ETHNIC-BASED CINEMAGOING PRACTICES [A CONTINUATION OF PAPER 4d]
The function of Bollywood in the UK: a cultural bonding of ethnic “cultural clusters”
Introduction: the central issues
There are dominant trends in the present-day world of academia willfully espousing and further promoting equally dominant trends in the world of the mass media that wish to argue that the phenomenon of Bollywood is yet another important dimension of “media globalization”. Both such academic and journalistic approaches would see this “media globalization” as a major force in the postmodern world that bonds people across the globe, whatever be their geographical location and despite their dissimilar cultural starting points. For them, Bollywood is one manifestation of what has come to be described as a “global village”.
One cannot deny that such “bonding” of people across the globe does point to a certain reality – the extensive use of the mobile phone, for instance, obviously attests to this. And yet, one may argue that superimposed upon this general reality there is one other, perhaps even more real [in the sense of concrete] reality, at least as regards the lives of particular individuals belonging to – or creating – specific socio-cultural environments. Such more real reality would water down the ramifications of “media globalization” and the supposed “global village” that it is said to have begotten. In fact, it could water it down to such an extent that what we would have left would be, not one “global village”, but rather an array of many “villages” across the world, each one of which would stand in noteworthy contradistinction to the other. And if that be so, the phenomenon of Bollywood could be said to be primarily bonding particular “villages” and particular localities of specific ethnic groups that are receptive to its own diegetic worldview [viz. that of “Indianness” – cf. Paper 4d with respect to this term]. A perfect example of this would be the case of those fairly well-defined “cultural clusters” evident in places such as East Ham and its environs in the Borough of Newham.
Such a superimposition of an array of localized concrete realities upon a more general global reality would mean that any idea of “media globalization” that discounts these concrete realities may be said to be a mere myth. In this Paper 4e, the first section of which adopts a slightly more theoretical approach to the phenomenon of Bollywood [as opposed to Paper 4d, which concentrated on the presentation of empirical data], we shall attempt to consider the myth of “media globalization” with respect to the concrete manifestation of Bollywood within the UK.
Our purpose in this paper is to show that so-called “globalization” – at least as regards the Bollywood phenomenon – is in fact materialized in the cultural reinforcement of any array of “villages” or localities that reflect their own ethno-cultural milieu. As such, “globalization” will be shown to be a very special type of localization, whereby the cultural products of a “globalizing” center – such as India – are reshaped according to the needs of a receiving periphery. In contrast to the idea of “media globalization”, in other words, we shall try to investigate the local reception of a genre such as Bollywood; and further, we shall try to investigate the localization of content of such genre. Both the form that such local reception takes, as also the localization of cultural content, will be shown to be determined by the “cultural clusters” defining a particular locality. Of course, the general implication would here be that, to the extent that there are cultural differences between “villages” or localities across the globe, there can be no such thing as a homogeneous world culture. And it would be in this sense that the idea of “media globalization” can be said to constitute a mere myth.
Such general implication, being what it is, would not only apply to the case of the UK and its localities. In the case of the latter, we shall need to delineate a relevant framework allowing us to grasp the operation of the Bollywood genre within a locality such as East Ham and its environs. To the extent that India’s Bollywood genre taps the UK as an overseas market, the phenomenon of Bollywood may be said to be a “global” product. On the other hand, and to the extent that such “globalized” product is manifested through a very special type of localization, we shall need to investigate how the Bollywood phenomenon is locally reconstructed within the localities of the UK – it is those very specific versions of such reconstruction that would define the cinemagoing practices of the “cultural clusters” of a region as is “Little India”.
The suggestion that the Bollywood phenomenon undergoes some sort of local reconstruction within a locality such as East Ham seems odd – and yet, and as we shall see below, much of the more rigorous literature on the issue draws precisely such conclusion. At first sight, at least, that type of conclusion seems to be somewhat counter-intuitive: how be it possible that a motion picture produced in India – and which is in itself a finished product – is in some manner “reconstructed” by a receiving public in East London? We shall attempt to explain this process of reconstruction by examining the very specific Bollywood themes that are meant to consciously target the needs of a locality such as East Ham, and which would also mean specific decisions taken by Bollywood producers as to the choice of location for the shooting of their films. As we shall see, typical Bollywood movies targeting Asian audiences in the UK systematically tap the needs of that diaspora, not only by reclaiming areas of London as “Asian space” in terms of thematic discourse, but actually reclaim such areas as real-world location shooting.
This practice of local reconstruction, however, has taken yet another form, and which is as critical as is that pertaining to choice of Bollywood thematic discourse: reconstruction has been further materialized through the very specific manner in which Bollywood movies have been actually watched in UK’s cinemas frequented by Asian ethnic “cultural clusters”. Empirical data presented in Paper 4d gave us vivid descriptions of the manner in which audiences of the Boleyn and Cineworld cinemas would actually enjoy the screening of a Bollywood film – above all, they would create an environment approximating that of an “Indian atmosphere”, and which would therefore allow them to interpret films in terms of their own diasporic psychological mindset. As we shall see below, the fact that Bollywood movies play almost exclusively to ethnic-based “cultural clusters” has meant that watching Bollywood films has been a very strong ethnically-coded practice – the sheer act of watching a Bollywood movie is ethnically marked as Asian. The practice is therefore conducive to the perpetual reproduction of a specific identity that reconstructs what is viewed in cinema theatres in terms of that very selfsame identity.
We shall proceed to argue that, to the extent that the Bollywood phenomenon is an ethnically marked practice in areas such as East Ham, it facilitates local cultural affiliations within particular “cultural clusters” – UK’s Bollywood exhibitions are therefore conducive to the cultural confirmation of such ethnic-based “cultural clusters”, and in that way bolster the ethnic-based cultural self-segregation of these “clusters”.
It shall be shown that this facilitation of local cultural affiliations – and which is tantamount to the bonding of “cultural clusters” – has been systematically materialized both in an Asian-owned cinema theatre such as that of the Boleyn, as also in a multiplex chain cinema as is that of Ilford’s Cineworld [empirical evidence presented in Paper 4d enabled us to fully verify the parallel lines according to which both these theatres have operated – at least as regards the strict ethnically-coded practices of the Boleyn venue as a whole and the equally strict ethnically-coded practices of some of the Cineworld’s screens].
Ultimately, it shall be shown that the findings presented in Paper 4d and those of published research work on the issue confirm each other to such an extent that they allow us to draw one absolutely critical conclusion – viz. that Bollywood cinemagoing practices in the UK are such as to demarcate a clear distance vis-à-vis those of the rest of UK’s “cultural clusters”, and especially so with respect to the cinemagoing practices of White Britons. In fact, we shall discover that the phenomenon of Bollywood as experienced in the Asian “cultural clusters” of East London operates as a conscious alternative to that of Hollywood – and one may go so far as to argue that there are dimensions of this experience which stand in a more or less conscious opposition to the Hollywoodian cultural worldview.
The idea of “media globalization” versus the reality of “many villages”
All of the suggestions presented above are of course somewhat impressionistic and need to be thrashed out more systematically. We may commence by dwelling on the so-called concept of “media globalization” and contrast it to the idea that much of “globalization” has in fact yielded a reality of “many villages” spread across the globe.
Lucia Krämer, whose work we have often referred to in Paper 4d [and which shall remain our central source of reference throughout this first section of Paper 4e], has undertaken a critical review of the literature on the phenomenon of Bollywood and especially as regards its relationship to the wider phenomenon of so-called “media globalization”. Amongst the variety of analysts that she examines is Kai Hafez, whose work has attempted to show why “media globalization” ought to be relegated to the status of a mere “myth” [cf. Paper 4d]. One of the central arguments developed by Hafez is that all such media – and which of course includes the Bollywood film industry – is permeated by ideological discourses that are not in fact “global” in the last instance. Persisting within all such media are dimensions of discourse that are expressive of non-global or even consciously anti-global forces. Hafez, of course, is certainly not alone in pursuing such an original line of thought, as is evident throughout much of Krämer’s study. Very importantly, Krämer observes that “the very notion of media globalization has been questioned. Hafez, for example, calls it a myth because of the lasting importance of local, regional and national dimensions in the development, politics and uses of media” [my emph.]. What is of special interest for our purposes is the reference to the idea of “uses of media”, in that it points to the manner in which a particular Bollywood movie can be put to “use” by socio-cultural forces that are rooted in a particular locality or region. These forces, further, may be connected to [and thus “used” by] wider “national” interests – such as those of a “cultural cluster’s” own homeland, which in the case of East Ham’s South Asian population would be India.
One suggestion here is that it would be impossible to understand the manner in which the Asian “cultural clusters” of “Little India” receive and “use” a Bollywood movie unless one places such “Little India” within the wider context of the Republic of India itself – it is the latter which constitutes what Krämer calls the “national framework”, and which is a cultural, ideological and psychological agency persistently hanging over the life of East London’s “Little India”. And thus Krämer argues that “Despite its transnational dissemination, the case of Indian mainstream cinema is indeed a healthy reminder of the persistence of these national frameworks” [my emph.]. This, however, is not meant to suggest that Asian East Hammers have been mere passive receptors of such “national framework” as emanating from India: they would themselves – and as persistently – “use” it to serve their own particular needs as a diasporic community settled in a fairly alien social environment. The basic point nonetheless is that what is a transnationally – or globally – disseminated genre of Indian cinema has not at all escaped certain salient elements of discourse defined by a specific national, cultural and linguistic character. In itself, this very reality flies in the face of so-called “media globalization”.
For analysts such as Hafez, the idea that the postmodern world has ushered in an era of a “globalized” homogeneous culture is no more than a fabricated reality. Such so-called homogeneity is ultimately fake – the world is in fact deeply split into discrete domains that may be isolated from, or can be even latently opposed to, one another, and it is within such context that the “Indianness” of Bollywood [as also the cinemagoing experiences of East Ham’s Indian audiences] should be placed. Krämer presents her own reading of the work of Hafez as follows – she writes: “For Hafez the media world therefore seems split into geo-linguistic spheres between which, he claims, there is not more but increasingly less exchange…” [my emph.]. Our own examination of cinemagoing practices in a region such as East Ham [as presented in Paper 4d] certainly does verify conclusions drawn by writers such as Hafez: we have clearly seen how audiences have been attracted to Bollywood movies on the basis of the particular Indo-Aryan vernacular used in scripts; and we have as clearly seen how non-Asians would not participate in the Bollywood cinema experience, it in any case being a heavily ethnically-coded practice. Both such observations suggest that the Bollywood phenomenon as practiced in the localities of the UK expresses a specific geo-linguistic sphere that rarely communicates with the rest of the country’s population [and thereby confirming the more general propositions posited by writers such as Hafez].
There is yet another writer on the issue of so-called “media globalization” who has also attempted to show the ideologically manufactured nature of such approach, and whose work has also been critically reviewed by Krämer. The work referred to here is that of U. Shavit, tellingly entitled The New Imagined Community: Global Media and the Construction of National and Muslim Identities of Migrants, Sussex Academic Press, Brighton, 2009. Krämer summarizes Shavit’s findings by quoting him as follows [and which certainly does encapsulate our own tentative critique of what has been designated as “globalization”]: “In terms of media consumption, it is not a global village that has been created by satellites and the internet, but rather many contesting national villages which operate on a global scale” [cf. U. Shavit, p. 50, emphasis in the original]. As is evident in this rather important quotation, Shavit wishes to focus his work on “media consumption” – viz. on the manner in which his “many contesting national villages” actually receive and localize the content of what are supposedly “global” products. And it is to such receptive localization of a phenomenon such as the Bollywood genre that one ought to focus if one wishes to grasp the particular manner in which concrete people situated in concrete localities actually interpret their experience of such genre’s supposedly “global” movies.
The local reception and the localization of content
Generally speaking, if one were to agree with the suggestion that the world is deeply split by a conglomeration of different cultural “villages”, then one would have no choice but focus one’s research work on how products emanating from “global” markets ultimately undergo what is a conspicuous process of receptive localization, whereby the specific reception and localization of a product’s content is determined by a “village” or locality that considers itself relatively split – or at least distinct – from other “villages”. For writers such as Hafez, a so-called “global” product would follow a course of relocation as demarcated by the ethnic contours of a particular split “village” whenever such product carries cultural or linguistic values related to such “village” – the case of Bollywood movies would here be an obvious example, given the content and language of such products. And so Hafez comes to the conclusion, as Krämer tells us, that “Cultural and linguistic differences affect the translocation of media products more strongly than the transmission of goods in other economic sectors”. This enables Hafez to show how a Bollywood movie exhibited in a locality such as East Ham preserves an ethnically-specific identity in contradistinction to other ethnic identities of the UK. While his observation regarding “media products” such as Bollywood must be accurate, it should nonetheless also be pointed out that what he implies about “goods in other economic sectors” remains problematic. While products such as food or clothes transmitted from India to the UK are of course not “media products”, they yet still carry values that can be as specific as those embedded in a Bollywood movie. Our investigation of ethnic-based eating habits in Paper 4b demonstrated that “culturally specific dishes” play as much a role in defining the “cultural clusters” of a local “village” as would a Bollywood film. Similarly, our investigation of ethnic-based attire in Paper 4c went on to show that a Salwar Kameez or a Saree carry ethnic, cultural and/or religious signifiers that define ethno-religious paradigms connecting “Little India” to the Republic of India. These observations are not meant as a side note – rather, we wish to assert that the Bollywood phenomenon is merely one dimension of life that carries values and signifiers which help bond ethnic-based “cultural clusters”. More than that, it is quite obvious that cinemagoing as a practice cannot possibly be easily equated to the far more humanly organic practices of eating or wearing clothes. In any case, let us simply say that all products and artefacts that function as the signifiers of one specific cultural “village” – be these “media products” or not – contribute to the ethnic or national identity of that “village”.
Theoretical contributions made by writers such as Hafez and other like-minded writers do not necessarily belong to marginal sociological trends in the world of academia. In fact, their work is part of a wider trend of thought that wishes to debunk the usual perceptions of “globalization” as a whole and which has yielded a series of so-called “diversity theories”. The latter expression, while itself ideologically-laden [both in academic papers and in the popular press], can nonetheless delineate a theoretical approach that wishes to break clean, not only with the idea of “globalization” per se, but with the very implications of such an idea. “Diversity” is here meant in the specific sense that “global” products are received and localized by consumers in different regions of the globe according to their specific needs and wishes – such products are not therefore “put to use” in any homogeneous manner. To the extent that there is this “diversity” in usage, the very notion of a global homogeneous culture breaks down – importantly, what also breaks down is whatever notion of some sort of global “cultural imperialism”. It is perhaps of some interest to note here that although many of these “diversity theories” emanate from Leftwing scholars, they have come to fully drop the old Marxian theories of “imperialism” articulated by writers such as Magdoff, Sweezy, Baran and others in the 1960’s. For the present-day theoreticians concerned with issues of “globalization” what really matters is the manner in which different localities and regions of the world insist on retaining their own ethno-cultural identities in the face of global market forces.
It is Lucia Krämer’s work that so aptly summarizes this new trend – firstly, and as she writes: “The assumption that media globalization is really cultural imperialism and that it will lead to one homogeneous world culture… clashes with (and has been largely superseded by) diversity theories that call attention to how cultural differences influence the reception of texts and to producer strategies of localizing media content” [my emph.]. Krämer’s reference to “cultural differences” obviously points to the different cultural worldviews of the type of “cultural clusters” that we come across in localities such as East Ham. Further, her reference to “texts” can – as it does – refer to the ideological discourse of films. The producers of Bollywood movies, aware of the specific cultural needs of such “cultural clusters” within the UK, adopt “producer strategies” that “localize” the content of movie discourse so as to satisfy the needs of their catchment area. In so doing, they confirm the heterogeneity of cultural values across the globe – but they thereby also consolidate and homogenize the ethno-cultural identities of “villages” belonging to a wider strand of identity as is that of “Indianness”.
Secondly, and making specific use of the work of Hafez, Krämer also draws the following general conclusion: “Hence, what is commonly termed the globalization of the media can, as Hafez suggests, be regarded more profitably as (g)localization and regionalization or conceived in terms of transnational and geo-cultural flows… where national frameworks retain the strongest influence on the production, dissemination and reception of media texts [or cinema discourse]” [my emph.]. It is within the context of this present-day process of “(g)localization” and/or “regionalization” that the ethno-national discourse determines the content of a Bollywood movie, and as that is received and interpreted in the cinema theatres of venues such as those of the Boleyn or Cineworld.
The case of the UK: a localization and/or local reconstruction of the Bollywood genre
We may now consider this general theoretical approach in its application to the UK, and which would further allow us to understand the manner of operation of cinemas located in and around East Ham, and which exhibit – or have exhibited – Bollywood films to their audiences. We have spoken above of the phenomenon of split villages that are said to have sprouted across the globe according to ethno-cultural lines. To the extent that this is an accurate description of the world in general, one would also have to speak of split “villages” operating within the UK itself – we have of course emphasized such a description of the socio-cultural life within the UK throughout this project, and have done so by using the term “cultural clusters”. Speaking of a split – or fragmented – cultural life within the UK would mean that the manner in which at least certain “global” products are received within the country would be reflective of such fragmentation [the fragmentation or heterogeneity, of course, would be describing how one “village” would be receiving a product in direct contrast to other “villages” elsewhere – but there would be a relatively tight homogeneity within a particular “village” itself]. Naturally, the phenomenon of fragmentation would apply to products that are in some way or other expressive of ethno-cultural paradigms – Bollywood’s “global” products would here be an obviously perfect case of that type of paradigm.
The fragmentation of the Bollywood phenomenon – in the sense explained above – is absolutely clear in the work of Lucia Krämer. When this writer undertakes her own presentation of Bollywood in the UK, she introduces her research project as follows: “This book will present the key features of the British version of the brand and several other discursive constructions of the ‘fundamentally fragmentary’… Bollywood phenomenon”. Krämer’s introductory remarks are instructive – she makes three salient points that tell us much about how [or why] the Bollywood genre operates in the UK in the way it does. To begin with, we are told that she will be discussing a specifically British phenomenon transmitted from India – the first and all too obvious implication is that India’s Bollywood product is of a “global” nature. While this in itself tells us what we all know, it nonetheless also raises a highly pertinent question: why is it that such product has been able to tap an overseas market such as that of the UK and done so successfully over a long period of time? Is there something special about this particular market? And if such exceptionality is due to the ethnographic composition of certain UK localities, what does this tell us about both the product as such and the sentiments of the localities that wish to consume it? Secondly, Krämer writes of a British version of the Bollywood product. This seems to confirm the idea of a (g)localized environment operating within the UK, wherein Bollywood’s overseas market is such as to reconstruct what it receives in terms of the needs of such (g)localization. That which is an apparently “global” phenomenon willy-nilly sublimates into a “local” experience. Finally, and which seems to confirm what has been said above regarding the reality of split “villages” and the impact of this on so-called “global” products, Krämer speaks explicitly of the “fundamentally fragmentary” nature of the Bollywood phenomenon.
In Paper 4d, we had briefly attempted to investigate when and why India’s Bollywood genre would come to permeate the UK, or at least certain localities of this country. We shall here further dwell on the matter, though our exclusive purpose in this case is to understand the nature of the Bollywood phenomenon as reconstructed in the UK’s Asian “cultural clusters”. We have seen that there has been a direct correlation between the resurgence of the Bollywood phenomenon in India – with its new emphasis on the ideology of “Indianness” – and a similar and contemporaneous revival of the same phenomenon within the UK. Krämer has informed us as follows: “The theatrical exhibition of Indian mainstream films in Britain was revived in the early 1990s, when the fact that the middle classes returned to the cinemas in India inspired Asian entrepreneurs in Britain to showcase successful Indian films” [my emph.].
As it so turned out, and as Krämer has observed, “one of Bollywood cinema’s most important overseas markets” would be that of the UK. Of course, the UK would not come to constitute the sole market for Bollywood – we know that catchment areas would also include communities in countries such as the USA and in regions such as that of the Middle East. The important fact here is that all such catchment areas would be characterized by one common denominator of central strategic importance – all would be defined by the heavy presence of South Asian diasporic communities. This special ethnographic composition would be something peculiar to the very nature of all these catchment areas, and which is evident in a locality such as that of UK’s East Ham region. While, therefore, India’s Bollywood industry would certainly be going absolutely “global” by the 1990’s, it would only [or mainly] be doing so within “villages” adhering to very specific ethno-cultural values, and which would in their own way be reflective of India’s national – and often even nationalistic – ideological framework.
Krämer confirms the assertion that it is ethnographic composition which has determined the popularity of the Bollywood phenomenon outside India – she notes: “One key element in the growth of Hindi cinema has been its overseas markets, most importantly those with strong South Asian diasporas, such as the UK…” [my emph.].
The growth of the Hindi cinema in the 1990’s, we have said, would be characterized by a discourse with a special focus on “Indianness” – viz. it would project a specific Indian cultural identity and which would be accompanied by a correspondingly new image of “the good Indian” [as Krämer notes]. It was precisely such type of discourse that would attract the South Asian diasporic communities in countries such as the UK. “This”, Krämer notes, “proved particularly successful with South Asians in the lucrative overseas markets”.
