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The temples Borobudur and Prambanan on Java, Balinese Hinduism, stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata that have been brought to life again and again in the shadow play Wayang Kulit - the Indian influence is omnipresent in Indonesia and the archipelago between the Malay Peninsula and Australia since the time of colonial Dutch East Indies also inscribed in the name.

But while the historical influence of India on the development of religious, cultural and political structures of the different peoples of the Malay-Indonesian area has been worked out in innumerable scientific papers, modern India hardly seems to exert a formative influence. The academic silence is surprising: The Indian contribution to at least one central form of Indonesian popular culture, namely the hybrid pop music style Dangdut, which is omnipresent in the island kingdom, is regularly mentioned but not further elaborated. Dangdut, as one reads briefly again and again, combines influences of Indian Bollywood songs with Malay, Middle Eastern and Western musical elements. A closer look at the emerging influences here has so far not been taken. They refer to long-underestimated globalization dynamics in which the popular cultural transnational exchange and assimilation process does not take place from the supposedly dominant West to the non-western periphery, but between two non-western countries.

A special sensual experience in the lower class cinemas

Indian films have been an integral part of modern entertainment in independent Indonesia since 1945. In contrast to Western films, however, they found their audience primarily in the lower social classes. Shown in rather shabby cinemas in the poorer parts of the city, they still offered their viewers a very special sensual experience: even without subtitles or reading skills, the stereotypical actions were easy to understand, the sentimental pathos of typical interpersonal conflict constellations generally understandable, and the characteristic song-and-dance -Sequences invited as an audio-visual highlight to sing along and thus to active emotional identification.

The popularity of Indian films also had an impact on the Indonesian film industry that was nascent in the 1950s. Producers and sponsors were mostly Chinese or, more rarely, Indian-born Indonesians, whose ethnic background, together with the "typical" Indian or Chinese film forms already known to the local audience, led to corresponding products. The director Djamaluddin Malik played a special role here, taking the extraordinary popularity of Indian and Chinese films as an opportunity to produce local versions of these films in the 1950s. In his PERSARI film studios he even worked at times with a specially invited Indian director and Indian technicians. But from the point of view of the western-oriented urban elite, these first national film productions were just as trivial and escapist-oriented as their role models. It is therefore not surprising that the Indonesian productions, together with Indian, Chinese and Filipino films, found their place and their fans mainly in lower-class cinemas.

1991/92 shone TPI (Televisi Pendidikan Indonesia), the third private television broadcaster in Indonesia, from the Indian TV series Ramayana and Mahabharata - and achieved exceptionally high ratings of 48 to 60. Rahmat Suardi von TPI explained the enormous audience response of the two series with a reference to the allegedly deeply rooted "cultural similarity" between India and Indonesia. 1 Picking up on the unexpected success TPI further Indian films in the program. Another commercial broadcaster, Indosiar, also began broadcasting Bollywood films in the mid-1990s. The stigma of vulgar underclass entertainment, however, remained: Bollywood was considered kampungan - "village-like", embarrassing, backwoods, tasteless and trivial, at least in the eyes of the new middle and upper classes of the urban metropolises, who are primarily oriented towards the west and fearful of clear social demarcation.

Stubborn epitome of everything that has been called Indonesia for decades kampungan applies, but is dangdut music. Unlike Bollywood films, Dangdut is viewed as something of its own, "genuinely Indonesian", despite its close relationship with Indian film songs: "Dangdut is the music of my country" was the name of one of the great hits of the last few years. As one of the first dangdut songs avant la lettre the song "Boneka dari India" (A Doll from India, 1956) sung by Ellya Khadam (born 1938) applies, which already mentions India as a central point of reference in its title. That this song, which has long since become a classic of modern Indonesian songs, is a cover version of the melody of the Hindi film song "Sama Hai Bahar Ka" (Film Ashiana, 1952) is hardly known today. Ellya Khadam, who also appeared in early musical films and made a distinctly "Indian" performance style her trademark, received from in 2000 TPI the "TPI Dangdut Award" for their role in creating dangdut as a distinct style of music.

How Dangdut became a real box office hit

As the real "father" of the new genre and still undisputed today "Raja Dangdut" however, Rhoma Irama applies. 2 It was he who spiced up popular Hindi and Malay songs with western pop and rock sounds and, in the early 1970s, also the slightly contemptuous onomatopoeic description of the typical tabla rhythm "dang-dang-dut" based name. With the group he founded Soneta he had a major influence on the sound of the newly emerging genre. A role that should not be underestimated also played his music films, which were explicitly based on the recipe for success of the popular Bollywood films and became real box office hits.

Even after "Boneka dari India", the imaginary "India" of Bollywood films remained an extensively used musical and visual source of inspiration and often also a source of copying for new Dangdu songs. Some of the biggest dangduthits are covers of Hindi movie songs, with the Indonesian lyrics mostly having nothing to do with those of the original versions and many Indonesians are also unaware that they are cover versions. "Sifana" by Rhoma Irama goes back to "Jeeye To Jeeye Kaise" (film Saajan, 1991), and "Mabuk dan Judi" ("Drunkenness and gambling addiction", sung by Cucu Cahyati in the early 1990s) is a cover version of the Bhangra hit "Gur Nalon Ishq Mitha" by Malkit Singh. Since the advent of video clips in the mid-1980s, many dangdut songs have also been underlaid with visual scenes of opulent oriental harem fantasies from 1001 nights and "exotic" Indian dancers. It was the aforementioned Bollywood "friendly" TV station TPI, which was also one of the first Indonesian television stations to include Dangdut music in their programs, others followed in the 1990s. Bollywood and Dangdut became increasingly visible in the national mass media and became the subject of media discourses, from intellectual debates to the usual gossip about stars and starlets.

