Should Bollywood not produce English language cinema

Who does not know her, the colorful glamorous dance scenes from Bollywood. Indian film is generally decried as colorful, kitschy and romantic. He is loved, hated and often “only” understood as exotic - regardless of his socio-political clout and the constant change in his cinematic narrative forms and themes.

With an annual production of over 1,500 films, the Indian film industry has been considered the largest in the world for decades. About 40 percent of it is produced in the Hindi language.

India is a heterogeneous country - multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual - and has produced many regional cinemas that largely dominate the offerings in the respective language regions. But the commercial Hindi film, better known as Bollywood, is considered a Pan-Indian phenomenon. In addition to the regional cinemas, it is accorded a central role as a platform for cultural debates in public discourse. It can thus be seen as shaping society.

The initially negative term “Bollywood”, made up of Bombay (officially Mumbai since 1996) and Hollywood, was introduced by the English-language press in India in the 1970s. To this day it has developed into a generic term that is used globally for Indian (popular) film.

Films for the Nation. Since film can reach a large and heterogeneous population, it helps to (re) produce and inscribe certain values ​​and symbols. So it is not surprising that the Indian Supreme Court ruled in November 2016 that the national anthem, which for decades was mostly only played after the credits, had to be played before the film - in order to anchor more national pride and patriotism in Indian society.

The flag appears on the screen and the audience is asked to stand up and stand still.

This not only reflects the right-wing conservative political development in India (see article on page 24), but has already provoked verbal and physical attacks on those who did not comply - which in turn led to media discussions. This trend is seamlessly embedded in today's global, hotly fought socio-political discourse, which propagates a national affiliation that can be understood as limited - and excludes other groups or those who act differently.

Taboo breaker. But there is also a more optimistic trend in recent years that could possibly counteract the widespread image of a homogeneous “Hindu” society in commercial film as well. This is the growing influence of so-called independent cinema, which is increasingly taking up problematic (taboo) topics without a moral index finger.

These include, among other things, discrimination, kidnapping children, violence against women or illiteracy. As a representative of India, the romantic historical drama from Bollywood "Lagaan - Once Upon a Time in India" was nominated for the Oscar 2002 (which, in addition to "Unity in Diversity", also retorts cricket as actually "original" Indian). In 2015, on the other hand, “Court”, a regional-language art house film from Mumbai, was put into the running, which has state arbitrariness and freedom of expression on the subject, but did not make it to the nomination.

A subtle change in the narrative aesthetics can also be observed in popular cinema, namely that of an auteur cinema that does without dance interludes. At the same time, there is a shift towards a more realistic and critical treatment of sometimes sensitive social issues, such as illness in old age or the empowerment of women.

New stars and producers, who mostly do not come from the traditional film clans and are now being seen more and more in commercial cinema, could also bring new food for thought with their individual biographies. Among them you will find homosexual producers, but also actresses who are willing to play reputable rape scenes. The growing popularity of these films, primarily in city cinemas, speaks for itself.

The originally longer article had to be shortened for the dossier.

Alexandra Schott worked at the South Asia Institute in Heidelberg and later taught at the Humboldt University in Berlin, where she also did research on film festivals in India. In 2015 she was program director of the Indian Film Festival Stuttgart and currently works for film distributors and festivals in Berlin.