The South Asian diasporic communities that have settled in a country such as the UK, being strong in terms of numbers and geographical cohesion – and wishing to maintain such strength and cohesion in a general environment that would be de facto non-Asian – would not simply be “attracted” to the Bollywood genre, at least not in the sense of a passive attraction to the genre’s ready-made products. While the brand label of Bollywood would naturally maintain a generally dominant “Indianness” in its ideological construction, it would at the same time preserve a distinct ideological “space” so as to accommodate the specific and varying needs of its different overseas markets. It is within this distinct ideological “space” that the reconstruction of the Bollywood genre would take place, and it would be reconstructed in such manner as to meet the exclusive requirements of a “village” community [or communal “cultural clusters”] located in an Asian-heavy region typical of East Ham. The reconstruction itself would be determined by two interconnected actors: the consumers of the locality [or in any case consumers ethno-culturally related to that locality] and the intermediaries between those consumers and the Bollywood industry. Krämer describes this reality as follows: “Since the commodities of the Bollywood brand are consumed and marketed globally, the Indian output [viz. that emanating from India] into the discursive construction of the brand is, though dominant, not exclusive”. The absence of such exclusivity creates the ideological “space” referred to above – Krämer continues thus: “Instead, the perception and construction of the brand varies from one national market to the next, as intermediaries and consumers construct their own local and heterogeneous [vis-à-vis different localities or markets] versions of Bollywood” [my emph.].
It is certainly to Krämer’s credit that the major thrust of her research work is oriented in the direction here outlined. Elsewhere in her book, she writes: “Apart from asking the questions of who actually consumes Bollywood [in the UK], how and why, this study is therefore especially interested in the different constructions of Bollywood in Britain and the changes the concept undergoes when the travelling goods that are Indian mainstream films are locally consumed and adapted for British texts and contexts” [my emph.].
We shall end this presentation of the general framework through which we need to understand the functioning of Bollywood in the UK by quoting the work of Rajinder Kumar Dudrah, whom we referred to in Paper 4d as one example of a writer who undertakes to study the phenomenon of Bollywood from a fairly strict sociological perspective. Dudrah emphasizes the importance of diasporic audiences in determining the very content of Bollywood movies [referred to as “diegetic activity”]; and he further emphasizes the role of such diasporic audiences in determining the manner in which Bollywood movies are produced, whereby members of these selfsame diasporic communities may actively participate in the actual creation of these movies [referred to as “creative collaboration”]. Both of these points are of crucial significance for our purposes, and we shall have to dwell on them further below. Dudrah very interestingly writes as follows: “The Indian and South Indian diaspora more generally is now almost always an important consideration in the production, distribution, anticipated monetary returns and potential audience reach for Bollywood films… Of late, the diaspora’s prominence becomes apparent not only at the level of diegetic activity in Hindi cinema but also in terms of creative collaboration. Cultural producers from the South Asian diaspora are also making their input in Bollywood films through production possibilities” [my emph.]. This reality as described by Dudrah is especially pronounced in the case of the UK – various well-known members of “cultural clusters” based in the UK have played an important role in producing [or in contributing to] a variety of Bollywood movies, all or most productions of which have been concerned with the experiences of diasporic Indians in the UK. In fact, it should also be pointed out here that such “input” has taken yet another form related to the Bollywood phenomenon: quite a number of the UK’s local ethnic-based singers [some of them hailing directly from the neighbourhoods of localities such as East Ham] have participated in Bollywood movies as playback artists [cf. for instance, Shabnam Mahmood, “London’s British Asians look to Bollywood”, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-22391532, 03.05.2013]. By the way, this important matter shall be examined in much detail in a forthcoming paper dealing with the question of ethnic-based music production as practiced in the region of East Ham.
Local reconstruction: Bollywood themes
We can now turn to the question of the local reconstruction of Bollywood movies in the UK in slightly more concrete terms – to do this, we shall examine specific Bollywood themes as manifested in the context of the UK.
It has been argued that Asian “cultural clusters” proliferating in a locality such as East Ham have come to be characterized by a well-defined mindset – a primary aspect of such mindset has been the need to assert one’s identity as an “Asian”. It was so as to satisfy this type of diasporic psychological need that the Bollywood genre would ultimately introduce a diegetic discourse based on the diasporic experience. Further, and again in terms of the needs of UK’s Asian “cultural clusters”, it would also develop an ideological discourse emphasizing the virtues of Indian traditionality and as such traditionality would articulate with modernity. The important point here is that Indian filmmakers would be choosing such types of themes in direct response to the needs of a pre-existing mindset prevailing amongst UK’s Asian “cultural clusters”. They would simply be tapping into a reality that had in any case prevailed in the psychological makeup of the average Asian settler, and which would need to be further fed with cultural symbols expressive of such makeup.
There have been many analysts who have researched the phenomenon of Bollywood in the UK in terms of just such orientation – one such is Rajinder Dudrah, though he is not the only one. With respect to the case of the UK in particular, Krämer notes as follows: “Commentators [such as Dudrah] have frequently claimed that the introduction of a diaspora theme and the thematic emphasis on the negotiation of tradition and modernity that can be seen in many Bollywood films of the 1990s and early 2000s were in fact attempts by Indian filmmakers to tap into precisely such a diasporic psychological constellation” [my emph.] – such constellation being that inherent yearn for the identity of “Indianness” [and as that is “lived” within the UK].
Practically speaking, this need to tap into the UK’s “diasporic psychological constellation” would mean that certain Bollywood movies would actually be shot in locations that spoke directly to UK’s Asian “cultural clusters” – such locations, of course, would be areas of London [as also elsewhere in Britain] which formed part of the experience of such “cultural clusters”. The fact that Britain would be used as a Bollywood location would also play an important role in determining the people who would participate in the production of the particular motion picture – and which would yield what Dudrah has described as “creative collaboration” [op cit.].
And yet, while the Bollywood genre targeting UK’s “cultural clusters” would now be focusing on diasporic Indians settled in a foreign country, this would not at all mean that the Indian homeland would be forgotten – quite the exact opposite. Krämer has shown [cf. especially, though not only, chapter 4 of her study] that Indian diaspora films with the UK as location would be consistently raising “questions of nostalgia”. And in a section entitled “Expatriate Indians in diaspora films”, she explains further: “Though not really an established genre label, ‘diaspora film’ is a useful term for classifying the growing number of Hindi films which, since the 1990s, have put thematic emphasis on the expatriate Indian and his/her relation to the Indian homeland and culture” [my emph.].
The typical Bollywood diaspora film targeting UK “cultural clusters” would not simply be asserting either the reality of “nostalgia” or that of the relation to Indian culture – thematic approaches could go even further. This type of film could also be didactic: it would warn UK’s Asian “cultural clusters” of the dangers of losing contact with the homeland culture, given the dangers of living in the Western world and its own particular cultural and moral values. While, of course, not all diaspora movies would be adopting such ideological strategy, this type of thematic strain would nonetheless be one important defining characteristic of the genre aimed at the UK’s Asian settlers. Krämer, for instance, makes the following critical observation regarding a 2001 Hindi-language melodrama entitled “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” [also known as K3G], which was written and directed by Karan Johar – she writes: “… in ‘K3G’ the loss of cultural roots that may result from living in the West is interpreted as potentially dangerous”. At least one implication of such ideological theme is that the UK as such constitutes a “negative reality” for its Asian settlers.
This important thematic notion of the West and/or the UK constituting a “negative reality” for Asian “cultural clusters” living therein is explored in a number of different ways by the Bollywood diaspora films. In language that is uncharacteristically convoluted, Krämer notes: “Even in films like ‘I See You’…, ‘Kismat Konnection’ or ‘Desi Boyz’, the Western setting paradoxically, yet automatically, highlights, practically ‘ex negativo’, that the frame of values, customs and morals that constitute the dominant point of reference for the evaluation of the characters’ behaviour remains ‘Indian’. This feature is especially important in the so-called diaspora films”. What Krämer means to say here may be elucidated, or further interpreted, as follows: [i] There is a segment of Indians that find themselves living in the Western world, and/or more specifically in localities of the UK [many diaspora film, we have suggested, focus almost exclusively on the life of Indians in Britain]; [ii] This Western world is by definition a “negative reality” [or “potentially dangerous”]; [iii] Diasporic Indians have to “struggle” so as to survive such reality; [iv] Such “struggle” is almost always informed by a “cultural” element; [v] The behaviour of characters within such context of “struggle” is evaluated in terms of specifically Indian values, customs and morals.
For the Bollywood diaspora movie, it is suggested, the success or failure of a Bollywood character “struggling” in an alien – or even dangerous – environment such as that of the prevailing Western culture in the UK must be measured in terms of Indian moral values. There is a further logical implication based on such an ideological approach – viz. that the decisive test of such “struggle” is the extent to which the presence of Indians [and in their capacity as “cultural clusters”] has been able to transform London into “Asian space”. A highly representative example of a Bollywood movie wherein London has been so “transformed’ is that of “Namastey London”, filmed in 2007. The title of the film is translated as “Greetings London” and is an Indian romance directed by Vipul Amrutlal Shah. It is said that the movie was filmed in around fifty locations in Britain, London included [cf. Sarfraz Manzoor, “Cultural Exchange”, https://www.theguardian.com/film, 23.03.2007]. This is what Krämer has to say regarding this motion picture – as she writes: “London is once again represented as an Asian space” [my emph.].
It follows from this that certain typical Bollywood movies focusing on the life of Indian settlers in the UK promote, inter alia, a central ideological discourse that has often been described as “reverse colonialism”. While this is not meant as a critique of the ideological orientation of the Bollywood genre [it has its own historical reasons], it nonetheless does give us an idea of the type of ideological narratives that speak to Asian “cultural clusters” located in regions such as East Ham. With respect to the question of how London [or other areas of the UK] is often transformed into “Asian space” in certain Bollywood movies targeting people like Asian East Hammers, and how this translates into “reverse colonialism”, Krämer makes the following highly perceptive observations: “… in some films Britain has indeed a special status compared to other foreign settings because of its role as the former colonizer. It offers Indian film-makers the possibility of conveying patriotism and national pride, especially when the films effectively transform Britain into an Indian space and thus exercise a form of counter-hegemonic discursive appropriation or reverse colonialism” [my emph.].
We see here that at least some movies of the Bollywood genre targeting the Asian “cultural clusters” of the UK could promote an ideological discourse of “reverse colonialism” for reasons other than those based on a nostalgic relationship with the homeland, or based on the dangers of a “negative reality” as expressed by Western culture, or even based on the assumed superiority of Indian moral values. While all such ideological factors would be partly conducive to the construction of an ideology of “reverse colonialism”, they would not be enough to yield such type of antagonistic discourse vis-à-vis the dominant Western culture prevalent in the UK. Of course, that which would play a decisive role in articulating an ideology of “reverse colonialism” would be what Krämer refers to as Britain’s “special status” in the history of India – put very simply, it would be a matter of “colonizing” that which had once “colonized” you.
Such ideology has permeated a variety of Bollywood movies targeting the diaspora [samples of such movies shall be examined in some detail in the second part of this paper] – it is worth lucidly reiterating the explanation behind such reality, given its extreme importance in determining the self-segregatory proclivities of cinemagoing practices amongst East Ham’s Asian “cultural clusters”. The basic points are as follows:
- For the Indian State and the various ideological organs operating in and around it, the case of Britain is not simply an “overseas market” where it can export its Bollywood commodities. We well know of the history of British colonialism that had once operated so decisively in the Indian subcontinent. Given precisely such history, the function of Bollywood in the UK has as much an economic dimension as it has an ideological one. This is what makes Bollywood’s overseas market in the UK a very special case [i.e. gives it a “special status”] in comparison with whichever other overseas market [such as, for instance, that of the USA].
- India’s response to its former colonizer is natural: its Bollywood industry promotes the virtues of Indian “patriotism” and “national pride”, and does so amongst communities that are in fact expatriates or compatriot “settlers”. India expects of the latter to assert their identity; and the “settlers” themselves expect of their homeland to confirm that selfsame identity.
- This two-way assertion and confirmation of “patriotism” and “national pride” can only but be materialized in the real world through the “transformation” of regions of the UK into “Asian spaces” or “Indian spaces”. The fact that the area of East Ham has come to be known as “Little India” certainly testifies to this.
- The act of “transforming” an area into an “Indian space” constitutes ipso facto a process of “reverse colonialism” – such process, in fact, has also meant the exodus of segments of White Britons from such areas [cf. especially Paper 2b, where we examine the reality of what has been called the “decamping” of White Britons from localities such as East Ham; and cf. Paper 3, where we examine the ultimate demise of the historical “cockney” culture that once prevailed in the area].
- Generally speaking, one may say that this process of “reverse colonialism” has been bolstered by the cultivation of what Krämer has referred to as India’s “long-distance nationalism”, this being the prevailing and overall policy of the Indian government with respect to Indians residing in the UK.
- Finally, such “long-distance nationalism” has taken the form of what we have identified above as “Indianness” – the latter is itself defined in terms of a community’s “ethnic roots”, whatever be that community’s actual place of residence outside India.
Watching Bollywood in the UK: an ethnically marked practice
Now, this particular reconstruction of the phenomenon of Bollywood within the UK would mean that the practice of watching Bollywood movies in an area such as East Ham would necessarily – and as naturally – be ethnically marked as Asian. Much has been written on this matter in the available literature on Bollywood as practiced in the UK – such literature, moreover, fully verifies our own findings on cinemagoing practices in the Boleyn and Cineworld venues as discussed in Paper 4d.
The suggestion that the practice of cinemagoing in areas such as East Ham is essentially ethnically-coded is corroborated by the fact that White Britons – amongst certain other non-Asian cultural groupings in the UK – do not watch Bollywood movies. Krämer’s research findings allow her to make the following very important observation: “The concentration of screens with Bollywood programming in areas with large Asian population groups and the restricted scope of theatrical exhibition for Indian films elsewhere clearly indicate that mainstream Indian films in Britain have… not crossed over to non-traditional audience groups to a significant extent” [my emph.]. What Krämer is telling us here is that both the “concentration” and the “restricted scope” of Bollywood exhibitions illustrate [though have not themselves caused] the fact that groupings such as White Britons have not embraced the Bollywood phenomenon – such choice of “non-traditional” groups has above all been determined by specific cultural preferences.
In discussing the question of Bollywood film distribution and possible attempts that may have been made – for purely economic reasons [viz. the economic dimension of the Bollywood phenomenon] – to attract UK audiences outside the ambit of Asian “cultural clusters”, Krämer has further observed the following: “… distributors’ attempts to cross over to non-traditional audiences have been rare” [my emph.]. The rarity of such attempts – and which could take the form of film subtitling – verifies the fact that the ideological dimension of the Bollywood phenomenon willy-nilly prevails over that of the economic. As already indicated, it has been the factor of cultural preference – on the part of groupings such as White Britons – that has kept them away from the Bollywood cinema. Krämer adds: “Outside Asian communities there is little awareness of which Indian films are being released (and when)” [my emph.].
Such limited awareness on the part of White Britons [as also of other non-Asian segments of the population] as regards the Bollywood cinema comes as no surprise – Indian films in the UK are almost exclusively watched by “cultural clusters” of South Asian origin. As Krämer explains: “The geographical distribution of screens showing South Asian films as well as the distributors’ marketing strategies underline that Indian films in UK cinemas play almost exclusively to audiences with South Asian backgrounds” [my emph.].
It is precisely this exclusivity as to who watches Bollywood in the UK that allows Krämer to conclude that “Watching Bollywood films at the cinema is therefore an activity that is very strongly ethnically coded” [my emph.]. Based on her own findings, it is crystal clear that such “ethnic code” is none other than strictly Asian – as she also writes: “Watching Indian mainstream films in Britain emerges from this analysis as an activity that is still clearly ethnically marked as Asian” [my emph.]. Her analysis, need we say, is based on a systematic examination of the available statistical material regarding Bollywood in the UK and further based on a rigorous examination of the relevant current literature concentrated on qualitative research.
By way of an example, we may refer here to what her own research has come up with in investigating the practical methods used by Indian distributors to help advertize or market Bollywood films in the UK – all such methods indicate the exclusive use of Indian sources, further confirming that the Bollywood phenomenon in the UK is restricted to Asian “cultural clusters”. Krämer describes these practical methods as follows: “The Indian distributors have been happy to restrict their marketing efforts to the Asian communities and to advertise in regional papers and national Asian newspapers and on Asian web sites. They raise interest by posters and information material displayed in cinemas and trust in the force of word of mouth and the fact that British Asians have access to the international sources of advertising for the films, such as satellite TV, internet pages or internationally exported Indian film magazines like ‘Stardust’, ‘Filmfare’, ‘Movie’ or ‘Cineblitz’…” [my emph.]. Krämer’s description of the manner in which Asian “cultural clusters” are made aware of new Bollywood films paints a clear picture of a segregated world of Asian cinemagoing amounting to a “parallel universe” within the UK [as we shall see, the use of this latter term in describing the Bollywood phenomenon in the country is not ours]. So emphatic is this operation of a “parallel universe” that Time Out, which is said to be an “ultimate guide to the best art and entertainment”, does not provide any information on the latest Bollywood movies screened in the UK. Krämer herself notes that “… the information in ‘Time Out’ did not include [at least at the time of working on her study in 2017] the specialized cinemas in the suburbs”.
The work of Shakuntala Banaji [cf. Paper 4d] also verifies Krämer’s findings regarding the exclusively ethnically-coded nature of Bollywood cinema-going in localities such as East Ham. Banaji, like others, has taken the trouble to actually visit cinema venues in the UK that screen Bollywood movies – and she has thus been able to make a number of very interesting observations on the types of audiences that watch Bollywood films in localities of the UK [observations which we intend to consider further below]. On visiting one such venue, she came up with the following absolutely revealing conclusion: “There is not a single non-white face [within the theatre]” [p. 50, my emph.].
In yet another cinemagoing experience that Banaji describes, she would find that while Asians could choose to watch a particular Hollywood movie, non-Asians would not do the same when it came to films of the Bollywood genre. This is what she writes: “… while three of the Asian couples I spoke to were going to see ‘Monsters Inc’ or ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ [both of these being Hollywood movies], not a single non-Asian bought a ticket for the subtitled ‘Haan Maine Bhi Pyaar Kiya’, reminding me of Gary Younge’s lament about the new Star City cinema complex just outside Birmingham” [p. 52, my emph.]. The “lament” concerned the ethnically segregated cinemagoing experience manifested in the cinema complex.
Gary Younge, by the way, is a commentator who has himself written on the question of cinemagoing ethnic-based segregation in the UK – his general observations go as follows: “In this thirty-screen multiplex cinema [viz. the Star City in Birmingham]… globalised culture has been carved into celluloid slots and sold with popcorn. ‘Bichoo, Boys Don’t Cry’ [Bollywood] and ‘High Fidelity’ [Hollywood] are just a few of the films showing within a few hundred metres of each other, but those who are watching exist alongside each other in a parallel universe. This is where Hollywood meets Bollywood (to which six screens have been dedicated) and where different ethnicities congregate but rarely coalesce – a segregated experience within an integrated space” [cf. “The Big Picture”, The Guardian, 26.07.2000, my emph.].
A point of clarification is required at this stage of our presentation. The fact that Bollywood cinemagoing practices in the UK are – as has been stated thus far – ethnically coded, remains an observation that calls for slightly further examination. While all such practices have been quite distinctly “Asian”, the audiences that are engaged in them can be internally heterogeneous. The reality is that the general category pointing to an Asian “cultural cluster” within the socio-cultural formation of the UK is not an exact empirical accuracy: within this general category, one may observe particular sub-categories, or sub-“cultural clusters”. Krämer’s work also identifies this phenomenon when she writes that “within this ethnic framework, the cinema audience is rather heterogeneous. It is drawn from all sections of the British Asian communities” [my emph.].
Banaji’s own observations regarding cinema audiences watching Bollywood films in the UK further confirm this internal heterogeneity. This is how she describes the composition of an audience in some particular cinema theatre that she had visited: “In terms of religion and region there appear to be a few Nepalis, Hindu Gujuratis, Muslims (from India and Pakistan) speaking Hindi or Urdu as well as a few Punjabis. Hindu is the lingua franca” [p. 50]. We note that the heterogeneity is here based on at least two factors: that of people’s religious affiliation and that of their original homeland; the heterogeneity is also manifested in the variety of languages that are spoken [although, and as pointed out by Banaji, Hindi seems to be the basic bridge language].
Having made this clarificatory note regarding the relative heterogeneity of Bollywood-watching audiences in the UK, we need to in any case emphasize that, at least as regards the case of East Ham and its environs, it is the presence of the South Asian element that has prevailed in cinemas such as the Boleyn or Cineworld. This, of course, is explainable in terms of the disproportionally heavy presence of South Asians in the area [cf., for instance, K.S.S. Seshan, “Asian locality in London city”, https://www.thehindu.com, 29.03.2016; cf., as well, Paper 3].
Bollywood in the UK: the bolstering of local cultural affiliations
What needs to be emphasized – above all – is that whatever the internal heterogeneity of UK audiences watching Bollywood movies, the central most important functionality of such type of movies has been the bolstering of local cultural affiliations amongst UK’s Asian “cultural clusters” as a whole. Such cultural affiliations have been effected through a general cultural confirmation of “Indianness” – and it is this socio-cultural phenomenon as promoted by the Bollywood genre that we shall here need to further consider in some greater detail.