Rhoma Irama used its popularity early to refer to Dangdut as "The Sound of Islam" resp. dangdut dakwah to propagate and to make a mouthpiece for a religiously and morally inspired social criticism. From Rhomas dangdut dakwah Apart from that, however, almost all Dangdut song texts deal with (mostly lost) love and relationship problems. Unlike the purely western one in terms of the musical idiom Pop Indonesia Dangdut does not mince his words: In addition to the usual love complaints, it is also about poverty, unfaithful husbands, supposed bachelors, irreconcilable class differences, polygamy, alcohol and gambling addiction, and even domestic violence is not a taboo subject. Despite his often explicitly female perspective, Dangdut is just as little committed to socially critical consciousness as mainstream Bollywood films - on the contrary, paradoxically it is about a pleasurable, escapist dance away from the male failure often lamented in the lyrics. Because different than Pop Indonesia Dangdut is mostly music for dancing, and the live performances especially on camp-Ebene are notorious for the erotically daring hip swing variations of some female singers. Their capital is often more in their body shape than in their vocal abilities.

The aesthetics of Dangdut and his performance practices, which are so repulsive and vulgar in the eyes of the elite, in which the most diverse elements - tragic song texts, rousing rhythm, erotic singers, bizarre costumes, trivial pathos, constant mixing of reality and fantasy, social criticism and trivial clichés - form part of a whole as a matter of course, resembles the typical "masala-Ingredients "of a Bollywood film: Something of everything, everything applied as thickly as possible, the more and more colorful, the better. Both offer a kind of" slum aesthetic of excess ": an excess of emotional, aural and visual experience, with Dangdut also the offer of spontaneous sensual-physical identification in dance masala-Mix, therefore, which is able to unite different, even contradicting meanings on different levels of signification and precisely from this derives its immediate sensual fullness.

The big breakthrough for Bollywood in Indonesia that spanned all social classes finally came along Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (hereinafter referred to as KKHH, 1998). The story of little Anjali, who tries to fulfill her late mother's last wish, namely to reunite her father with his first great love from college, touched the hearts of Indonesian viewers like hardly any other Bollywood film. On New Year's Eve 1998, KKHH was born in Planet Hollywood Jakarta shown, then in the cineplex of the luxury shopping mall Plaza Senayan. At the end of July 2001, KKHH found its way onto Indonesian television and triggered a veritable Bollywood boom. Bollywood was suddenly "in", new infotainment formats were produced by the TV stations, bindi and saree elements were taken up by fashion, and the KKHH song could be heard all over the country, in its original version as well as in countless cover versions, in different versions Local languages ​​and different musical genres. The daily newspaper Compas even spoke of an "Indian film fever". 3

One of the main reasons for the new acceptance of Indian films, also in the rising middle classes, may not least be the further development of Bollywood itself. In a conscious distancing from the bloodthirsty action hams of the 1970s and 80s, films were made in the 1990s that Patricia Uberoi describes as a "romantic family drama". Movies like Hum Aapke Hain Koun ...!, KKHH and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham present "clean" relationship dramas in upper-class families, whose members prove to be successful global players move just as naturally in the west as with opulent arranged wedding celebrations. The dirty, violent underworld of the "slum" is hidden, the family lives in a world of western status symbols, global youth culture and international designer fashion and is deeply rooted in local Indian traditions and values. The conflict constellations unfolded in the films revolve around possible forms of reconciling western modernism and consumerism with local norms and moral concepts, i.e., around core issues of sexuality, family and cultural identity. Beyond the fantastic, luxurious surface, they take up deep-seated, often ambivalent desires, fears and fantasies in which Indonesians of all walks of life can easily recognize themselves. And the usual happy ending makes you optimistic, because it shows that you can be successful in global modernity and still remain unmistakably Indian - and thus also Indonesian.

In the meantime, the Bollywood boom of the beginning of the millennium has subsided somewhat, and Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese TV dramas are currently very popular. But Bollywood will certainly continue to be one of the many sources of influence of Indonesian popular culture, not least because of its close "family" relationship to Dangdut. 4


[1] CP / BRE, "Tetangga Dekat Bernama Film India", Compas, October 13, 2002.

[2] On Rhoma Irama see William Frederick, "Rhoma Irama and the Dangdut Style: Aspects of Contemporary Indonesian Popular Culture", in: Indonesia 34 (1982), Pp.102-130.

[3] CP, "Sekarang Masanya Shahrukh Khan", Compas, 3.11. 2002.

[4] A detailed article on this subject will appear as "Intimate Neighbors. Bollywood, Dangdut Music, and Globalizing Modernities in Indonesia", in: Gopal, Sangita and Sujata Moorti (eds.), Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis (forthcoming).



(The article is part of the edition of the magazine südostasien 4/2007 published in cooperation between the South Asia Information Network and the South East Asia Information Center at the Asia House in Essen.)

This post belongs to the focus: South Asia and Southeast Asia.