate to a new, global India.”
Mason Ward, an American mother of two in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, was on her exercise bicycle when she first heard the song that got her feet pumping and her heart rate soaring. She went right home and downloaded it. Then she called her friends.
“Y’all know 'Jai Ho?’” she asked.
| the times of india group
|Mixing hip-hop, Hollywood and “a deliberately exaggerated Bollywood,” Farah Khan, left, has choreographed more than 80 films.
he women stretching at Threebee dance studio in London are warming up for one of the studio’s weekly Bollywood fitness classes. Shweta Aggarwal, Threebee’s founder, says her inspiration for opening her studio came from Farah Khan—director, producer, choreographer, talk-show host and one of the most powerful women behind the cameras in male-dominated Bollywood.
Although her family worked in the film industry, Khan never received dance training. Instead, she learned by watching Bollywood films, Michael Jackson and Hollywood musicals.
“She’s created a marvelous fusion,” says professor Ann David. “Her steps mix hip-hop, old Hollywood dance
and a deliberately exaggerated Bollywood style.”
Khan has choreographed more than 80 films, and she’s created signature gestures for stars such as Shah Rukh Khan. She was one of the first Bollywood choreographers to cross over into international productions with the 2001 hit “Monsoon Wedding” and the 2002 musical “Bombay Dreams.” In 2004 she began directing, and her 2007 “Om Shanti Om” became the highest-grossing Bollywood film at the time.
|courtesy dhoonya dance
|A children’s class at Dhoonya Dance in New York.
To the uninitiated, Bollywood’s song-and-dance sequences, in which the characters might be whisked off to an idyllic countryside or to an entirely different country, may seem disconnected from the plot.
The truth, asserts Sangita Gopal, is that the dance segments are vital to the meaning of the films. “The dances are where the films take their visual and social risks. They provide a space to express forbidden desires, to explore fantasy.”
They are also points of entry for viewers new to the genre: Luxurious sets, extravagant costumes and breathtaking dancing create spectacles beyond language.
Priya Pandya, the co-founder of Dhoonya Dance in New York (which exhorts visitors to “Find your inner Bollywood”), sees newcomers in her classes frequently. “We have children whose parents love Bollywood, but have never been to India themselves. We have women who saw a Shah Rukh Khan film and want to dance like his co-stars. Many of my Bollywood dance classes are 70 percent non-Asian.”
“You don’t need to speak Hindi to love Bollywood dance,” Gopal agrees.
From there, it may be just a few short steps to loving the films, too.
||Susan Fry broke her arm on her first visit to India. While recovering in her hotel room, she discovered Bollywood on television. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where she’s free-lanced for Stanford Magazine, Red Herring, The San Jose Mercury News, salon.com and other publications. Her e-mail address is [email protected].