The bolstering of cultural affiliations amongst people through an on-going confirmation of their cultural identity is, when that happens, something that can be visible to the naked eye. It is a tangible practice that may be recorded by anyone who takes the trouble to “go to the movies” in his/her capacity as a sociologist [or, perhaps even better, as a social anthropologist]. It is for this reason that we need appreciate the type of research work undertaken by writers such as Rajinder Kumar Dudrah, who actually does attempt to “take sociology to the movies”; does attempt to examine people’s behaviour within cinema halls; and does attempt to investigate the relationship between, on the one hand, what he calls “popular Hindi cinema-going” and, on the other, the formation of “diasporic South Asian identity” within the UK. As has been noted above, the work of Shakuntala Banaji likewise focuses on the formation of identity-based Asian affiliation in localities of the UK. And similarly, Lucia Krämer’s work itself raises and attempts to deal with sociological questions related to the manner in which Bollywood-going in the UK contributes to the cultural self-confirmation of Asian communities in the UK, and thus to their ultimate affiliation as a “cluster” [or, rather, series of interrelated “clusters”]. With respect to self-confirmation, Krämer explains to us that her research work “touches on sociological questions relating to the role of Bollywood for British Asian self-assertion…” [my emph.].
The fact that the role of Bollywood has been such as to promote a cultural “self-assertion” amongst UK’s Asian communities goes on to confirm what we have already asserted above regarding the primacy of ideology in the Bollywood genre. Krämer’s sociological analysis allows her to point to such very primacy by speaking of the paramount importance of the “cultural value” of Bollywood vis-à-vis that of its secondary “market value”, at least with respect to its functionality within the diasporic communities of the UK. Quoting the work of J.P. Singh and Kate House [cf. “Bollywood in Hollywood: Value Chains, Cultural Voices, and the Capacity to Aspire”, APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, 2010], this is how Krämer puts it: “One should keep in mind… that the cultural value of Bollywood ‘has always been greater than its market value’ [in comparison with Hollywood] (Singh & House 2010) because of its cultural predominance in India and its presence among [UK’s] diasporic South Asian communities…”
The “cultural value” of the Bollywood genre has had its historical progenitor in the UK – even as back as the 1960’s, Hindi films would function as part of the process of Asian self-confirmation and/or self-assertion, thereby effecting community affiliation amongst the UK’s early ethnic settlers of that period. This of course concerns the special case of East African Asians – as we know, and according to https://www.minorityrights.org, updated October 2020: “Following Ugandan independence from Britain in 1962 and Kenyan independence in 1963, the governments introduced ‘Africanization’ policies. The wealthy Asian middle classes were an obvious target… During the 1960s thousands of Asian families from East Africa migrated to Britain”. For these Asian families, it was a matter of preserving their collective ethnic identity in a strange world, and one manner of doing this would be through the medium of the then Hindi movie genre, and given the “cultural value” of that genre. Krämer describes this early 1960’s case as follows: “The presence of Hindi films in Britain expanded in the 1960s, when a large number of South Asians immigrated from East Africa and brought with them their experience of how to develop an infrastructure for upholding their culture in an alien environment” [my emph.].
The process – whereby Asians would attempt to develop that type of infrastructure which would bolster their ethnic self-assertion – would yet again be repeated in its own way with the return of Bollywood cinemagoing by the 1990’s. Both the past experiences of South Asian compatriots and the new experiences of incoming settlers would be used to confirm ethnic identity and thereby build affiliatory networks crystallizing into “cultural clusters”. Commenting on the form that the return of Bollywood would take in the 1990’s, Krämer notes: “This development was principally triggered by two Indian blockbusters: the family melodramas ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun…!’ (Who Am I to You, 1994) and ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’ (The Brave-Hearted will Take away the Bride, 1995). Both were… adopting a celebratory stance towards Indian traditions and both obviously struck a chord with British Asian audiences” [my emph.].
Krämer explains that there would now be a new confirmation of ethnic identity by producing movies that would “retain a recognizably Indian quality due to their difference from Hollywood” [my emph.]. Such movies, she continues, would come to “function as a very particular metonymy of the nation by conveying a ‘feel good’ version of Indian culture” – and so they would yet again be celebratory of the cultural traditions of the Indian homeland. Importantly, their attempt to maintain a difference from Hollywood would also mean that this would be a celebration of a certain cultural exclusivity. It would be precisely this type of cinema that would become popular amongst UK’s South Asians by the 1990’s.
It is such types of research findings that would allow Krämer to draw – what we consider to be – extremely important conclusions as regards the nature of Bollywood as a whole, but also as regards its very specific materialization within the “cultural clusters” of the UK. “Bollywood”, she writes, “can be regarded as a cultural marker that refers beyond itself. It is a means for individuals and even social groups to establish cultural affiliations, and its different constructions refer to different social spheres, groups and milieus” [my emph.].
For some theorists at least – and which is reflective of the idea that Bollywood qua “cultural marker” bonds or affiliates social groupings – the genre can be said to possess a certain intrinsic “political” function, at least within UK’s “cultural clusters”. Krämer tells us that “In this sense, Bollywood can also always be regarded (at least implicitly) inherently political” [my emph.]. There is at least one sense in which the Bollywood genre can be said to be latently “political” – viz. by functioning as a medium whereby social groupings such as Asian “cultural clusters” are bonded together on the basis of certain values, it constitutes an identity-based “resistance” to whichever alien values happen to bombard these “clusters” from the outside.
To illustrate the type of work that has been done by certain theorists in exploring the so-called “political” dimension of the Bollywood genre, Krämer considers the sociological writings of someone like Dudrah, which she sees as representative of such an orientation. This is what she writes: “[Dudrah’s] approach seems influenced by the leftist orientation typical of the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies… This political stance informs his interpretation of Bollywood cinema-going in Britain as a deliberate, intrinsically subversive and emancipatory act of South Asian identity manifestation. On the basis of his interviews, Dudrah ultimately claims that his respondents’ social investment in Bollywood media constitutes an affirmation of their eclectic British-South Asian cultural identity in a context where there are hardly any identificatory offers for British Asians in the mainstream media… Dudrah’s main angle on the topic of Bollywood in Britain… is therefore the issue of diasporic identity formation” [my emph.].
While such an approach does seem to confirm much of what we have been observing with respect to the ideological operation of the Bollywood genre in the UK, there are nonetheless a number of clarificatory points that need to be made, and which would somehow qualify certain claims made by writers such as Dudrah. The points are as follows:
- Dudrah’s insistence on the “political” nature of Bollywood is typical of all Marxist or quasi-Marxian approaches to whichever social phenomenon – since time immemorial, Marxists have seen the “political instance” [or power relations] lurking in every nook and cranny of society. Such dogmatic obsessions cannot obviously yield a balanced understanding – or, rather, description – of reality.
- The insistence on the “political” nature of the Bollywood genre also raises a highly problematic issue – viz. how is one to define the term “political”? Marxist or quasi-Marxian understandings of this term have often displayed a blatantly oversimplistic, not to say biased, interpretation of the real world. For instance, the “political” is nowadays frequently presented as an eschatological force expressive of the so-called “political consciousness” of “the oppressed”, and especially when such “oppressed” social groupings happen to be “minorities” struggling against the so-called “dominant ideology”.
- We need to carefully examine how Dudrah himself deals with the “political” dimension of Bollywood: it is supposed to constitute a “deliberate” socio-cultural practice against a reality which lacks “identificatory offers” for the Asian “minority” group. Being “deliberate”, it is a “conscious” determination on the part of Asian settlers to undermine the “dominant” status quo. This specific “consciousness” of such supposed “agents” raises more questions than it is meant to resolve, it being part of a long and rather controversial “philosophical” inquiry as to what constitutes “consciousness” [and we know that all such discussions have remained unresolved].
- Dudrah goes so far as to present Bollywood cinemagoing as a “subversive” practice – which is like wishing to discover “revolution” in various aspects of “ethnic minority” life in the UK. Even worse, he wishes to suggest that such “subversive” practice is “intrinsic” – one possible implication here being that the “subversion” is “inevitable” [yet another Marxist theoretical malady], and which could lead one down the rabbit hole of a quasi-religious “eschatology” [itself a time-honoured Marxist malady].
- And yet, while one may simply reject all such Marxist or quasi-Marxian theoretical contraptions, one can nonetheless salvage at least certain findings presented by the research work undertaken by Dudrah. One may accept, for instance, a more minimalist sense of “resistance” on the part of Asian “cultural clusters” struggling – “consciously” or not that “consciously” – to survive in the alien environment of UK’s Western cultural norms. Theirs may be said to be a self-survivalist struggle for “diasporic identity formation” via a variety of cultural practices yielding collective affiliation or group bonding, one such practice being Bollywood cinemagoing. It is in this very specific – and necessarily minimalist – sense that one may speak of Bollywood cinemagoing as being an “emancipatory act”: it is, in the last instance, an essentially “self-protective” practice on the part of a sub-culture existing within a prevailing UK Western milieu. To the extent that it “protects” itself, it also “emancipates” itself from the relatively alien bombardments of the outside world.
- But there is yet another point that needs to be clarified in dealing with the work of someone like Dudrah. We speak above of what we call “relatively alien bombardments” that may threaten Asian “diasporic identity formation”. By this we mean to stress that such cultural bombardments are in fact merely “relatively alien” – this suggestion, however, would once more water down some of Dudrah’s suggestions regarding the “subversive” nature of the Bollywood genre. While Bollywood cinemagoing may be an oppositional practice vis-à-vis Western cultural norms, it is not so in the absolute sense of “subversion”.
- Although the Bollywood genre may be “lived” by members of UK’s “cultural clusters” as an oppositional cultural practice vis-à-vis the cultural norms of Hollywood, this would not necessarily exclude a certain articulation [or exchange] between Asian cultural values and other non-Asian values. It just so happens that East Ham’s Asians may in fact watch movies of the Hollywood genre, albeit only occasionally. The fact of such reality does not at all contradict the assertion that Bollywood cinemagoing as practiced in a locality such as East Ham actually does bond such “village” along ethnic lines as defined by a specific diegetic worldview [that of “Indianness”]. On the other hand, that selfsame reality – viz. that of articulation or exchange between Asian and non-Asian values – does seem to contradict Dudrah’s idea of a “deliberate subversion”.
- The suggestion that there can be a certain exchange between Asian and non-Asian cultural norms within “cultural clusters” does not at all dispute Dudrah’s observation as regards the “eclectic” nature of British-South Asian cultural identity. Similarly, such potential exchange does not even dispute what Krämer has to say regarding the cultural exclusivity of the Bollywood genre [cf. above], and how this is celebrated in the ideologically different diegetic worldview of Bollywood vis-à-vis Hollywood norms. Both “eclecticism” and “exclusivity”, even in their most nationalist of Indian varieties, cannot constitute an absolutely closed ideological-cum-cultural system – and they cannot since these are “filters” that can only but be mediated by day-to-day experiences exclusive to settlers that have been thrown into a diasporic world set well apart from their homeland.
- We may therefore safely argue that the “eclectic” or the “exclusive” feeds off its environment – albeit an environment which is a decidedly “negative reality” [op. cit.] – so that it may “protect” itself in its self-survivalist struggle to reproduce its particular ethnic-based worldview. As such, it is not necessarily a “deliberately subversive” project – as Dudrah would have us believe. In the last instance, however, it is a self-segregationist practice for it appropriates what is “alien” to it in its own “eclectic” or “exclusivist” terms. Put otherwise, we may say that the “eclectic” evolves and enriches itself within a “negative reality” by co-opting elements of such reality in its own terms. An excellent example of this is the manner in which the ideology of “Indianness” has appropriated an essentially Western medium of communication – viz. the practice of movie-making per se – so as to confirm its non-Western cultural paradigm. And as we shall see in discussing samples of Bollywood movies further below, the Bollywood genre has at times also appropriated certain specific elements of Hollywood itself [without, it should be noted, allowing these elements to violate the bedrock ideology of “Indianness”].
- In summary, we are saying that the Bollywood genre – as experienced by the Asian “cultural clusters” of the UK – is an eclectically self-segregationist phenomenon expressing a certain cultural “resistance” to Western values alien to the original Indian homeland. But such “resistance” is neither “subversive” nor “political” in the strict sense of both these words [i.e. it does not mean to challenge whatever political “establishment” that happens to be hegemonic within the UK].
While the Bollywood phenomenon cannot be said to be of a “political” nature in the strict – or Marxian – sense, it nonetheless constitutes a major “social space” wherein ethnic-based bonding takes place and which yields tightly knit Asian communities within the UK. Such social tightness would mean that the vast majority of people belonging to an Asian “cultural cluster” adhere to or espouse cultural and social norms common to their kind – in doing so, they would also share common preferences as regards the type of British “politics” that are most “protective” of their lives as settlers. We of course know that the overwhelming number of South Asians that have settled in the UK are Labour Party supporters – according to https://www.runnymedetrust.org, February 2019: “Labour remained the most popular party among ethnic minority voters in both 2017 and 2015, receiving 77% of ethnic minority votes in 2017”. One may therefore acknowledge that there is a definite coincidence between Asian Bollywood cinemagoers and supporters of the Labour Party – and it is only in this very narrow sense that “politics” is somehow entangled with an adherence to the Bollywood genre. This particular observation need not be seen as a mere superficial detail: it is a fact of life that the practice of Bollywood cinemagoing may also involve patron exchanges and discussions around everyday political issues [such discussions, by the way, could also include matters revolving around politics in India – cf. Paper 4a, where we discuss the entanglement between religious practices and “Tamil nationalism”].
And so it is in this very specific sense that Krämer is entitled to make the following observations: “Apart from serving as family outings, these screenings [of Indian films have] provided an important social space and networking opportunities for the British Asian communities”. For such communities, Bollywood cinemagoing has been “at the centre of political, cultural and social life” [my emph.]. We intend to further explore Krämer’s reference to “family outings” [and cf. Paper 4d, where the role of the Indian family has been found to play a pivotal role in the life of the Boleyn and Cineworld venues].
Whether of a “political”, “cultural” or “social” nature, the practice of Bollywood cinemagoing in the UK has yielded an affiliative bonding of Asian “cultural clusters” that has transformed the ideology of Bollywood into tangible material manifestations rooted in specific localities. So much so, in fact, that such cinemagoing practices may have even given birth to specific ethnic communities in various parts of the UK. Krämer makes the following extremely interesting observation with respect to such phenomenon – as she writes: “… the screenings [of Indian movies] may have functioned as a pulling factor in the demographic transformation of streets and entire towns… the screenings first attracted an infrastructure of Asian-owned businesses, which catered to the cinema patrons, and… this infrastructure in turn attracted Asians who moved into the respective areas” [my emph.]. To illustrate her point, Krämer refers to one supposedly representative case, that of Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’ area. It should nonetheless be noted that, however “logical” Krämer’s observation may sound, the matter still calls for further empirical verification, which is not forthcoming – and so she wisely confines herself to tentative suggestions. For our part, let us simply say that we are not aware of the extent to which the operation of a venue such as the Boleyn Cinema played its role in the demographic transformation of East Ham.
Local cultural affiliation – via both the multiplex chain-cinemas and the Asian-owned “independent” cinemas
Empirical data presented in Paper 4d, as also the research findings of someone like Krämer, clearly verify that the function of local cultural affiliation – or that of ethnic-based social bonding – would more or less apply to both the multiplex chain-cinemas and to the Asian-owned “independent” cinemas. This fact is beyond doubt as far as the case of the East Ham region is concerned, it being an area where both types of cinemas would survive and operate as venues for the locals [cf. Paper 4d, where we discuss the historically exceptional case of the Boleyn Cinema, which would survive the competition posed by a multiplex cinema such as the Cineworld]. Based on whatever empirical data we could gather, we have tried to show that the socio-cultural functioning of both of these cinemas in the East Ham region was well-nigh identical.
In contrast to the case of East Ham, we know that there are many Asian localities in the UK where the Asian-owned “independent” cinemas have been fully replaced by the multiplexes – in such cases, it is the multiplex cinemas that have taken over the socio-cultural function of ethnic-based bonding. Speaking of the UK as a whole, Krämer notes: “Even if the multiplexes do not serve as a networking space for the Asian communities like the independent Asian cinemas used to do, Bollywood viewing there… still functions as a sort of bonding device, especially as cinema-going is a regular activity for many patrons” [my emph.].
The general point is that wherever Bollywood movies are shown in the UK – and especially given all the social practices that accompany such exhibitions – the effect is more all less the same: it is the existential reality of becoming or being Asian that is reproduced, thereby bonding ethnic-based “cultural clusters”. This can happen in both Asian “independent” cinemas [where these still survive], or in particular screens of multiplex chain-cinemas, or even within a settler’s own home. Krämer quotes Dudrah on this as follows – according to his own findings, the “act of viewing Bollywood films in Britain, whether in the personal space of the home and/or in the public sphere of the cinema, can be considered as a cultural practice wherein notions of becoming and being ‘Asian’ are able to flourish on the terms of British Asians themselves”. With respect to all of Bollywood watching – wherever it happens to occur in the UK – Krämer herself draws the following general conclusion: “Due to the ethnic almost-exclusivity of Bollywood cinema-going, it… exudes the flair of being a specifically Asian process of cultural identity formation” [my emph.].
Local cultural affiliation – the Hindu family
In Paper 4d we examined in much detail how such process of Asian cultural identity formation would be materialized in the theatres of both East Ham’s Boleyn Cinema and those of Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema – we did this by considering who it was that frequented these venues and how audiences behaved therein. We shall now have to consider some of the relevant published literature on Bollywood cinemagoing in the UK, and shall present what such literature has to tell us about the “who” and “how” questions. The presentation shall run in more or less parallel lines with that in Paper 4d – as we shall clearly see, all data provided by such studies fully corroborate our own findings.
It is above all the Hindu family – in its capacity as Bollywood audience – that would play the pivotal role in local cultural affiliation and “cluster” solidification. Shakuntala Banaji’s various visits to UK theatres screening Bollywood films allow her to make the following observation regarding the types of audiences watching such films – she writes, very simply, that “This is a ‘family’ audience” [p. 50].
Krämer herself makes some extremely important observations regarding the role of the UK Hindu family in Bollywood-watching. Making use of data available in Bollywood Batein, 2004 – which is a qualitative report prepared by researchers working for the British Board of Film Classification – she writes: “Anyone observing the cinema audiences for Hindi mainstream films in Britain will be struck by the sheer number of families among them. While many persons also attend the films in groups of friends (often of the same sex), there is a striking tendency to watch Bollywood films with family. These family groups can comprise up to three or even four generations, as some cinemas accommodate this kind of family viewing by allowing very small children into the auditorium. The phenomenon of Bollywood family viewing is based on the widespread perception that Bollywood movies are usually suitable for the entire family, that is, devoid of explicit sexual scenes (Bollywood Batein 2004: 7). Moreover, Bollywood viewing serves as a family experience ‘especially where there (are) members of the family in the household who sp(eak) little or no English’ (Bollywood Batein 2004: 23)” [my emph.].
Although Krämer’s observations are here crystal-clear, it would be useful to simply highlight the basic points that she makes and comment on the possible implications of these:
- It is pointed out that when one speaks of the Hindu family unit as being pivotal in the solidification of Asian “cultural clusters” through the watching of Bollywood films, one in fact means an involvement of almost the whole spectrum of generations that compose the extended families of the settlers.
- This would mean that the practice of Bollywood-watching helps reinforce Indian cultural identity through the tightening of relations across different generation groups. Youngsters, for instance, are thereby initiated to – or remain in close contact with – the mores of the presumably more traditionalist older generations. There is even a certain cultural commerce between youth and members of the extended family unit that remain non-English speakers [and which would mean some sort of exchange between Indian ethnic languages and the English language itself].
- Bollywood-watching thus enriches the Hindu family experience in all [or most] of its manifestations: the sheer contact amongst different generation groups within cinema theatres reproduces the cultural roots of the entire family. Because Asian “cultural clusters” are primarily composed of extended family units, Bollywood-watching thereby reproduces these “cultural clusters” as such. [Such observations, however, are not meant to suggest that relations between the young and old within a Hindu family are absolutely conflict-free – we shall consider this matter further below].
- The typical White Briton watching a Hollywood movie would not be accompanied by his/her small children in cinema theatres – the practice is usually prohibited by the cinema itself and would in any case be considered uncivil on the part of the rest of the audience. This does not at all apply to screens exhibiting Bollywood movies [we have recorded in Paper 4d how both the Boleyn and Cineworld venues would be open to children of whatever age]. The practical implication of this would be that the Hindu family watching a Bollywood movie would not need to be “split” for the occasion – quite the opposite would occur: it would in fact assert its unity as a family unit. As we have seen in considering both the Boleyn and the Cineworld cinemas, the presence of the whole family – with small children or even babies included – would determine a very specific “atmosphere” within the auditorium. This “atmosphere” would be distinctly “Indian”.
- As Krämer also points out, Bollywood movie-watching allows for the participation of the whole family as Bollywood is “devoid of explicit sexual scenes”. One may say that this is a fairly accurate observation, at least when contrasted to the case of Hollywood. It should further be noted that the absence of unrestrained sexual scenes in the Bollywood genre relates to the ideological discourse of “Indianness”, and the cultural norms that it upholds.
The general conclusion is that both the multiplex chain-cinemas serving Indian audiences and the “independent” Asian-owned cinemas [where these still exist] have come to function in such manner as to perpetuate a cohesive interrelationship between a succession of age-groups and their concomitant mindsets within Asian communities. This is how Krämer puts it: “Linking persons of most disparate ages it [Bollywood viewing] creates a generational continuity” [my emph.].
Thus, when Banaji observes the type of patrons that enter a theatre screening a Bollywood movie, she notes by way of an example: “Six men, all clearly 30 plus and accompanying families” [p. 50, my emph.]. She further observes that a cinema audience “Consists primarily of women aged 30 plus as well as little children, some in prams, some of primary-school age” [ibid.]. And she tells us that “The younger women have come with kids and prams rather than with other youth” [ibid.].
Local cultural affiliation – Asian women
Such observations may now allow us to move, from our focus on the Hindu family, to the more specific case of Asian females as Bollywood-viewing patrons – while Asian females usually watch movies together with the rest of the family, they may also do so on separate occasions. Here too, in any case, it is the social function of local cultural affiliation and solidification that prevails within cinema theatres. And yet, and as we shall see, the role of Asian females in materializing such social function could at times be said to be of a type more or less specific to that gender. This specificity in the type of role females have played [or are playing] has been put down to a variety of factors, and which would include female preferences for particular screening times; probably different preferences as regards choice of movie [although we do not have enough data to verify this]; and different reactions – perhaps more gender-specific – to what is being watched. A combination of such types of factors could yield different experiences of the Bollywood phenomenon between males and females, and which would mean that the latter contribute to cultural affiliation in their own specific manner [it should be pointed out, however, that none of all this is in any way related to so-called “gender studies” – and we need say this because we do not mean to imply that “gender identity” should be seen as in some way superior to the realities of ethnic identity and the prevalence of “cultural clusters” that the latter has yielded in the UK].
Banaji’s observations seem to suggest that one preferred screening time for Asian females is that of daytime showings – she notes the following: “The notable absence of young men at this showing [which she attended] was repeated throughout my observations at daytime showings [in various locations around the UK as well]. Similarly, the preponderance of 30 plus women in the audience was also a feature of other observations” [p. 50].
More specifically, it seems that Asian women usually attend such daytime screenings over weekdays in particular [as opposed to the weekends, where the whole family unit would be attending screenings]. Banaji suggests that the assemblage of Asian females in cinema theatres during weekdays could be said to contribute to what she refers to as a “social confluence” amongst them, and which would be just one dimension of cultural affiliation within the Asian “cultural cluster” as a whole. She writes: “… during weekdays Hindi film showings in cinema halls in London appear to be places of social confluence and/or refuge for groups of 30 to 60-year-old South Asian women” [ibid.].
There are some indications that Asian women prefer different genres of Bollywood as opposed to male preferences [regarding the six different sub-genres within the general Bollywood genre, cf. Paper 4d; presumably females would opt for the more “romantic films”]. Krämer touches on the issue of gender-based preferences when she tells us that Bollywood Batein [op. cit.] “identifies different genre preferences among male and female viewers…”. As already noted, we do not intend to explore this any further, given the absence of specific data to further illustrate such observation.
What is certainly of much interest is the manner in which Asian females have received the experience of watching Bollywood movies, and which may perhaps be contrasted to male experience. A factor determining the specificity of the female experience has been the fact that Asian females – perhaps in contrast to males – would more often than not commence their Bollywood-watching at home and then only gradually move out to the cinema theatres. This would have had a certain effect on their impressions regarding the movies they watched, and which would further determine particular reactions, whether at home or – sometime later – in a cinema theatre. It is yet again the work of Banaji that provides us with invaluable information on this matter, and it is therefore worthwhile quoting her on one of her case-studies. The case we shall present concerns three female members of a British Asian family who would – in the early 1980’s – watch Hindi movies at home, via a videocassette recorder [VCR].
Banaji introduces her case study as follows – she writes: “Other viewers… watched Hindi films from early childhood… Padma, a 22-year-old, British-Nepali student, recounted in a playful manner both the experiences of her mother and aunt, as well as her own experiences, watching Hindi films in different contexts…” [p. 51].
The interviewee Padma narrates her early experiences as follows: “[When I was a kid] back in the early eighties we didn’t used [sic] to go to the cinema we had a secondhand VCR and my dad would come back from the restaurant, ’cause he’d live in the restaurant ’cause he didn’t have the cash to travel there every day, and then he’d bring us five tapes and he’d go, ‘you’ve got to watch ’em all today ’cause I’ve got to take them back tomorrow’. (laughter) And my mum and my aunt – we lived in a joint family – would be really confused and they’d put this film in and they’d go, ‘Right there’s Amitabh Bachchan (pause) and Jaya Bahaduri (pause) and she dies in that movie’, and the next film they’d put in and she’s alive again and they’d be like, ‘What on earth happened? She died!’ (laughter) I started off watching pretty early, I was like glued to the TV” [ibid.].
Based on what Padma tells us, we may draw the tentative conclusion that at least a certain number of Asian females must have started watching Hindi films [precursors to Bollywood proper] from a rather early age. We may further draw yet another tentative conclusion, already alluded to above: it does seem that many Asian females started watching Indian films at home, by using a VCR [on the other hand, we do know that many Asians, both male and female, would in any case be watching Hindi movies though videocassette recorders in the decade of the 1980’s and even further on – cf. Paper 4d regarding pirate Bollywood videos]. But specifically as regards Asian women, the transition from home-viewing to cinemagoing could be described as somewhat traumatic, thereby determining their own experience of the Bollywood genre, at least from a retrospective point of view. Interviewee Padma continues as follows: “I think mum still gets confused now when we go to the cinemas… Then, my uncle took my aunt to the cinema when they first got married and she was only 16, yeah, and like she told me, ‘it was all dark and scary and it was really horrible’, she had to shuffle past people in the dark and then ‘this thing played and I didn’t even know the language’…” [ibid., my emph.].
Padma speaks of two Asian women – her mother and her aunt – who had once been highly active home-viewers of Hindi movies [and which would even amount to the viewing of five films in one single day]. Such an intensive experience within the walls of their own home and in direct relation to a privately-owned VCR would ultimately mutate into something much more “public” and somewhat more socially complex – that of collective cinemagoing. We note that Padma’s aunt would feel confused and horrified on her first outing to a cinema – this is understandable as it was a first experience, and given the age of the young lady. But what is of perhaps even greater interest is that Padma’s mother “still gets confused now” – and which would suggest that the initial experience of home-viewing has left its indelible mark on the woman. This could point to a gender-specific reaction to Bollywood cinemagoing, based on the particular experiences of this gender in the UK. To the extent that this is accurate, one could say that Asian females would contribute to the cultural affiliation of cinemagoing through their own very particular meditative behaviour within cinema halls.
It is of some interest for us – given our focus on the East Ham region – that Padma’s mother would ultimately be visiting cinemas such as the Boleyn, amongst others. Padma informs us as follows: “Now we go to the cinema… there’s one in East Ham…” We assume that Padma must be referring to the Boleyn Cinema, it being the most obvious example of a Bollywood screen that has operated in the area [cf. Paper 4d, with respect to the history and operation of East Ham’s Boleyn Cinema].
Padma then goes on to describe the manner in which Asian females – including herself and other members or friends of her family – would experience such cinemagoing. Although we intend to focus a little more closely on the question of patron behaviour within cinema theatres further below, we may here simply quote what Padma has to say regarding such behaviour as it points to the specificity of Asian female experiences within cinemas. Padma writes: “I watched ‘Kabhie Kushie Kabhie Gham’ [this 2001 melodrama is also discussed by Krämer, cf. above; Krämer spells the title of the movie in a slightly different manner]... with my mum – me, my aunt, my cousin and like a whole group of Asian Bengali women friends of theirs… We were all crying right from the beginning and when Shah Rukh Khan comes out with his sequinned shirt, a friend of my mum’s comes over to us, like leans over to us, and says, ‘He bought his shirts in Green street!’ (laughter). We were all sitting there going, ‘is it good, is it good?’, ‘Yeah it’s good’, ‘Are we crying yet?’, ‘Yeah, we are!’… (laughter)” [pp. 51-52].
In condensed form, this quote certainly contains interesting data that may be used – as pointers – in trying to understand what it is that happens when Asian females assemble in a cinema hall so as to watch a Bollywood movie. Although, as mentioned, we intend to deal with the question of Asian behaviour within UK’s Bollywood screens elsewhere, we may at this point simply isolate the following features, all of which would deserve further research:
- What we have here is, first of all, a family outing to watch a Bollywood movie – but this is a specifically female family outing, and which is also accompanied by female friends of the family.
- The Bollywood movie is experienced or appreciated in a specifically female manner: above all, there seems to be an overwhelming female emotionality [“crying”].
- One can detect the almost “primordial” female obsession with clothes, and how such obsession is directly related to what is seen on the screen – by the way, we need notice the reference to Green Street in particular, which constitutes a major hub of clothes stores in the environs of East Ham [cf. Paper 4c, where we discuss ethnic-based attire worn in East Ham, and where clothes shops lining Green Street are discussed in much detail].
- We notice how the female company of patrons is continually talking, remarking and even moving around the cinema hall – as we shall see in discussing the question of behaviour [and precisely as we have seen in examining the cases of the Boleyn and Cineworld venues], this type of conduct is an almost ubiquitous phenomenon within UK screens exhibiting Bollywood films.
We shall conclude this short discussion regarding Asian women and the phenomenon of Bollywood by simply mentioning an issue of some relevance here, but which nonetheless seems to remain paradoxical. The issue concerns the overall number of Asian females that tend to watch Bollywood movies in the UK vis-à-vis that of the number of Asian males.
On the one hand, Krämer makes the following observation concerning the relative numbers of Asian males and females watching Bollywood movies in the UK – she writes: “… the existing research indicates that overall Bollywood-viewing in Britain is a more female than male pursuit. ‘Bollywood Batein’, for example, states that women ‘appeared to be the most avid viewers of Bollywood’…”
And yet, on the other hand, Krämer refers to the same source of information, Bollywood Batein, which is said to have found that “among the more conservative/older members of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, cinema-going (in general) was regarded as a ‘male only’ activity and it was not felt to be appropriate behaviour for women to go”.
Of course, one may say that Asian women have preserved their avidity for Bollywood-viewing despite the alleged feelings of certain segments of their community who happen to be more “conservative” and/or who belong to older age-groups. Further below, we shall be discussing the fact that Bollywood-viewing is not a universally accepted activity amongst UK’s ethnic-based “cultural clusters” [and especially with respect to Muslim settlers]. It should in any case be admitted that one may find internal cultural and “moral” contradictions within whichever “cultural cluster”, however much a “cluster” may be cohesive in relation to other non-Asian socio-cultural groupings – and this is especially so given the full spectrum of generations that constitute any ethnic-based “cultural cluster”. This would naturally also apply to Bollywood cinemagoing as an ethnically coded activity practiced by different generation groups.
Local cultural affiliation – the question of youth
This now brings us to a consideration of the special question of youth and its role in local cultural affiliation and confirmation through the practice of Bollywood cinemagoing. Above, we have seen how the typical Asian audience of UK’s Bollywood screens is characterized by a definite “generational continuity” [as Krämer has put it]. Within this general age spectrum one must also include the presence of young people – from their pre-teens to the various stages of adolescence – in cinema theatres exhibiting the Bollywood genre.
We may begin this rather brief examination of the relationship between Asian youth and the Bollywood genre by presenting just one anecdotal sample of a young Asian East Hammer and his great love for Bollywood. In an article published in the Newham Recorder in 2019, we read as follows: “Haider Ali from East Ham was a huge fan of Indian movies before ending up in one after being spotted by the makers of the forthcoming comedy Mental Hai Kya, or Are you Mental?” [my emph.]. At the time of writing, Ali was a New City Primary School pupil aged eleven years old – he was therefore in his “tween” years. The Recorder further tells us that this young schoolboy “dreams of being a [Bollywood] star” and is now “a step closer after featuring in a Bollywood film” [cf. Jon King, “East Ham schoolboy to feature in Bollywood movie Mental Hai Kya”, Newham Recorder, 05.03.2019]. This case is of some interest in that it illustrates what Rajinder Kumar Dudrah has termed “creative collaboration” [cf. above], whereby an East Hammer may directly participate in the creation of a Bollywood movie. To the extent that it is mostly young diasporic Indians that engage in such “creative collaboration”, the whole process must serve to tighten relations between at least some of the UK’s young Asians and the Bollywood genre. While such latter observation may need further verification, we can in any case say at this point that the case of Haider Ali does point to a certain youthful affinity with the Bollywood genre. Ali’s love for Bollywood is not, as we shall see, an isolated case.
It is precisely because of such affinity with Bollywood that Banaji’s 2006 work focuses on “the young audiences” [as the title of her study indicates, cf. Paper 4d], and how such young audiences relate to Hindi films. And when Dudrah undertakes his own investigation [also in 2006] as to how “sociology goes to the movies” [cf. Paper 4d], it is the young South Asians that he focuses on, and how these “Diasporic South Asians… are… amalgamating and recreating Bollywood film cultures into their everyday social lives”.
Of course, it is an established fact that the role of youth in whatever socio-cultural formation is a complex one and, as in the case of the role of females, contributes to the internal contradictions of whichever socio-cultural formation [but without necessarily destabilizing it]. The manner in which UK’s Asian youth amalgamates and recreates the Bollywood genre in its own life is of course one particular manner in which the “cultural cluster” to which it belongs actually reproduces itself – it is in any case Bollywood per se that youngsters are amalgamating and recreating, and not [at least primarily] the cultural mores of Hollywood. And yet, the specific manner of youth cannot be equated to that of other age-groups – and further, such manner is itself internally heterogeneous depending on a variety of other variables, such as gender, level of education, income bracket, personal psychology, and so on. It is for this reason that Banaji is forced to make the following observation at the outset of her study – she writes: “… my observations and interviews in London suggest that young British-Asians have different and sometimes more ambivalent experiences watching Hindi films” [p. 53].
Both the difference in experience and the ambivalent reactions of UK’s Asian youth have to be kept in mind throughout whatever study of their life experiences vis-à-vis Bollywood – and yet, it would be of sociological importance to identify some common denominator underlying the experience of young Asian Bollywood audiences: it is the extent to which such commonality exists that is of major interest in an examination of ethnic-based “cultural clusters” and their relative internal cohesion.
A careful examination of Banaji’s research work on UK’s Asian youth certainly does allow us to trace some common denominator that seems to circumscribe the experiences of this particular category of people in relation to the Bollywood genre. It also allows us to trace certain important commonalities that circumscribe the experiences of both young and old, thereby establishing the “generational continuity” that we have referred to above.
Banaji examines the Bollywood cinemagoing practices of UK’s Asian youth by focusing on two distinct manners in which such cinemagoing occurs: firstly, in cases where young people visit a cinema with their families [Category 1] ; and secondly, in cases where young people visit a cinema with their friends [Category 2]. She then goes on to subdivide both of these two basic categories of cinemagoing into three respective reasons as to why young people would choose to participate in such social activities. We may present – and attempt to interpret – her analysis as follows:
- Category 1; reason 1: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their families “with willing participation in such a cultural bonding ritual and form of sociable entertainment” [p. 53, my emph.]. In this important case, young people willfully or consciously participate in practices – with their family networks – that bolster local cultural affiliation and confirmation of their identity-based “cultural clusters”. Here, the common denominator of ethnic identity and cultural choice applies both in relation to older generations as also amongst the very youngsters themselves.
- Category 1; reason 2: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their families “as reluctant adjuncts to parents, ‘dragged’ along but preferring Hollywood films” [ibid]. In this particular case, we have a segment of Asian youth which does, in the last instance, de facto bolster the Asian family unit – and thus the “cultural cluster” – through the medium of Bollywood cinemagoing. But these youngsters do this unwillingly so, being more attracted to the Hollywood genre [it has already been noted above that Bollywood-viewing does not always and necessarily exclude Hollywood-watching]. The basic point here is that the Asian “culture cluster” maintains its cohesion through a grudging obedience on the part of youth – and thus Bollywood-viewing yet again wins the day.
- Category 1; reason 3: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their families “as passive members of families willing to participate but not particularly interested in the films” [ibid.]. Here, the participation of youngsters in Bollywood cinemagoing with their parents is conscious and willful, albeit passive. Yet again, we have a de facto bolstering of the Asian “cultural cluster” through the medium of the Bollywood genre. By the way, the question of Asian youth “passivity” – which ought not to be reduced to a mere grudging obedience to parents, though may be related to it – raises the issue of the parent-offspring interface within ethnic-based “cultural clusters”, and it thus definitely deserves in-depth research in investigating the formation of internal cohesion within such “clusters” [this matter, of course, is well beyond the scope of this paper].
- Category 2; reason 1: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their friends “for pleasure because all are Hindi film fans” [ibid., my emph.]. Here we have a clear case of an overarching cultural cohesion amongst young people which willy-nilly bolsters local cultural affiliation and confirmation of their Asian “cultural cluster”. The case is important, in that youngsters bolster their ethnic identity spontaneously and absolutely independently of their parents. The almost subconscious spontaneity of the matter is clearly evident in that youngsters do not deliberately choose to watch a Bollywood movie for any reason other than that they simply enjoy doing so. The pleasure they get out of the Bollywood genre is simply “automatic”, so to speak. This case is indicative of a common cultural denominator across age-groups, albeit expressed “from a distance” between the old and the young within the context of the “generational continuity” referred to above.
- Category 2; reason 2: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their friends “because there is a need to show allegiance/loyalty to distinctively ‘Asian’ as opposed to ‘Western’ cultural forms” [ibid., my emph.]. This extremely important sub-category of Bollywood cinemagoing speaks for itself: young Asians consciously reject “Western” cultural norms and deliberately wish to assert their adherence to the ideology of “Indianness” – and do that independently of whatever ethical or other “obligations” to their families. That they assert their own “Indianness” independently of their parents yet again points to a common cultural denominator with the older generations of the “cultural cluster” to which they belong, and which is again expressed “from a distance”.
- Category 2; reason 3: Asian youth watch a Bollywood movie together with their friends as a result of “a mixture of both these attitudes” [ibid.] – viz. for reasons combining both 1 and 2 of the present Category 2. The obvious implication here is that Asian youth indulge in Bollywood cinemagoing because it offers them, not only youthful pleasure, but also an opportunity to assert their non-Western Indian identity. Need we say that, yet once more, there is an implicit common cultural denominator that consolidates the overall cohesion of the ethnic-based “cultural cluster”.
It is not for us to measure the accuracy of Banaji’s research findings – to the extent that what she has found more or less approximates the reality of UK’s Asian youth, we may draw the following very basic conclusions:
- All of the cases of youthful Bollywood-viewing that she has identified tend, in the last instance, to bolster the cohesion of the ethnic-based “cultural cluster”.
- Such bolstering of cohesion may take place in a manner that is not necessarily willful [as in the case of a grudging obedience to parents – Category 1; reason 2].
- Alternatively, the bolstering may take place through a youthful attitude that is somewhere in-between conscious will and the absence of will [as in the case of a passive acceptance of parental initiative – Category 1; reason 3].
- All the other identified cases of youthful Bollywood-viewing – be it Category 1; reason 1, or Category 2; reasons 1-3 – fully bolster the ethnic-based “cultural cluster” in an absolutely conscious and/or willful manner, and do so either with or even without the participation of family networks.
Banaji concludes her observations based on this particular set of findings as follows: “… almost all of those whom I interviewed were self-declared fans of Hindi cinema…” [my emph.].
Categorizing the different forms of youthful cinemagoing, and further categorizing the alleged intentions behind such cinemagoing, can be useful – it may help illuminate what it is that truly happens when young Asians watch a Bollywood movie and it may help to highlight common cultural denominators that have come to characterize the different members of a community. But while we may accept the basic findings of such method, we should at the same time acknowledge the limits of whatever categorization – all forms of categorizing are ipso facto abstractions of reality. The complexity of the young Asian mindset is evident when Banaji interviews the 22-year-old Padma [cf. above]. Evaluating this young person’s views regarding Bollywood movies, Banaji has no choice but to admit such complexity – as she writes: “… [Padma’s] assessments of the films’ ideologies moved, like those of many of the young viewers I interviewed, between critical skepticism and acceptance, depending on the extent of her cultural, political and life experience in relevant areas” [p. 52].
And yet, and despite such complexity, Banaji can detect that young Padma’s relationship to the Bollywood genre – whether at a personal or social level – was in the last instance a confirmation of the identity of her own ethnic-based “cultural cluster”. This is how Banaji puts it: “Padma’s viewing of Hindi films was, at different times, social and personal, a link to her community roots and an enjoyable pastime” [ibid., my emph.].
This perception of a young person’s linkage to the community, however, is itself complex. In examining the different categories of cinemagoing above, we noticed cases where young Asians would only grudgingly accompany their parents to the cinema, or they would visit a Bollywood theatre without the company of their parents. They would thereby assert their independence vis-à-vis their parents – by extension, they would also be asserting their independence vis-à-vis certain segments of the community itself. Thus, and as in the case of Asian females, youngsters would have their own preferred screening time for Bollywood movies. While, as we have seen, Asian females would prefer daytime shows, youthful Asians – as a relatively autonomous social category – would prefer evening showings. The reasons for this are of great interest, relating either to their particular responsibilities as students, or to their perceived relations with family networks. Banaji notes: “When I asked young people outside evening showings of Hindi films why they don’t go during the daytime, responses varied from, ‘Why would I go anywhere where I can bump into my relatives?’ and ‘I’ve got school/college’…” [pp. 50-51]. It is as interesting to note how such youthful cinemagoing practices would determine the “atmosphere” within a cinema theatre [cf. Paper 4d with respect to the “atmosphere” that has prevailed within the Boleyn and Cineworld cinemas] – Banaji writes: “The character of the audience totally changes the character of the film experience” [this matter will be discussed further below in examining patron behaviour within cinema venues].
Both the linkage to community roots and the relative autonomy of the youthful mindset are absolutely real realities that can both contradict and complement each other. Their complementary nature is evident in a variety of ways – all such ways come down to what Dudrah has called the “amalgamation” and “recreation” of Bollywood film culture into the everyday social lives of South Asian youth [cf. above]. He provides us with a perfect example of how such youngsters “amalgamate” and “recreate” Bollywood popular cultural activities by referring to a very special use of the mobile phone on the part of this age-group. Dudrah tells us that he has observed the emergence of mobile text messages using “the vocabulary of Hinglish” – viz. “spoken Bollywood film Hindi and English words articulated together”. Such youthful “Hinglish”, he explains, constitutes an “urban street slang” amongst the young South Asians residing in the UK [my emph., throughout].
While the use of the “Hinglish” slang in mobile text messages certainly does point to a youthful rootedness in the cultural practices of their “cultural cluster”, there are nonetheless still other important pieces of evidence that point to a similar direction. One such is the manner in which young female South Asians are dressed on visiting a Bollywood screen. In Paper 4c, we have discussed how the type of ethnic-based attire worn in a locality such as East Ham could be “semiotically charged”, “powerfully coded” and essentially a “signifier of difference” – and we further examined how a piece of clothing such as the Salwar Kameez could “carry” all of such cultural values. Now, on recording her observations of young audiences watching Bollywood films in the UK, Banaji notes that she had seen “Twelve teenage-looking girls, all but three dressed in salwar kameez” [p. 50, my emph.]. We do understand that such evidence may be considered anecdotal, and from which it would be unwise to draw any general conclusions regarding Asian youth attire in cinema venues. On the other hand, the popularity of the Salwar Kameez amongst female South Asians of various ages has more or less been verified in our examination of ethnic-based attire [cf. Paper 4c]. One may therefore say that Banaji’s observation seems to at least complement our own findings regarding ethnic-based attire as worn in UK’s Asian “cultural clusters” generally.
We can conclude at this point that both the use of “Hinglish” and the choice of ethnic attire amongst young South Asians points to a certain rootedness within their “cultural cluster” – both the special usage of the mobile phone and the special choice of attire are cultural practices closely entangled with the Bollywood cinemagoing phenomenon in the UK. As already mentioned, this is not at all meant to deny the generational differences that do apply to Bollywood audiences – and yet, such differences do not annul the common cultural denominator that also applies across the “generational continuity” of such audiences. Regarding the question of generational differences versus trans-generational conformity within the UK’s typical Indian family, one may briefly mention here the work of Marie Gillespie, Television, Ethnicity and Cultural Change, Routledge, London, 1995. This work, which focuses on the “consumption” of televised Hindi films by Punjabi youth in the UK, draws three basic conclusions: [i] there are identifiable differences in the manner whereby different generations within the India family “consume” the televised Hindi films; [ii] by watching such films, Punjabi youth “recreates” for itself the cultural traditions defining the Punjabi diaspora; [iii] generally, Punjabi youngsters both “challenge” and “reaffirm” parental traditions.
Bollywood audiences in the UK: patron behaviour in cinema venues
Having dwelt on the special categories that constitute UK’s Bollywood audiences – from the Hindu family unit to Asian females and the Asian youth population – we may now briefly examine Bollywood audiences in the UK by observing their behaviour in various cinema venues. All that is presented below regarding patron behaviour should be read side-by-side with our own findings regarding the Boleyn and the Cineworld cinemas [cf. Paper 4d]: both sets of data fully verify one another.
Banaji makes the following observations as regards what happens during the viewing of a Bollywood movie in the UK: “Little boys wander around and talk to their parents, climb over seats and ask for food. Several of the older women chat softly during songs and some even get up to walk around or change seats to get a different view… The older women are at pains to ensure that some of the young women are enjoying the film. It appears that the choice of outing was theirs and several times I hear the question, ‘Well, what do you think?’, and replies like, ‘It was quite boring but it’s looking up now’, ‘The acting isn’t that good, but Karishma’s sarees are good’, or ‘The songs aren’t that good’ from jeans-wearing teenage girls to their aunts/mothers” [p. 50]. This quote encompasses a variety of types of behaviour within the cinema theatre that need not be further discussed as they all speak for themselves – interestingly, we yet again notice the apparent female obsession with clothes, in this case with reference to “Karishma’s sarees” [cf. our discussion of Asian women audiences above, and their reference to Green Street clothes shops].
Specifically as regards the behaviour of young children in the course of daytime shows [which, as already mentioned above, happens to be the preferred screening time for Asian females], Banaji notes: “The manner in which younger children walked around during the showing and moved seats was another feature common to most daytime showings”.
With respect to Bollywood audiences of both sexes and of various age-groups, Banaji further observes that “Some sit together before the show to exchange news, although they move to sit with families when previews begin” [ibid.]. This quote again verifies the importance of the family unit in watching a Bollywood move, and especially in determining audience behaviour within the theatre: many patrons ultimately gather together as families as they settle down to watch their film [to the extent, that is, that they ever do settle down – cf. our notes regarding both the Boleyn and the Cineworld venues].
Finally, Banaji also makes a rather important observation regarding the behaviour of young Asians within theatres, and which could be symptomatic of the mores and cultural practices of an age-group that tends to “reaffirm” parental values [cf. above] – she writes as follows: “There is absolutely no flirting, no holding hands, no young people sit together…” [ibid., my emph.]. One may assume here that this type of youthful behaviour would more often occur when in the presence of parents within an auditorium – but given the lack of specific data on this matter, it shall have to remain an open question.
The Bollywood phenomenon in the UK: its function as an alternative culture
Our overall discussion of the Bollywood genre in the UK – and especially as regards its function in the cultural bonding of Asian “cultural clusters” – seems to verify the idea that this socio-cultural phenomenon is such as to delineate a difference between itself and the rest of UK’s “cultural clusters” – it may thus be said to operate as an alternative to all of the rest of the cultural practices that prevail in the country. We shall end this first section of our present paper by dwelling on the idea of UK’s Bollywood as being “different” and “alternative” vis-à-vis the rest. The following points are here presented as food for thought:
- Krämer’s research work draws the general conclusion that, despite Bollywood’s supposed “transculturality”, it is a genre which – at least as regards the case of the UK – has emerged as a phenomenon of “difference” [from the rest], of “distance” [from the rest] and/or of “Othering” [this latter designation, however, is a presumptuous little term simply suggesting that the genre views non-Asians as “others” or as cultural “aliens”]. This is how Krämer summarizes her own findings: “… Bollywood emerges as a phenomenon of difference and Othering. For although Bollywood is a global media form and can therefore be read as an index of transculturality, in the British context its connotations of Indianness often have the result that (cultural) difference is in fact emphasized”. Krämer’s conclusion, of course, seems to be closely related to Gary Younge’s observation [op. cit.] that the Bollywood phenomenon as practiced in the UK constitutes a “parallel universe” to the point of being a “segregated experience”. The implications of such suggestions are, to say the least, of much importance as regards the general thrust of our own project in investigating the locality of East Ham.
- Also closely related to the above, Krämer has drawn the conclusion that UK’s Bollywood genre must be “appreciated as an important alternative to Hollywood’s morals, values, storytelling styles and implications of cultural imperialism” [my emph.]. With respect to “cultural imperialism”, Bollywood must be appreciated as a genre that offers Asians an ideological discourse functioning as an alternative to such “imperialism”.
- Dudrah’s work, by way of an example, fully complements Krämer’s findings regarding the functioning of Bollywood as an alternative ideological force – he writes: “… Bollywood is able to serve alternative cultural and social representations away from dominant white ethnocentric audio-visual possibilities” [my emph.]. We need note Dudrah’s important reference to the “dominant white” ethnocentrism within the UK socio-cultural formation – above all, of course, he is pointing to the “hegemony” of Hollywoodian morals, values and styles.
An examination of sample movies screened in the Boleyn and Cineworld venues
We are now ready to undertake an examination of the types of Bollywood movies that have been exhibited in venues such as East Ham’s Boleyn Cinema and Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema. In this second section of the present Paper 4e, we shall thus return to a presentation of more empirical data retrieved in the course of our own work and in line with our research as presented in Paper 4d.
Sample movies shown at the Boleyn Cinema
In 2019, the Boleyn Cinema would be showing the Bollywood movie entitled “Bharat”, which in English simply means “India” [and which in this case refers to the name of the film’s protagonist]. This Hindi-language drama film was directed by Ali Abbas Zafar.
It is of great interest to present the manner in which Zafar considers his own work in the Bollywood genre – this is what he has to say: “We need to be proud of who we are [as Indians]. When you sit inside a theatre and see a film which deals with human emotions and with that, when you make sure there is an extra thread which makes you feel proud of what our country and value systems stand for, it automatically raises the bar… To be patriotic and nationalistic is a good thing. It brings people together… I am a proud Indian and I would like to see my country up there, to set a bar that we are no less in terms of the technology and intelligence that we have” [cf. Shilpa Jamkhandikar, “Interview: Ali Abbas Zafar on… nationalism”, https://www.reuters.com, 20.12.2017, my emph.]. It goes without saying that Zafar’s own understanding of his work as a Bollywood moviemaker should be compared and contrasted to all that has been discussed in the first part of this Paper 4e – and especially with respect to the intrinsically “political” function of the Bollywood genre.
Perhaps it is in the context of such clearly – although not exclusively – ideological strategy, that Zafar’s “Bharat” should be evaluated. It is a movie that is said to focus on India’s history – according to Wikipedia: “It traces India’s post-independence history from the perspective of a common man and follows his life from the age of 8 to 70”. A review of the film written by Renuka Vyavahare in the Times of India tells us that this movie is an ode to the Indian family and its “noble” struggles to survive in the course of over six decades, from 1947 to 2010 [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 06.06.2019]. Writing in the Firstpost, Anna MM Vetticad describes “Bharat” as a “hesitantly political” film, a “plodding trek through history” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 05.06.2019].
Zafar’s focus on the proud history of a struggling nation is perhaps best encapsulated in the words of the protagonist’s father – these are the words to his son, Bharat: “A nation is made up of people, and people’s identity comes from their family. The whole country resides in you, Bharat”. The reference to the “nation” [or “the whole country”] is naturally related to the ideology of “Indianness” as discussed above; the focus on “family” would automatically have appealed to the typical audiences of the Boleyn Cinema which – as we have seen in Paper 4d – have been primarily composed of the Asian joint family unit.
This movie was released in India on June 5, 2019, and it was released on the exact same day in East Ham’s Boleyn Cinema [cf. the cinema’s Facebook Page, “Boleyn Cinemas UK”, which informs us that “Bharat directed by Ali Abbas Zafar… is all set to release in the UK on June 5th!”]. We have already discussed elsewhere this simultaneous interaction between India’s Bollywood industry and the cinemas of the UK exhibiting Bollywood movies for Asian “cultural clusters” [cf. Paper 4d].
In 2020, the Boleyn Cinema would be showing the movie entitled “Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo”, directed by Trivikram Srinivas. Quite a number of East Ham locals [patrons such as Raghu Manchambatla and Murali V. – cf. Paper 4d] have indicated in their Google Reviews that they had visited the Boleyn Cinema so as to watch this particular film, which is a Telugu-language Tollywood production [cf. Paper 4d concerning the Tollywood film industry]. The title of the movie is based on words taken from a famous Telugu poem and means the palace [or house/building/home] where the God Vishnu resides [cf., inter alia, Suhdakar Rao, https://www.quora.com, 26.06.2021].
The director of this movie, Trivikram Srinivas, has always taken a keen interest in Telugu literature [cf. “A Memoir on Trivikram Srinivas”, https://www.ciniphile.wordpress.com, 09.08.2020]. The film itself pays tribute to famous Tollywood personalities; its storyline, further, is said to be intertwined with Telugu folk dances. We may therefore safely say that “Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo” is a motion picture targeting above all Asian audiences attracted to Telugu culture.
Such culture is centered around the joint family unit – in response to this reality, we are told that “Trivikram’s craft is known for [themes such as] courtship, family and marriage” [cf. Wikipedia]. In the movie under discussion, the director “weaves a family drama” [cf. Jalapathy Gudelli, https://www.sify.com/movies, 28.01.2020]. His purpose is to narrate a story wherein the protagonist struggles for the protection of the biological family unit, and especially when such unit is under threat.
It is said that “Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo” is “a feel-good family entertainer” [cf. Jalapathy Gudelli, op. cit.], which in some sense makes of it an “escapist” movie. Of course, for an Asian settler in the UK, this type of Tollywood movie enables him/her to “escape” from the reality of a relatively alien environment and to “escape” into a world that is expressive of Telugu values. In the movie, that which one may “escape” into is precisely that of “Vaikunthapurramuloo” – viz., and as alluded to above, one’s own “home” [on this point, cf. Neeshita Nyayapati, https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 13.01.2020].
Also in 2020, the Boleyn Cinema would be screening the movie entitled “Pattas” [which, according to Wikipedia, means “Firecracker” in English]. This is an Indian Tamil-language martial arts film produced in that same year – as a Tamil production, it belongs to the Kollywood sub-type of the Bollywood genre [cf. Paper 4d]. It was written and directed by R.S. Durai Senthilkumar, who comes from Karur, a city located in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The storyline of this motion picture is fairly simple and is described by a Times of India review as follows: “A petty thief comes to know of his illustrious father and takes on the man who murdered him to bring to limelight [sic] the ancient martial art form that his father practiced” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 15.01.2020]. By the way, the protagonist is played by Dhanush, who works predominantly in the Tamil cinema.
The narrative discourse of “Pattas” may be said to have a double intention: [i] to glorify what we may call “fatherhood” [and which relates to the importance of the Tamil family unit] and [ii] to glorify the “ancient” or traditional culture of the Tamil. The Times of India review identifies this double purpose as follows: the protagonist struggles “to avenge the murder of his father,… and bring glory to Adimurai, the ancient martial arts form that he [the son, like the late father] practiced” [ibid.].
Firstly, as regards the importance of Tamil “fatherhood”, a review written by the Behindwoods Review Board tells us that “a major chunk of the plot” revolves around how the dead father “influences” the son [cf. https://www.behindwoods.com, 15.01.2020].
Secondly, as regards the equally important Tamil traditional culture, Sreedhar Pillai – writing in Firstpost – makes the following important observations: “Kollywood commercial cinema makers love to dwell on the forgotten arts or ‘rich Tamil traditional culture’, which had its roots in villages. Here [in the movie], we are reminded of the Tamil traditional but forgotten martial art form Adimurai…, which used to flourish in villages of the [Tamil Nadu] state” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 15.01.2020, my emph.].
“Pattas”, therefore, is a movie that seeks to raise Tamil cultural awareness – it does so by delving into one of the many dimensions of age-old Tamil cultural practices. A review written by “Moviebuzz” confirms this as follows: “Pattas serves to raise awareness on Adimurai, a less heard of traditional martial art form of Tamil Nadu” [cf. https://sify.com/movies, 28.01.2020, my emph.]. Similarly, the Times of India review [op. cit] informs us as follows: “Every once in a while, our Tamil filmmakers stumble upon a forgotten or dying ancient art form and come up with a film glorifying it and bringing it to public consciousness… With Pattas, Durai Senthilkumar wants to do for Adimurai, a less heard of traditional martial art form from Tamil Nadu, what Indian [a 1996 film directed by S. Shankar] did for Varmakalai [inter alia, a form of Tamil alternative medicine] and 7aum Arivu [a 2011 film directed by A.R. Murugadoss] did for Bhodi Dharman [a legendary Buddhist monk and former South Indian Tamil prince]” [my emph.].
Based on the latter quote, we note that “Pattas” is therefore only one amongst many other Kollywood films that seeks to raise Tamil cultural consciousness.
Sreedhar Pillai [op. cit.] gives us some information on the target audiences of a motion picture such as “Pattas”, although he limits his observations to the case of India exclusively – this is what he writes: “Durai [the writer/director] writes his stories keeping the emerging urban youth, and tier-1 and -2 family audiences in mind. It makes sense as Dhanush fans love him as a city dweller and a rural guy who wears Veshti”. We should note, firstly, that “tier-1 and -2 family audiences” refers to families living in India’s metropolitan cities and/or densely populated urban areas. Secondly, we note that a “Veshti” is a traditional Tamil Nadu attire that is closely related to the Dhoti – cf. Paper 4c, with respect to the Dhoti, where we have seen that this attire is also worn by some Asians in a locality such as East Ham. Although this quote is specifically focused on the case of India, it does raise a series of questions regarding audiences in the UK. Some of these questions are the following:
- To what extent would the urban youth of a locality such as East Ham be attracted to an “ancient” or traditional form of Tamil martial art? And in what particular manner would they express such attraction? The matter calls for further research, although it is beyond the scope of this paper on the Bollywood genre – merely for the sake of interest, we note that various martial arts classes do take place in the locality of East Ham [cf. Paper 4a, where we examined in some detail the “Silat” martial arts training sessions taking place in the area, but which concerned Muslim youth in particular].
- To what extent would the young people of a locality such as East Ham be attracted to a generic type of cultural figure – such as that of Dhanush – who combines urban and rural cultural paradigms in his mode of life and/or mode of attire? Again, the question would have to delve into the manner in which East Ham youth would be attracted to such urban-rural hybrid, if at all. That type of issue, of course, can only be approached through extensive on-the-ground research. All we can say at this point is that the Bollywood genre has generally promoted such urban-rural relationship through its discourse of “Indianness”, and especially through the manner in which many Bollywood films have presented a tight articulation between the virtues of traditionality and the life of Indian modernity [cf. our discussions in the first part of this paper].
- To what extent would the typical Asian Easthammer family-as-a-whole empathize with the “Pattas” hero and what he represents? The question cannot be answered without keeping in mind all that has been discussed in the first part of this paper. Generally speaking, we may simply reiterate here that it was the Indian family that the creators of the “Pattas” movie had in mind as their prime target audience. Sreedhar Pillai [op. cit.] notes that “Pattas” is “a typical Kollywood festival special… targeted at… family audiences”. And “Moviebuzz” [op. cit.] writes as follows: “On the whole, ‘Pattas’ is packaged as a commercial entertainer for Pongal family audiences”. “Pongal” [or “Diwali”] refers to the multi-day traditional “harvest festival” of South India, particularly in the Tamil community – we have seen how “Diwali” celebrations are also consistently practiced throughout the Hindu community of the East Ham area [cf. Paper 4c, where we discuss the relationship between this festival and the purchasing of particular ethnic-based attire].
It was also in 2020 that the Boleyn Cinema would be screening the movie entitled “Sarileru Neekevvaru”, written and directed by Anil Ravipudi, who works in the Telugu cinema. This is therefore a 2020 Telugu-language Tollywood movie that has been presented as an “action comedy” – the movie title may be translated as “Nobody can match me” [cf. Wikipedia]. Shubham Kulkarni tells us that “The film revolves around… a proud Army officer… [It] begins in the beautiful valley of Kashmir as the Indian Army… conducts a sudden hit operation” [cf. https://www.koimoi.com, 11.01.2020].
We shall need to dwell on this particular motion picture in perhaps some greater detail as it constitutes an excellent example of the Bollywoodian discourse of “Indianness”, a central theme referred to throughout this present Paper 4e [as also Paper 4d]. We may begin by presenting its basic storyline. In a review written in the Times of India, Neeshita Nyayapati explains that “Ajay Krishna (Mahesh Babu) is an orphan and a soldier serving at Kashmir” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 11.01.2020]. She continues: “Ajay Krishna… is the true-blue soldier posted at Kashmir who will disable bombs without safety suit on and walk into operations without a helmet on his head – that’s how you know he likes to live life on the edge and is the hero because he has nothing to lose” [ibid.].
Another major character in the storyline is Professor Bharathi [played by Satti Vijayashanthi, who also happens to be a leader of the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party and is above all considered “The Action Queen of Indian Cinema”]. In the story, and according to Neeshita Nyayapati, “Professor Bharathi… is a righteous professor and single mother of three, with one son already lost during [military] service” [ibid.]. Nyayapati explains further: “Professor Bharathi… is a patriotic woman and a single mother who has lost her eldest child when he was serving in the army and is yet ready to send her second son (Satya Dev) to serve too” [ibid.].
Nyayapati tells us that “How Ajay steps up when she’s in trouble [i.e. the professor] forms the crux of the story” [ibid.].
In a Greatandhra review, Venkat Arikatla clarifies the film’s storyline even further – he writes as follows: “Major Ajay Krishna (Mahesh Babu) who is stationed in Kashmir army base leaves for Kurnool to inform professor Bharati [sic] (Vijayashanthi) that her son Ajay (Satyadev) is battling for life after getting severely injured in an operation… During his train journey, he meets a girl Sankruthi (Rashmika). Once he lands in Kurnool, he comes to know that Bharati lost her job and is hiding in a faraway place when a politician threatened her… How Ajay Krishna takes up her battle as his and what is [sic] the issues she is facing is the rest of the drama” [cf. https://www.greatandhra.com, 06.03.2020].
It is absolutely important to point out that this storyline carries a distinct and intentional message – beyond doubt, therefore, we can say that “Sarileru Neekevvaru” is a “committed” or an ideologically “engaged” film. Nyayapati [op. cit.] explains such intentionality on the part of the film’s director as follows: “… Anil seems to want to hammer the message home instead of letting the audience think. The jokes get repetitive, so do the scenes, the catch lines and all that talk of soldiers serving at the border and patriotism, greatness of Alluri Seetharama Raju are repeated so much, you just wish there was a way to tell the director you get it!” [my emph.]. By the way, we should note that Alluri Seetharama [or Sitarama] Raju is a well-known “Indian revolutionary” who had been involved in the Indian independence movement of the late-19th/early-20th century. Leader of the “Rampa Rebellion” of 1922, he had been executed by the British [cf. Wikipedia]. The film’s reference to this overly patriotic historical figure tells us precisely what it is that informs Anil Ravipudi’s ideological “message” to his audiences.
One such message is that Indians should “serve their country” and be “protective” of its people – Nyayapati writes: “Mahesh Babu does a good job of playing a man who will serve the country, crack jokes and protect” [ibid.]. A review written by IndiaGlitz informs us of the intentions of the movie as follows: “The film is an advertisement for compulsory army training, which the hero paints as an elixir of all ills plaguing the society” [cf. https://www.indiaglitz.com, 11.01.2020].
The intentional message, therefore, is clearly didactic – the hero of the movie is prone to delivering near-endless speeches meant to instruct ideologically. As Arikatla [op. cit.] observes: “His [Ajay Krishna’s] loud talking and speeches also irritate sometimes but this is an intentional act” [my emph.].
There is, above all, a definite Indian “nationalistic fervour” that characterizes the ideological discourse of “Sarileru Neekevvaru” – it is a value-laden motion picture promoting a well-defined moral system. Most importantly, it is just one in a long string of Bollywood and/or Tollywood movies that do exactly that. When Manoj Kumar R. wishes to introduce “Sarileru Neekevvaru” in his review of the film published in The Indian Express, he places it in a particular context which he describes as follows: “Our mainstream movies are a solid way to gauge the mood of the day. And if you look at the kind of movies that have been making big bucks at the box office… in Bollywood, it is clear as day that nationalistic fervour is on the rise” [cf. https://www.indianexpress.com, 12.01.2020, my emph.]. The IndiaGlitz review [op. cit.] tells us of “highly charged and patriotic scenes” and of how the protagonist plays what is referred to as a “moral science universe” role [viz. promotes a moral system akin to “Indianness”]. A review by Sageetha Devi Dundoo, published in The Hindu, further informs us as follows: “Mahesh’s introduction happens in Kashmir where he stands in awe and respect of the Indian flag…” [cf. https://www.thehindu.com., 17.01.2020]. It is obvious, therefore, that the narrative of the movie is deeply value-laden, and especially as regards Telugu moral values as part and parcel of “Indianness”.
The Telugu-specific “nationalistic fervour” is evident in a variety of ways, not least in the movie’s rather stirring “Sarileru anthem” [called as such by many reviewers], and which is sung in the Telugu language. The film’s Telugu-specific cultural orientation would mean that its nationalism is further coloured by traits expressive of the Telugu ethnolinguistic group [evident both in India and in the Telugu diaspora]. Manoj Kumar R. [op. cit.] points to this specific cultural element in his review of the film – he writes: “Mahesh Babu has played the role of Major Ajay in his latest movie Sarileru Neekevvaru. Ajay may be a trained soldier, but he’s a quintessential fan of Telugu cinema at heart. He behaves like a typical Telugu hero, who is very particular about his looks and his judgments are driven by hyper-masculinity” [my emph.]. And he continues: “Sarileru Neekevvaru is all about man, masculinity and manhood. Anil Ravipudi unapologetically establishes that being aggressive is the key quality of a ‘complete man’. However, he has been reasonable when it comes to the handling of patriotism. It really strikes a chord, when Ajay asks civilians to behave responsibly in society to honour the sacrifices that our soldiers make to protect them at the border” [my emph.]. It is also interesting to note that the setting of Kurnool has often been used to shoot Telugu-language Tollywood movies – Manoj Kumar R. makes the following observation: “The actual story is set in Kurnool in Rayalaseema region, which has been an inspiration for numerous violent Telugu films for decades now”.
Generally speaking, one may at this point underline that that which defines a movie such as “Sarileru Neekevvaru” is a combination of certain specific elements, many of which may be said to define the Bollywood genre as-a-whole. The definitive elements – albeit not at all exclusive of others – are the following:
- The element of patriotism or nationalism in the movie’s ideological discourse [and which may be coloured by particular cultural dimensions of one of India’s ethnolinguistic groups, such as the Telugu for example];
- A large-budget production intended for “blockbuster” status, and thus also making use of India’s superstars;
- A preference for the “Masala” type of movie [cf. Paper 4d] – this type is a mixed genre type of Bollywoodian film that may combine action, comedy, romance, drama and/or melodrama.
All of the above elements definitely apply to “Sarileru Neekevvaru”. Quite a number of reviewers point to all or at least some of these elements in their appraisal of the movie. Manoj Kumar R. [op. cit.], for instance, writes as follows: “Telugu actor Mahesh Babu is the latest to hop on the bandwagon of big movie stars who want to look cool while riding the wave of patriotism”.
Similarly, Sageetha Devi Dundoo [op. cit.] describes the movie by informing us that it constitutes “an entertaining cocktail of masala, comedy and nationalism”. And she continues: “Unlike the recent Hindi films that stoke the fervour of nationalism in all seriousness, when a Telugu superstar plays an Army officer, there’s room for mass masala moments with a rousing background score by Devi Sri Prasad”.
Finally, and as already noted above, this “cool” Telugu superstar playing in a blockbuster movie as is “Sarileru Neekevvaru” has to carry on his back – so to speak – the heroic tradition of an “Indian revolutionary”, Alluri Seetharama [or Sitarama] Raju. And thus Dundoo observes: “Anil Ravipudi isn’t content showing Mahesh Babu as a superstar, he compares him to Alluri Sitarama Raju”.
Sample movies shown at the Cineworld Cinema
In 2015, the Cineworld Cinema would be screening a major Hindi-language Bollywood movie, entitled “Bajirao Mastani”. It would prove to be very popular around the globe amongst Asians, as also amongst locals of the Ilford-East Ham region and other areas of the UK with an Asian population. We may remind ourselves of one patron of the Cineworld Cinema who had, in 2015, written as follows [cf. Paper 4d, already quoted therein]: “Having read most of the [Google] reviews here I was worried about my Cinema trip to Ilford (all the way from Cockfosters) to see the 1740hrs screening of Bajirao Mastani yesterday. My niece and I were pleasantly surprised!!!...” According to Wikipedia, this movie had grossed over 356 crore [denoting ten million] rupees at the box office, thus becoming a major commercial success and one of the highest-grossing Indian films of all time. It was also one of the most expensive Bollywood films ever produced.
“Bajirao Mastani” is an epic historical romance movie directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Based on the Marathi [or Maharashtrian] novel Rau by Nagnath S. Inamdar [1923-2002], the movie narrates the story of the Maratha “Peshwa” Bajirao [1700-1740 AD] and his second wife, Mastani. It should be noted that Bajirao had been the seventh “Peshwa” [or “Prime Minister”] of the great Maratha Empire – the man is considered by many to be the greatest Indian cavalry general.
Srijana Mitra Das, writing in the Times of India, introduces the movie as follows: “Legendary warrior Peshwa Bajirao battles Mughals but falls in love with half-Muslim Mastani – what happens when Bajirao’s family declares war on his love?” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 21.12.2015]. This question seems to be the crux of this historical romance movie. The Mughals, by the way, were a Muslim dynasty of Turkic-Mongol origin that had ruled most of northern India from the early-16th to mid-18th centuries.
The theme of “Bajirao Mastani” is representative of the overall work of film director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. In a review of the movie written by Mike McCahill in The Guardian, we are informed as follows: “Since the millennium, the writer-director-composer Sanjay Leela Bhansali has fashioned a series of ornate wonders from mythological and historical material” [cf. https://www.theguardian.com, 23.12.2015, my emph.].
As is apparent, this particular movie draws on very specific historical material. Reviewer Uday Bhatia, writing in Mint, calls it “a historical epic” replete with “high drama”. And continues: “His [the director’s] is a cinema of grand gestures and raised voices, weeping string sections and poetic destruction” [cf. https://www.livemint.com, 18.12.2015]. The movie is therefore also typical of the “grand old Bollywood style” [ibid.]. It thereby fully satisfies at least one definitive element of the Bollywood genre – viz. it is definitely intended for “blockbuster” status [cf. above]. Shubhra Gupta, writing in The Indian Express, confirms this as follows: “From the first frame, you know you are in a Sanjay Leela Bhansali film. Everything is scaled up, grander than grand, a-glitter” [cf. https://www.indianexpress.com, 18.12.2015].
We may now briefly present the storyline of “Bajirao Mastani”. It is Bhatia [op. cit.] who perhaps most clearly outlines the narrative plot – we read as follows: “After the soldier princess Mastani (Padukone) tracks him down and requests his help, Bajirao (Singh) and his army come to the defence of Bundelkhand, which is under siege from the Mughals… Once Bundelkhand has been defended successfully, Bajirao and Mastani waste no time falling dramatically, violently in love (he cauterizes the wound she sustained in battle with his sword, which is a very Bhansali way of telling us they’re made for each other). When he departs soon after on a military campaign, he leaves behind his dagger. In 18th century Bundelkhand, such an action is tantamount to marriage. It’s all the encouragement Mastani needs to leave home and land up at the peshwa’s palace… This is a problem, because we already know that the peshwa has a wife, Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra). To add insult to injury, Mastani, the illegitimate daughter of the ruler of Bundelkhand and a Persian woman, is Muslim. The film soon becomes a royal triangle, with Bajirao unwilling to listen to his advisers – and his formidable mother, Radhabai (Tanvi Azmi) – who are telling him to keep his new love under wraps as his mistress, and Kashibai and Mastani out-sacrificing each other for his well-being”.
Although Bhansali’s movie belongs to the category of historical romance, it is nonetheless an essentially “political” project, at least in the sense that it explores the historical struggles of the 18th century to establish a unified Hindu nation. Srijana Mitra Das [op. cit.] puts this as follows: “… Bajirao Mastani is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s most gorgeous – and most political – movie. Peshwa Bajirao… stretches the Maratha empire across 18th century India, fighting Mughals and rivals…” [my emph.]. In the same vein, Surabhi Redkar’s review of the movie in Koimoi notes that “Bajirao Ballal Peshwa [also called as such]… is an ambitious Maratha warrior who has set his eyes on creating one Hindu nation, the Bharatvarsha [viz. the area of the continent lying south of the Himalayas]” [cf. https://www.koimoi.com, 18.12.2015, my emph.].
The diegetic worldview of “Bajirao Mastani” consciously promotes the idea of “Maratha pride”. Srijana Mitra Das [op. cit.] writes: “It [the movie] rediscovers roots to Maratha pride”. And Shubhra Gupta [op. cit.] further observes the following as regards the movie’s diegetic approach: “The Maratha court is in session. As all eyes turn to Peshwa Bajirao…, we are invited not just to see, but to behold a warrior in the full glory of manhood, striding off to conquer new places and hearts”. We note here the movie’s promotion of the “full glory” of both the “Maratha court” and of Maratha “manhood”. The latter, it seems, presupposes specific male-female relations: in presenting the storyline above, we saw how Kashibai and Mastani would “out-sacrifice” each other for one man’s well-being.
While the ideological discourse of the movie focuses on Bajirao Mastani’s struggles to establish a unified Hindu nation, it nonetheless also embraces the allegedly delicate issue concerning Hindu-Muslim relations in India. As noted, the romance takes place between the “Peshwa” of the Maratha Empire and a princess who happens to be Muslim [or half-Muslim]. In her review, Srijana Mitra Das [op. cit.] informs us that the narrative of the movie is such so as to raise the question of the role of religious beliefs [Hinduism versus Islam] in building a nation – viz. should different beliefs be allowed to divide a people? This is how the reviewer puts it: “His [Bhansali’s] question – what should religion do? Tear us to bits? Or bring us closer? – frames an end that is frightening, beautiful and powerful… It [the movie]… bravely confronts one of India’s most crucial questions now”.
It is also of much interest to note that, while “Bajirao Mastani” is certainly infused with an ideology of authentic “Indianness”, it can also “borrow” from motifs that have emanated from Western civilization. With respect to this dimension of the movie, Uday Bhatia [op. cit.] writes: “Bhansali obviously hasn’t had his fill of star-crossed lovers: Having the leader of a state looking to establish Hindu rule across India fall in love with a Muslim warrior was probably the only way he could have upped the ante on the Romeo and Juliet hijinks of Ram-Leela [a 2013 film]”. On the other hand, Bhatia’s review is critical of the fact that the dialogues taking place in the movie – and especially the “charged banter” between Radhabai and Mastani – are in overly heavy local accent [and there are Marathi inflections in Bajirao’s own lingo]. It is such heavy accent, however, that gives this particular interpretation of the Romeo-Juliet story its own “Indian” flavour.
We shall end these brief notes on “Bajirao Mastani” by simply mentioning – and out of mere interest – how the director uses particular scenes of his movie to remind audiences of the historical contribution made by the Marathi people in the development of Indian cinema. Such a reminder, one may assume, would further boost “Maratha pride” in its own way. Bhatia notes: “Early in the film, we’re shown how the image of Bajirao standing in a glass palace is transmitted via a complex system of mirrors on to a screen in Kashibai’s room. In other words, she can see a film of her husband, an idea perfectly attuned to the historical reality of Maharashtrians being the originators of cinema in India. In a later scene, Kashibai hears her husband in the palace and rushes to look at his image, only to see him embracing Mastani…” Bollywood’s Marathi cinema, we may finally add, is the oldest and pioneer film industry of Indian cinema. It is said that this cinema’s first film had been released in 1912 in old Mumbai [cf. Wikipedia].
In 2016, the Cineworld Cinema would be screening a movie entitled “Sultan” [translated as “King” in English]. This is a Hindi-language film directed by Ali Abbas Zafar [also the director of “Bharat” – cf. above, in discussing movies screened by the Boleyn Cinema]. “Sultan” has been presented as a sports drama about a “desi wrestler” [to be explained below]. It is also said to be a “purely commercial” melodramatic love story – on the other hand, we should always keep in mind Zafar’s own understanding of his work, which he sees as intrinsically “political” [cf. above]. The star of the movie is Salman Khan, who happens to be extremely popular amongst Bollywood viewers.
We may here quote a sample comment on “Sultan” made by a Cineworld patron [the review was also partly quoted in Paper 4d] – Arjun Sandhu wrote as follows sometime after watching this movie: “Watched Sultan a few months ago. Brilliant cinema minutes from Ilford’s shopping area”. It goes without saying that the vast majority of Bollywood viewers would agree with such sentiments, and especially so as regards the “followers” of Salman Khan [all reviews and comments seem to fully verify this].
We may very roughly present the movie’s storyline as follows: “Salman Khan stars as Sultan Ali Khan, the only child of a farmer but who also works installing satellite TV dishes”. And further: “Amushka Sharma… co-stars as Aarfa Hussain, the daughter of a wrestling coach. She’s actually a wrestler herself who wants to become a world champion or even an Olympian [sic] to make her father proud and to prove women can be more than what they’re limited to. Sultan sees her and falls in love at first sight… Sultan decides to become a wrestler simply because she’s a wrestler…” [cf. Marlon Wallace, writing in WBOC, https://www.delmarvalife.com, 21.07.2016].
This is a Bollywood movie which – precisely through its apparently “purely commercial” façade – imbues its multifaceted narrative with the ideology of Indian patriotism. As has been noted, this is typical of many Bollywood productions, and highly representative of the work produced by Zafar himself. Ananya Bhattacharya, writing in India Today, observes: “Ali Abbas Zafar’s Sultan is a thorough crowd-pleaser. The film is a cocktail of sportsmanship, drama, romance, patriotism…” [cf. https://www.indiatoday.com, 08.07.2016]. According to a review by Shubhra Gupta, there are even scenes in the movie that pit patriotic Indians against bland English-speakers – we read: “Salman has perfected these rough-hewn, heart-of-gold, man-child parts… which coast on his ability to boost ‘desi’ [local], flag-waving patriots who can beat smooth English-speaking rivals to a pulp” [cf. https://www.indianexpress.com, 21.07.2016, my emph.].
The theme of patriotic pride is perhaps most evident in the lyrics of “Sultan’s” title track – the lyrics go as follows:
“The soil (of the ‘akhara’ and the motherland) is in your blood
Your blood is in the soil
The Lord above
The earth below
And between them your spirit
By the way, the term “akhara” [or “akhada”] means “arena” or “gymnasium”. Commenting on the lyrics, Anna MM Vetticad writes as follows: “These lyrics from ‘Sultan’s’ title track exemplify what makes this film tick: the director’s ability and unabashed willingness to tug at the heart strings – tap into every available emotion in the viewer, our patriotic pride, our soft spot for the underdog – yet not overplay its hand” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 06.07.2016].
The element of patriotism is combined with that of traditionality: Sultan Ali Khan is said to be a “desi wrestler”, the type of which goes back to the age-old traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Bhattacharya [op. cit.], for instance, writes as follows: “Salman Khan’s hard work is more than visible in every frame when the man is in the wrestling pit… this ‘desi pehelwan’ uses technique[s] to flatten anyone who crosses him in the ring”. The term “desi pehelwan” [or “pehlwani”, amongst other variants] means “heroic fighter” and is related to a traditional form of wrestling closely entangled with the history of India. It had been developed in the course of the 16th century Mughal rule of India by combining Persian “koshti pahlevani” wrestling with influences from native Indian “malla-yuddha” wrestling. The terms “koshti” and “pahlevani” derive from the Persian language: the former simply means “wrestling” and the latter denotes “heroism”, thus yielding the term “heroic wrestling” or “heroic fighter”. We should also note that the native Indian contribution to the wrestling tradition – viz. “malla-yuddha” or “combat wrestling” – dates as far back as 5 BC [cf., inter alia, Wikipedia]. This is the rich cultural preserve on which the movie “Sultan” is founded. Albeit “purely commercial”, therefore, the film is in fact steeped in Indian traditionality.
The traditionality highlighted in the movie is further evident in the type of accented language spoken by the actors. Bhattacharya [op. cit.] tells us that “The Haryanvi-accented dialogues from both Salman and Amushka are done well”. Haryanvi is a Central Indo-Aryan dialect spoken in Haryana, India. It is also spoken in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Kolkata, although here to a lesser extent. It is considered to be a Western Hindi dialect [cf. Wikipedia].
The elements of patriotism and traditionality are further intertwined with an attribute of the Bollywood genre which we have already referred to in presenting “Pattas” above – viz. an articulation of the urban-rural cultural paradigms. Anisha Jhaverie, writing in IndieWire, makes the following general observation: “Zafar treats us to some striking rural and urban panoramas…, as Sultan gears up along mustard fields of Haryana in the first half, and in front of Delhi’s iconic India Gate in the second” [cf. https://www.indiewire.com, 07.07.2016]. The rustic element is also apparent in Aarfa Hussain’s family background – the narrative presents her as the “daughter of a famous wrestling coach who teaches the sport in an authentic and rustic Indian akhada” [cf. a review of the movie by the Bollywood Hungama News Network, https://www.bollywoodhungama.com, 06.07.2021, my emph.].
Despite such emphasis on the quintessential elements of “Indianness” – and as in the case of the “Bajirao Mastani” movie presented above – “Sultan” nonetheless does “borrow” from the Western Hollywoodian genre. While, as we have seen, “Bajirao Mastani” presents an Indian version of the Romeo-Juliet theme, “Sultan” is at times reminiscent of the now-classic 1976 “Rocky” movie. Marlon Wallace [op. cit.] informs us of such “borrowing” as follows: “… this movie is basically the Indian version of ‘Rocky’ (1976). Instead of boxing, the sport here is wrestling and later mixed martial arts, or MMA”. Wallace further goes on to observe that “He [Sultan Ali Khan] looks like the Indian version of Hercules”.
It is of great interest to observe the particular manner in which audiences in Indian cinema theatres usually react to movies starring their beloved actor, Salman Khan – descriptions of such behaviour are very much reminiscent of what generally happens in the theatres of the Boleyn and Cineworld cinemas, and in their response to whichever Bollywood movie [as described by patrons of these two venues – cf. Paper 4d]. Thus, the few descriptions of behaviour we present below – all of which are based on reviews of “Sultan” – should be read side by side with our relevant quotes regarding audience behaviour within the cinema venues in the East Ham region. Samples of behaviour in cinema theatres located in India are as follows:
- “Wolf-whistles and claps greet every minute of Salman’s time in the pit. In the ‘akhada’, Sultan is the man to watch out for” [cf. Ananya Bhattacharya, op. cit.].
- “At the end of the day…, Sultan is a Salman Khan film. Probably every flaw is worthy of being overseen thanks to the sheer aura of the man. The Salman who makes people stand up and scream and shout his name right in the middle of an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) sequence” [ibid.].
- It is not, however, merely the “aura” of the particular actor that causes the rowdy reactions of audiences – even the Haryanvi-accented dialogues used in “Sultan” are said to “elicit whistles and applause at the right moments” [ibid.].
- “We first meet Sultan in the ring, an enclosed dirt pit onto which he purposefully strides (amidst raucous cheers in the theatre – standard protocol for Khan’s intro scene in any of his films)…” [cf. Anisha Jhaverie, op. cit.].
To end these brief notes on “Sultan”, we need make a number of observations regarding its distribution, especially outside India and in the interests of the diaspora. In the first section of this paper, we had seen how – based on Krämer’s empirical findings – Bollywood movies have been distributed through the exclusive use of Indian sources. Krämer had found that “The Indian distributors have been happy to restrict their marketing efforts to the Asian communities” – practically speaking, this would mean that distribution of Asian films would merely be entrusted to informal channels such as “the force of word of mouth” [cf. above]. Thus, the distribution of Bollywood movies in Asian communities around the globe would simply not need to make use of standard, Western-based marketing channels. In discussing “Sultan”, Marlon Wallace’s review [op. cit.] fully verifies Krämer – this is what he writes: “This Bollywood movie is now the fifth, highest-grossing, Indian film in the world… It’s especially rare that a film will do as well when it has no marketing, at least no traditional marketing. There were no TV spots… There were no trailers in multiplexes and no posters anywhere… There’s probably an underground, Indian or Bollywood fan-base that doesn’t need traditional marketing to support these films, but there might be something more to this movie and to its success” [my emph.]. Of course, Wallace’s reference to the operation of an “underground” is very much reminiscent of Gary Younge’s observation that the Bollywood genre in the UK functions in the context of a self-segregated “parallel universe” [cf. above].
In 2017, the Cineworld Cinema would be screening “The Black Prince”, a historical drama movie directed by Kavi Raz. The movie was released in three versions: Punjabi, Hindi and English.
Although this motion picture would generally receive negative reviews, Asian audiences in the UK – and especially patrons of Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema – would speak favourably of it [many would at the same time complain about Cineworld’s ticket prices at the time – patron Tarlock Singh, for instance, found it a “joke” that he would have to pay more than £11.00 to watch the movie – cf. Paper 4d].
The movie is about the life story of Maharaja Duleep Singh. Mini Anthikad Chibber, writing in The Hindu, provides us with some basic background facts regarding the story of the Maharaja [played by Satinder Sartaaj], who would also come to be known by the nickname “The Black Prince”. Chibber writes as follows: “It is a fascinating story. In 1843, a boy of five, son of the Lion of Punjab, is placed on the throne. At the age of 10, he is deposed, and at 15 exiled to England. A darling of the court, he lives a lavish life, converts to Christianity and is the fourth best shot in England [he would hold grand shooting parties in Scotland]. He also has second thoughts of his identity, his conversion and his inheritance. He dies in Paris at the age of 55 seeing India only twice after his exile. The tragedy of Dileep [sic] Singh, the last king of Punjab, makes for an intriguing tale” [cf. https://www.thehindu.com, 11.11.2017]. Arnab Banerjee, who writes his review of the movie in the Deccan Chronicle, further informs us that Duleep Singh was “The youngest son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of northwestern India… and the only child of Maharani Jindan Kaur (Shabana Azmi)…” [cf. https://www.deccanchronicle.com, 22.07.2017]. Regarding Duleep Singh’s deposition from the throne, Jay Weissberg – writing in Variety – explains: “… British troops were in his capital and he was soon deposed, all part of Britain’s plan for complete control of the sub-continent” [cf. https://www.variety.com, 21.07.2017]. It was thus that Duleep Singh would come to be the very last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire and the Punjab region.
The movie’s story, more or less based on the real biographical facts of Duleep Singh, is narrated with a definite purpose. While we shall attempt to further elucidate such purpose below, we may here present an interpretation of the director’s intentions by considering what Renuka Vyavahare has to say in the Times of India – we read as follows: “Set in the 19th century (India’s pre-independence years), The Black Prince is the agonizing true tale of Duleep Singh… who was robbed off his mother, Kingdom, faith and lineage by the British… Duleep’s yearning to embrace his faith, reclaim his identity and trace his roots, forms the story… Raised as British, he soon realizes that he is actually a prisoner, trapped by the lies and deceit of his enemy… Kavi Raz’s film solely rests on Duleep’s longing and liberation” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 21.07.2017].
As is apparent from the notes above, a core theme of “The Black Prince” is the clash of two different cultures, as embodied in the personal story of the exiled Sikh king – naturally, a theme that revolves around two conflicting cultures or diverging identities [British versus Asian] would find empathetic ears amongst the Asian diaspora, who have a first-hand experience of just such clash. The movie’s theme of culture clash is presented as follows by Banerjee [op. cit.]: “The Black Prince is a story of Queen Victoria and the Last King of Punjab, Maharaja Duleep Singh, who was torn between two cultures and faced constant dilemmas as a result. Despite his close relationship with Queen Victoria that made him draw into the English culture, Singh… began a lifelong struggle to regain his kingdom…” [my emph.].
The culture clash, as also an increasing awareness of the “colonialist oppression” of his homeland, would mean that Duleep Sing would ultimately wish to “overturn” the colonialist status quo. Banerjee describes this process of patriotic awakening as follows: “He gets to learn about God, Christianity and other social etiquettes by his [British] guardian, Dr Login (Jason Flemyng), and is told that India benefited by the British rule. He is respectful to all but an uncanny sense of unease begins to discomfort him as he longs to see his real mother, who he is categorically told is ‘old and too weak to travel’. Perhaps the latent desire to be with his countrymen also begins to rekindle in him an inexplicable concern for the land of his birth: Punjab. When he gets permission to bring her to England, he gets more and more influenced by her to reclaim his birthright and overturn the escalating oppression of India by British colonialists”.
The movie goes on to depict Duleep Singh as an anti-colonialist “revolutionary”, albeit a failed one. Weissberg [op. cit.] writes: “… Duleep’s sense of exile has grown so great that he decides to cast aside Christianity and embrace his Sikh heritage. Suddenly he’s in Aden and then Paris, scheming in a dark cellar with Irish thugs, Russian revolutionaries and a duplicitous American… Dreams of convincing the Tsar to help fund his return to the Punjab throne come to naught, and, in the end, the disappointed, sad Maharajah has a last meeting with Queen Victoria in Grasse, where she apologizes for having ruined his life”.
Not all of the movie’s narrative is actually accurate from a historical point of view – what is true to fact is Duleep Singh’s ineffectual struggle to challenge the colonialist status quo. And yet, it is said that “His struggle inspired Sikhs to continue to fight for freedom until India regained its independence from British Imperialism in 1947” [cf. a review of the movie by Elizabeth Charters in Film Berg, https://www.filmberg.com, 15.07.2017]. All along, and as the anti-colonialist struggle for independence unfolds, the British colonialists are consistently portrayed as “vultures” [cf. Banerjee, op. cit.].
The various historical inaccuracies in the film’s narrative seem to be intentional, given the ideological objectives of the director – above all, Kavi Raz wishes to convey a “liberatory” message to his Asian audiences. He also wishes to uphold the concept of Indian “national pride” throughout the movie. The narrative may thus be said to be a mixture of historical reality and ideological myth. It is, for instance, a case of mere myth that Queen Victoria would offer her apologies to the Maharaja “for having ruined his life”. On this, Weissberg [op. cit.] comments as follows: “That part is pure fantasy, by the way. Victoria always maintained an enormous degree of warmth and understanding for Duleep (just read her journals and letters), but apologizing for the British annexation of India wasn’t a line she would ever have used… At the end of his life [viz. the real life of Duleep Singh], fat and partly paralyzed (not how he’s depicted here), it was Duleep who begged Victoria for forgiveness which, in all the self-assurance of queenship, she generously gave”.
It should be underlined, however, that such “pure fantasy” in the narrative of “The Black Prince” cannot be seen as a mere “flaw” in the quality of the movie – in fact, it must be understood as a positively functional component of the overall “myth” that the director wishes to weave into his narrative, and that given his clear ideological objectives. Reviewers have identified such objectives in a number of ways – we note the following:
- “… this biopic [viz. a film dramatizing the life of a person, particularly a historical figure]… aims for Indian patriotism” [cf. Weissberg, op. cit., my emph.].
- “Sikh nationalists and those looking for a standard-issue confirmation of Britain’s tragically misguided Victorian-era Indian policies are a built-in audience…” [ibid., my emph.].
- The movie wishes to function, in the last instance, as a “history lesson”: “The bulk of the film concerns the patriotically awakened Singh’s attempted return to Punjab and the British conspiracy working to prevent his homecoming to a kingdom they ‘stole’. As a lushly shot history lesson, ‘The Black Prince’ succeeds. As entertainment, the film is pedantic and over-dramatic… ‘I will not vanish without a fight’, Sigh vows” [cf. Brad Wheeler’s review in The Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com, 21.07.2017].
- Echoing Brad Wheeler, yet another reviewer writes that the purpose of the movie seems to be, above all, “educational”: “The Black Prince is more educational than engaging”. And thus “The Black Prince” is said to belong to a new current in the Bollywood genre that is primarily concerned with raising a certain national “awareness”: “A new trend in moviemaking is film productions more concerned with creating awareness than succeeding commercially [cf. a review of the movie written by Jorge Ignacio Castillo in Darpan, https://www.darpanmagazine.com, 19.07.2017, my emph.]. We should point out that this assumed dichotomy between “creating awareness” and being “commercially” successful may be taken with a pinch of salt – it may in any case be contrasted with the case of “Sultan” [cf. above], which was said to be both “purely commercial” and could at the same time pursue a “political” or Indian “traditionalist” ideological discourse.
- The ideological discourse of the movie focuses on the values of “Indianness” and Indian identity: “Themes in the film include pride, courage, identity, strength and faith” [cf. Charters, op. cit.].
- “Singh’s story is a tragic reminder of the still pervasive effects of British colonialism, and his late-life attempt to reclaim his Sikh heritage and empire may speak to those struggling to stay connected with their roots” [cf. a review of the movie written by Radheyan Simonpillai in Now, https://www.nowtoronto.com, 19.07.2017].
It is in the context of such clear ideological intentions – all of which target “a built-in audience” or “those struggling to stay connected with their roots” – which predetermines the inclusion of other related themes in the narrative of “The Black Prince”. Such themes include an emphasis on the Indian “family bond”, a theme which we have also encountered in other Bollywood movies [for instance: “Bharat”, “Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo”, “Pattas” – cf. above]. Charters [op. cit.] briefly points to such theme in “The Black Prince” as follows [although her language in this case is slightly problematic]: “The family represents that the bond between family is forever strong. The mother says in her fight to be reunited with her son, ‘I have not only lost a Kingdom, but a son, too’…”
Charters further informs us that the movie raises issues around the question of “race” – she simply notes, without clarifying, that “there are questions surrounding race within the film”. Perhaps an observation made by Wheeler’s review [op. cit.] gives us some idea of the type of “race” issues that the movie raises – he writes: “When asked if the Queen is attractive, the diplomatic Singh replies, ‘She’s white’…” Since we cannot really draw whatever conclusions based on such a response, we shall have to leave it at that.
We shall end these brief notes on “The Black Prince” by noting, firstly, that Satinder Sartaaj happens to be an extremely popular traditional Indian singer – more specifically, he is said to specialize in “Sufi” singing [with respect to “Sufi” devotional songs, cf. Paper 4c]. Sartaaj is a well-known Punjabi songwriter and poet [his work has also appeared in Punjabi-language films]. He does not, however, sing in “The Black Prince”. Regarding the music of the film itself, Charters adds: “A mix of traditional Indian music and also sorrowful contemporary music are displayed during the film…”
Secondly, it is extremely important to note that the movie is an Indo-British production – this makes of it the type of Bollywood movie that is a product of what we have identified in the first section of this paper as “creative collaboration” between the Bollywood industry and the UK’s diasporic communities. It has been argued above that such “creative collaboration” would mean the active participation of members of the Asian diaspora in the actual creation of a movie, thereby allowing for a certain determination of its content.
By 2018, Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema would be screening “Carry on Jatta 2”, which was a sequel to the 2012 “Carry on Jatta”. Both are Indian Punjabi comedies directed by Smeep Kang. “Carry on Jatta 2” is said to be the highest grossing Punjabi film of all time. The star of the film is Gippy Grewal, who was born in Ludhiana, Punjab.
Very many Asian residents of both Ilford and East Ham would visit the Cineworld Cinema so as to watch the movie [cf. Google Reviews, Paper 4d; and especially the sample comment made by Cineworld patron Rajinder Jeer].
Jaspreet Nijher’s review of the movie calls “Carry on Jatta 2” a “complete family package” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 01.06.2018] – all other available reviews of this motion picture present it likewise. As is the case of all Bollywood movies, it targeted audiences both in India and those living in the diaspora [as we shall see below, the theme of the movie would be of special relevance to Asians living in communities outside India]. One of the producers of the movie, Gunbir Singh Sidhu, expressed this targeting of the diaspora as follows: “We want to entertain the Punjabi film loving audiences anywhere and everywhere in the world” [cf. 5 Dariya News, https://www.5dariyanews.com, 07.06.2018]. Sidhu himself has a direct experience of the Asian diaspora, and especially as regards that of the UK – he is said to have studied at the Imperial College London.
The Asian diasporic audiences would have found this movie to be of special interest to them as it focuses on the issue of emigration. It concerns the dream that many natives of India are said to harbour – viz. that of settling in the Western world, a dream that has of course been materialized in the case of the Asian settler populations of localities such as East Ham and its environs. It is understandable that those who have had the experience of emigration would empathize with events unfolding in “Carry on Jatta 2”. In some sense, this movie could be said to somehow belong to what Krämer has identified as the “diaspora type” of film [cf. the first section of this paper]. On the other hand, it does not exactly belong to that type, in that it does not focus on the life experiences of the expatriate Indian as such – rather, it explores the complications that may arise in the life of a potential or aspirant expatriate.
Jaspreet Nijher [op. cit.] informs us that the narrative of the movie concerns “An orphan smitten with dreams of going to Canada” [my emph.]. The orphan, of course, is played by Gippy Grewal who, as we have said, is the star of the movie. Similarly, Gurlove Singh, writing in Book My Show, notes: “The story follows Jass…, a happy-go-lucky orphaned guy, whose sole purpose in life is to go to Canada by hook or by crook” [cf. https://www.in.bookmyshow.com, 01.06.2018, my emph.]. Such an aspiration, it seems, is a generalized phenomenon amongst Punjabi youth, and especially amongst males – Sukhpreet Kahlon’s Cinestaan review makes the following statement: “Jass… has the rather inevitable dream of every Punjabi boy – longs for a Canadian visa”. We note that such an aspiration for immigration to the West, at least as presented in this movie, is confined to legal procedures in trying to fulfill it [obtaining a visa] – and yet, the personal methods used by Jass to meet such legalities are themselves all unorthodox [“by hook or by crook”], and which explains the hilarity of the movie [cf. https://www.cinestaan.com, 01.06.2018, my emph.]. We may here further quote Dixit Bhargav’s review in Punjabi Mania, which also seems to confirm the idea that the aspiration to settle in places such as Canada is rampant amongst young Punjabis – we read: “As is the dream of a plethora of youngsters in Punjab, Jass also aims at settling in Canada” [cf. https://www.punjabimania.com, 01.06.2018, my emph.].
For Jass, immigrating to Canada seems to be an unreachable dream – having vainly attempted various methods seemingly at his disposal, he comes to realize that the only way to get him to his destination is to make use of an NRI [Non Resident Indian] girl. Gurlove Singh [op. cit.] writes: “After numerous attempts of going to Canada and many taunts faced from his landlord, advocate Dhillon [Jass is his tenant]…, and his best friend Goldy, Jass decides that marrying a Canadian girl is the only way he can fulfill his dream”. Jass, we learn, is not eligible for immigration to Canada as he fails to meet certain educational requirements.
Singh explains to us that “Jass appoints his [second] friend Honey to the task [of finding the NRI girl], who then introduces him to Meet [this is the name of the girl, played by Sonam Bajwa]”. Jass and Meet are said to make their acquaintance at a wedding reception.
The problem is that Meet, and despite the fact that she is an NRI girl, harbours a wish that is typical of many Asian women – she believes in large family units. As Nijher [op. cit.] notes: “But Meet has one wish, of marrying a guy with a big family”. Jass, of course, does not have any family whatsoever, being an orphan. The comedy of the motion picture revolves around this anomaly and the various attempts made by Jass to trick the girl into believing that he does in fact belong to a large Indian family unit. Nijher explains: “Jass connives with his scheming friend Honey…, to con Meet into thinking he has a big family…”
The overall storyline is therefore rather simple and may be summarized as follows: “With the protagonist, Jass finding desperate measures to pursue his ambition of going abroad, marrying an NRI seems the easiest. And when he finds a willing lady in Meet, he only has to clear one obstacle, that of finding a family to call his own…” [Nijher, op. cit.].
Some reviewers have made the observation that the narrative of “Carry on Jatta 2” is characterized by a typical Punjabi male “bias”. Although elements of such “bias” are apparent in the narrative, attempts are made to somehow mitigate it. Commenting on the role that Sonam Bajwa plays in the movie, Nijher notes: “Despite not contributing significantly to the progress of the script in the way her [Meet’s] character is etched – an inherent male bias of Punjabi industry, her portrayal of the NRI girl marks the beginning of true depiction of modern Punjabi girls, in her glamorous costumes and refreshing looks” [my emph.]. At the same time, however, the movie is not exactly “politically correct” – it is targeting an Asian audience that remains quite indifferent to so-called “racist” or “sexist” proclivities. Writing in the Hindustan Times, reviewer Jyoti Sharma Bawa makes an important observation concerning the movie and the audiences it is meant to attract, which can itself tell us much about the mindset of at least a section of the Asian population – he writes as follows: “Indian audiences can be broadly divided into two groups – those who love Kapil Sharma’s shows [an Indian stand-up comedian] and others who found [sic] them racist and sexist. Before going further and without any analysis, Carry on Jatta 2 is for the former group” [cf. https://www.hindustantimes.com, 01.06.2018]. Bawa, unfortunately, does not elucidate either on the social physiognomy of these two respective groups or on their relative numerical size. “Carry on Jatta 2”, in any case, seems to fully express those categories of Asian audiences that care little about “racist” or “sexist” insinuations. Gurlove Singh [op. cit.] tells us that “Director Smeep Kang knows the taste of Punjabi audiences very well” [my emph.]. And thus, and as reviewer Gurjit Kaur writes in the Chandigarh Metro, the movie “has made people go crazy in the theatres”, something which is of course very much reminiscent of Asian audience behaviour both in the theatres of India and of those frequenting the Cineworld or Boleyn venues [cf. https://www.chandigarhmetro.com, text undated].
“Carry on Jatta 2” [together with its prequel, “Carry on Jatta”] is an important movie in the historical development of the Punjabi film industry. Kahlon [op. cit.] writes: “2012 was a landmark year for Punjabi films. The release of… Carry on Jatta…, marked a revival of Punjabi films that continued to grow and offered a formidable alternative to Hindi cinema”. Such continual growth was evident by 2018 with the release of its sequel: “… it has taken six years for the release of part 2 of Carry on Jatta”. The release, it is said, made history in the world of Pollywood – this is how BOI [the Box Office India Trade Network] has put it: “Carry on Jatta 2 has created history by becoming the highest opener of all time in terms of collections for the Punjabi film industry” [cf. https://www.boxofficeindia.com, 01.06.2018].
The revival of the Punjabi film industry through the release of movies such as “Carry on Jatta 2” would mean that, together with the predominance of Punjabi religious movies, we would now also have a similar predominance of “traditional mass comedy”. Both such sub-types of the Bollywood genre, it seems, are especially popular with Punjabi Asians [whether in India or amongst the diasporic settlers]. Regarding the re-emergence of Punjabi comedy movies, BOI [op. cit.] informs us that “Carry on Jatta 2” would mean a return “to traditional mass comedy which has always been historically the best bet for Punjabi cinema since it started outside religious films and the numbers have come”.
We shall end our notes on “Carry on Jatta 2” by noting the following as regards the songs accompanying this movie. Kahlon [op. cit.] tells us that “The foot-tapping numbers sung by him [Gippy Grewal] are sure to be the life of Punjabi parties… hereon” [my emph.]. This observation is of course of a certain sociological importance – it gives us some idea of how the Bollywood genre spills over and percolates into the everyday lives of Asians [we have already indicated that we shall be devoting a special section to the issue of Bollywoodian cultural by-products – and especially with respect to “Bollywood dancing” as practiced in a locality such as East Ham].
Gippy Grewal is said to be highly popular as a singer amongst Punjabis – Bhargav [op. cit.] informs us that he is “The Desi Rockstar of the Punjabi industry”. Songs accompanying the movie are said to have “desi feels with a folk flavour” [cf. https://www.dnaindia.com, 15.05.2018].
Also in 2018 – by November of that year – the Cineworld Cinema would be screening a movie entitled “Sarkar” [translated in English as “Government”]. This is a Tamil-language “political action” film [also dubbed in Telugu]. Its director is A.R. Murugadoss; it starred Vijay [known mononymously as such around the world, and especially so in India]. Very many Asian Easthammers and residents of Ilford would watch the movie at the time – cf., for instance, patron Rajendhiran Vallathan [Paper 4d], who would be watching the movie together “with our family in Screen 3 Cineworld”.
Sanjith Sidhardhan, writing in the Times of India, presents us with the following narrative synopsis of the movie: “NRI [Non Resident Indian] corporate honcho Sundar Ramasamy [played by Vijay] comes to India to vote, only to learn that his vote has already been cast. While he reclaims his right legally, it also sets in motion a chain of events that eventually lead to him entering the political fray, trying to change the system [specifically of Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state]” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 06.11.2018].
Based on such a synopsis, one may say that the narrative of “Sarkar” revolves around two basic themes:
- The tight connection that continues to exist between an NRI and his/her homeland – Sundar Ramasamy returns to Tamil Nadu simply so as to cast his vote, thereby showing a deep concern for his homeland.
- The connection between an NRI and his/her homeland is not merely manifested through a passive sentimentality regarding one’s place of origin – the NRI Sundar Ramasamy actively intervenes in the affairs of his homeland so as to improve the plight of his own people.
While “Sarkar” may perhaps not be reducible to these two themes, these do seem to dominate throughout the movie’s narrative – our intention here is to briefly explore such an interpretation of the movie.
Sidhardhan’s review [op. cit.] explains how the film presents this tight connection between an NRI and his/her homeland. Ramasamy happens to be a “corporate monster” capable of annihilating companies operating in India, and thus “His visit to India has many firms worried about his agenda”. And yet, Ramasamy’s “agenda” is a simple manifestation of Tamil Nadu patriotism – all he really wants to do is “to cast his vote” in his homeland [it is election time] and then depart.
Ramasamy, however, does not depart – he decides to stay awhile so as to actively intervene in the political life of Tamil Nadu. Sidhardhan continues: “But an incident involving a family who sets themselves ablaze owing to their debt and a challenge by a politician forces him [Ramasamy] to stay back to change the system, and make people aware of the difference a single vote can make”. As a successful NRI, Ramasamy sees it as his duty to raise the political awareness of his compatriots, especially as regards the importance of voting and of the implications of electoral fraud. He thus decides to stand as a candidate in the elections as a non-partisan politician, and does so amidst attempts made on his life and reputation [cf. Wikipedia].
It is Ramasamy’s tight bond with his homeland that prompts him to intervene in its affairs – his purpose is to attempt to solve the various social problems that beset Tamil Nadu. Writing in the Hindustan Times, reviewer Priyanka Sundar tells us that “Vijay returns to solve all of Tamil Nadu’s problems…” [cf. https://www.hindustantimes.com, 06.11.2018]. The particular issues that trouble the state are all meant to be brought to the attention of the audience through long speeches delivered by Vijay [and which is reminiscent of the near-endless speech-making in Sarileru Neekevvaru – cf. above]. Kirubhakar Purushothaman’s review of the movie in India Today explains: “After a point, Sarkar looks like a stretch of Vijay’s speeches – on issues that range from Tamil Nadu fishermen to Jallikattu to freebies to what not – knitted one after the other in a weak narrative” [cf. https://www.indiatoday.in, 06.11.2018]. The term “Jallikattu”, by the way, refers to a traditional event taking place in Tamil Nadu in which a bull is released into a crowd of people with participants attempting to grab the large hump on the bull’s back and hang on to it.
One may therefore say that the “Sarkar” narrative, in its attempt to connect India with Asian settlers in the diaspora, informs the latter of the array of socio-political issues that compose the reality of compatriots living in Tamil Nadu. Sreedhar Pillai, writing in Firstpost, explains that the movie is meant to entertain, but “with a hoard of political events that took place in Tamil Nadu” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 06.11.2018].
And further, the movie promotes the idea that NRI’s have both the duty and the effective power to intervene in the affairs of their homeland – Sundar Ramasamy is presented as a case in point: “The fight for his one vote takes Sundar on a journey that changes the fate of the state” [cf. Purushothaman, op. cit., my emph.].
The movie is thus not merely a “political drama” – some reviewers have even presented it as a “political pamphlet”. Srinavasa Ramanujam’s review in The Hindu asserts that “Sarkar” is “more a political pamphlet than a movie” [cf. https://www.thehindu.com, 06.11.2018]. And he adds that “At 163 minutes, the movie… feels like a long lecture… The dialogues, though powerful, reel off much longer than they ought to be. What could have been said in two words: Go vote (admittedly a much-needed social message) gets the entire length of the film, replete with dance and fights”.
There are, however, other reviewers of the movie – such as Priyanka Sundar [op. cit.] – who insist that “Sarkar” is only a “pseudo political drama”. This approach seems to complement – and not necessarily counter – that of reviewers such as Ramanujam. More or less agreeing with Sundar, Purushothaman [op. cit.] writes: “Sarkar is a propaganda film in many ways but here the filmmaker is not selling an ideology but a hero; a brand called Vijay…” There is definitely much truth in this latter approach: Vijay – as an actor, dancer and playback singer – is extremely popular in the world of Bollywood, be it in India or amongst diasporic Asian settlers in countries such as the UK. S. Subhakeerthana, writing in The Indian Express, tells us simply that Vijay is a “mass hero” [cf. https://www.indianexpress.com, 06.11.2018].
One may therefore draw the general conclusion that “Sarkar” is both a “political pamphlet” [with a patriotic NRI interacting with his homeland] and what Sreedhar Pillai [op. cit.] dubs “a typical mass entertainer”.
There are two final points one may make regarding this movie. Firstly, and in keeping with its “political” dimension, the music in “Sarkar” includes a “call-for-revolution number Oru Viral”, composed and sung by A.R. Rahman [cf. Ramanujam, op. cit.]. The full title of this song – “Oru Viral Puratchi” – may be translated as “This is [a] one-vote revolution”. Finally, we may simply note that the movie was a “Diwali” release [cf. above].
In 2019, the Cineworld Cinema would be screening “Viswasam”, which may be translated as “Allegiance” [the word could also mean “loyalty” or “trustworthiness”]. This is a Kollywood production, and is therefore in the Tamil language. It was directed by Siruthai Siva [known professionally simply as Siva]. It starred the popular Tamil actor, Ajith Kumar. Many Asians residing in the region of East Ham and Ilford would watch this movie [cf., for instance, patron Piraveen Yasasvin, Paper 4d].
Thinkal Menon, writing in the Times of India, presents the movie’s storyline as follows: “Thookku Durai (Ajith) is the darling of his family and lives life by his own rules. His life changes when doctor Niranjana (Nayanthara) visits his village for a medical camp. Though both of them have contrasting characters, they get married as Niranjana strongly believed that they would make a good pair. However, Durai’s hastiness in taking decisions and unwillingness in staying away from settling disputes even after becoming a father harm their relationship. A disappointed Niranjana moves to Mumbai with their daughter to ensure a better life for her… Durai, who has been constantly asked by his family members to start a fresh life with his wife, goes to Mumbai to meet her and his daughter whom he hasn’t met for almost a decade… Upon reaching Mumbai, he learns that his daughter’s life is in danger. Gautham Veer (Jagabathi Babu), a crooked business tycoon, wants her life as he believes she’s the reason for his daughter’s ill health. How Durai safeguards her [sic] daughter from Gautham forms the rest of the story” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 10.01.2019].
Many reviewers have called this movie a “rural drama”. Menon [op. cit.] tells us that the narrative is “set against a village which has its protagonist [Durai] loved by the villagers for his valour and honesty”. Writing in India Today, Janani K. notes that “… Ajith and director Siruthai Siva go back to the rural route with Viswasam” [cf. https://www.indiatoday.in, 10.01.2019, my emph.].
Although it is said to be primarily a “rural drama”, “Viswasam” also wishes to present the urban-rural connection, combining these two “lifeworlds” in a manner which highlights the articulation between Indian traditionality and modernity [something which, as we have already noted, applies to many movies of the Bollywood genre – cf., for instance, the cases of “Pattas” and “Sultan” above]. Thus, a review compiled by the Behindwoods Review Board informs us that “The story takes place in two different places, Koduvilarpatti [a village located in the Theni district of the Tamil Nadu state] and Mumbai”. And yet, the Board continues, the film is in fact a “rural action drama”. And further: “His [Ajith’s] Madurai dialect adds to the nativity and the authenticity” [cf. https://www.behindwoods.com, 10.01.2019 – we suspect that the word “nativity” is most probably used to suggest “native” or “traditional”]. We may also simply note here that Haricharan Pudipeddi’s review in Firstpost confirms that “Viswasam” is a “rural drama” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 10.01.2019].
Apart from focusing on the rural dimension of life in India, the movie is at the same time – and which is itself typical of the Bollywood genre – a “family drama”. Pudipeddi [op. cit.] explains: “As much as ‘Viswasam’ is a rural drama with an ample dose of heroism, it is also a well-intended family drama revolving around a father and his daughter”. The Behindwoods Review Board also dwells on this aspect of the movie – it writes as follows: “Yes, Viswasam is all about a family man, Thooku Durai, who intends and promises to save his daughter and wife at all costs from the negative forces. Did he win over the antagonist forms the rest of the story”. The Board’s appraisal is that “The family emotions work neatly [in the movie] and it is not overdone”.
Janani K., who has told us that the narrative of “Viswasam” returns audiences to “the rural route” [op. cit.], would also agree that the movie is “an emotional family entertainer”. And adds: “Going by the genre, this is yet another commercial flick that has every possible element of emotion ranging from father-daughter sentiment to brilliant action sequences”. The importance of the father-daughter relationship in the movie is also noted by Menon [op. cit.], who writes: “His [Ajith’s] part as a doting father… will be lapped up by those who love family dramas”.
The film’s emphasis on the rural dimension, as also on the tight bonds of the Indian family unit, is further complemented by presenting the socio-cultural significance of traditional “festivals” in the everyday life of Indians. Janani K. [op. cit.] notes: “Viswasam opens with Thooku Dorai (Ajith), who is regarded as the don and saviour… of the Koduvilarpatti village. He is arguing with his enemies to seek permission to hold a ‘thiruvizha’ (carnival)…” Reviewer Ashameera Aiyappan, writing in the Cinema Express, explains further: “After a grand introduction scene, where Thooku Durai (Ajith) waltzes on to the screen with a simple ‘vanakkam’ [viz. bowing or giving one’s respects; greeting with praying hands], he launches into a lengthy dialogue about how temple festivals are integral to the community. ‘Temple festivals become a place for communion. A reason for the migrants to return home to family’, he says” [cf. https://www.cinemaexpress.com, 10.01.2019, my emph.].
There are a number of final observations that one may make regarding “Viswasam”. One is that, belonging as it does to the Kollywood genre, it somehow reflects Kollywoodian stereotypes regarding Asian women. Janani K.’s review [op. cit.] tells us the following on this issue: “Nayanthara as doctor Niranjana looks ethereal and has a solid role in the film. She is a strong-willed woman who keeps herself happy by searching for greatness in everything she does. After one point, she is reduced to the stereotypical housewife, who chooses to become a mother by sacrificing a monumental career opportunity”. Aiyappan [op. cit.] is a bit more sparing regarding the intentions of the movie – we read: “However, considering how low the standards are in Tamil cinema right now, the fact that she [Niranjana] is shown to have a career (even if done half-heartedly) is itself a leap forward”.
The second observation concerns the star of “Viswasam”, Ajith Kumar. We have already noted that Ajith is a popular actor, at least as regards Tamil audiences. To gauge the degree of such personal popularity – but which also points to the popularity of “Viswasam” itself – we may consider an event that occurred in India following the movie’s release. The Times of India would be reporting an incident that could perhaps sound extraordinary to the average Western mindset – the article reads as follows: “A giant cut out of Thala Ajith [“Thala”, which means “Leader”, is the actor’s nickname; the cut-out shows Ajith as he appears in “Viswasam”] collapsed after fans did a milk abhiskeham in Villupuram. The 20-ft cut out could not bear the weight of fans and eventually fell down injuring the fans as well. The injured are now admitted in hospital. Though hoardings and cutouts are already banned across the state [of Tamil Nadu] by the Madras High court, it looks like fans of actors are in no mood to listen” [10.01.2019]. We should note here that “abhiskeham” [or “abhishekam”] is a Sanskrit word meaning “sprinkling” or “wetting”, and refers to the Hindu ritual of pouring water or other “sacred” substances on the statue of a deity while also chanting mantras [cf. Wikipedia; also: https://www.yogapedia.com]. Consider also the following event reported by the Times of India [ibid.]: “In the meantime, a 20-year old Ajith fan is said to have set his father ablaze after the latter refused to pay him for Viswasam’s movie ticket”. Reviewer Roktim Rajpal, writing in Film Beat, could be said to explain such type of events in India when he writes: “Needless to say, he [Ajith]… is Kollywood’s biggest mass hero” [cf. https://www.filmbeat.com, 10.01.2019].
Our final observation concerns the tunes one hears in the movie. The Behindwoods Review Board [op. cit.] notes that the “Kannaana Kanney song picturisation brings out the beautiful emotions between a father and a daughter”. The phrase “Kannaana Kanney” has been translated as “Oh You Apple Of My Eye”. Rajpal [op. cit.] also informs us that “D. Imman’s tunes are in synch with the festive season of Pongal. They… have a distinct desi flavor” [with reference to “Pongal” and “desi” cf. above].
Also in 2019, Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema would screen a movie entitled “Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi”. This is a Hindi-language period drama film based on the life of Rani Lakshmi Bai of the Maratha princely state of Jhansi [which is a historic city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh]. Reviewers have generally presented it as a “patriotic war drama”. It was co-directed by Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut. The latter would also star in the movie, playing the Jhansi queen, Lakshmi Bai. One could also watch the film in the Tamil and Telugu languages. Many residents of Ilford and the East Ham region would watch the movie – cf., for instance, the patron signing as Amy Amy [Paper 4d], who writes: “Watched Manikarnika. I always enjoy Kangana’s films, simply love her”.
Writing in Reuters, reviewer Shilpa Jamkhandikar provides us with a very general historical context within which the movie’s narrative is situated – we read: “Ranaut is front and center of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi, a re-telling of one of India’s most famous historical figures. Manikarnika, or better known as Lakshmibai or the Rani of Jhansi, was a leader of the 1857 rebellion who became a symbol of resistance against the British Raj” [cf. https://www.reuters.com, 25.01.2019, my emph.].
Lakshana N. Palat, writing in India Today, describes the movie’s storyline as follows: “Manikarnika is married off to Maharaja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar (Jisshu Sengupta) of Jhansi. He is more than impressed by her fearless behaviour. The Rajmatra [which literally means the king’s mother, or more generally the mother of the head of a princely family in India] of the house isn’t, and strongly reprimands her. A woman’s place is in the palace and the kitchen, she tells Manikarnika, who pretty much rolls her eyes at her. This doesn’t stop Manikarnika (now renamed Rani Laxmibai after the marriage) from roaming around town freely. Clouds loom over her seemingly-blissful life after her first child dies, and shortly later, her husband. The British officers are eager to capture Jhansi, and don’t accept her adopted son as the heir to the throne. Laxmibai’s fight against the British forms the rest of the story of Manikarnika” [cf. https://www.indiatoday.in, 15.03.2019].
Lakshmi Bai’s war is waged against the East India Company – her struggle against it would transform her into a patriotic warrior. Ronak Kotecha’s review in the Times of India puts this as follows: “Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi is a biographical account of how Rani Laxmibai waged a war against the East India Company. It chronicles her journey from the place where she grew up, Bithoor, to becoming the Rani of Jhansi, and eventually turning into a warrior Queen” [cf. https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 02.02.2019].
As the Reuters review [op. cit.] indicates, Lakshmi Bai’s struggle is concentrated around the 1857 rebellion, described by some historians as the Sepoy Mutiny or the Meerut Sepoy Mutiny [others have even called it the First War of Independence]. Kotecha [op. cit.], however, suggests that the movie only makes use of this rebellion as a “reference point”, its primary focus being Rani Lakshmi Bai herself and the struggles that she led in Jhansi against British colonialism – we read: “Some incidents like the Meerut Sepoy mutiny of 1857 are used as reference points, but the focus remains on Jhansi’s rebellion against the British”. Palat’s review [op. cit.] adds: “160 years after Rani Laxmibai died on the battlefield during the 1857-58 mutiny against the British, directors Radha Krishna Jagarlamudi and Kangana Ranaut present us with a film on the brave queen, Manikarnika, whose life was tragically cut short”.
The movie may be described as a “hagiography” of an Indian queen. Shubhra Gupta’s review in The Indian Express explains that the film is “a high-decibel, high-on-rhetoric hagiography of a queen who fought for her people and her land, till her last breath” [cf. https://www.indianexpress.com, 26.01.2019]. The “hagiography” seems understandable – unlike certain other Indian princes, Rani Lakshmi Bai had refused to operate as a “puppet” of the British. Gupta tells us that the latter “make the mistake of thinking that Rani will be a weak puppet, just like her neighbouring princes who have kneeled over at the slightest hint of British aggression, and are living on their pensions” [ibid.].
Thus, and as is the case of so many Bollywood productions, “Manikarnika” the movie wishes to promote “Indianness”, and do so in all of its patriotic and/or nationalistic dimensions. The movie, writes Gupta, “show[s] us what bravery and valour and patriotism is all about”. Palat [op. cit.] describes us how the movie presents Rani’s patriotism and pride – she writes: “When she’s being snarky to the British officers, there’s a slight smirk on her countenance. When she’s in a state of fury, her eyes tear up and her voice gets tremulous and rises a few notches. She stares back unflinchingly when spewing homilies on patriotism and national pride” [my emph.]. She is presented, writes Saibal Chatterjee in NDTV, as “the irrepressible patriot” [cf. https://www.ndtv.com, 06.02.2019]. “All she does”, he explains, “is deliver homilies on patriotism, courage and national pride”. Chatterjee’s review presents us with the following example: “Stating that ‘words without culture have no meaning’… she proceeds to extol the virtues of the mother tongue”. Lakshmi Bai also does a variety of things in the movie that are obviously meant to promote the traditional concept of “Indianness” – consider the following: “… she saves a calf from ending up as lunch for British officers. Can a film about nationalism be complete today without an act of gauraksha?” [ibid.]. “Gauraksha” [or “goraksha”], by the way, means “protector of cows”, associated with the Hindu deity, Shiva [cf. https://www.yogapedia.com].
As is apparent, the ideological discourse of “Manikarnika” the movie goes well beyond the promotion of mere patriotism – it is said to clearly foster Indian nationalism per se. Gupta [op. cit.] observes as follows: “The film skews, naturally, towards the ruling establishment in its exhortation of what nationalism means… As promised, Manikarnika does tick all the nationalistic boxes. It is getting a perfectly-timed Republic Day release. And there are plenty of eye-roll moments as it chases the red-faced Brits, and raises the flag. It may have been Jhansi, but it is clearly a prelude to the ‘tiranga’…” [my emph.]. The term “tiranga” [meaning “tricoloured”] refers to the Indian national flag. The dialogues used in the narrative of the movie are intended to arouse the chauvinistic passions of audiences – Kotecha [op. cit.] writes: “While there is enough chest thumping jingoism throughout, dialogues by Prasoon Joshi are quite impactful and applause-worthy. They succeed in stroking the patriotic passion within the audience without being too overbearing”. And further: “The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy add[s] to the patriotic fervour of the movie”. Saibal Chatterjee’s review [op. cit.] also confirms “Manikarnika’s” clear nationalistic intentions – the movie, he writes, is “Avowedly meant to stimulate patriotic zeal… among Indian moviegoers” – a “selfless love for the motherland”. It is of interest to note in this context that the movie’s patriotic or nationalistic ideological discourse is “mixed” with overtones of Indian religious symbolism. Uday Bhatia, writing in the Mint, observes: “This patriotism is mixed with religion until the difference between the two fades. I noticed more gods here – as idols, paintings, sculptures – than in any Hindi film I’ve seen” [cf. https://www.livemint.com, 25.01.2019, my emph. – with respect to Hindu religiosity as practiced in a locality such as East Ham, cf. Paper 4a].
The patriotic and nationalistic discourse of “Manikarnika” the movie goes even further – it intends to suggest that the “sexism” of the present-day Western world had long been transcended in the inherent practices of traditionalist “Indianness”. The latter is said to have once embedded its own special – albeit perhaps not necessarily ubiquitous – elements of “feminism”: Lakshmi Bai, the Rani of Jhansi, is said to symbolize just that. To begin with, Palat [op. cit.] informs us that “She [Kangana] brings her feminist views into the story, which is one of the better points about the film”. This observation, in itself, does not tell us anything about the particular type of “feminism” portrayed in the film – it tells us neither about its special [historical] origins nor about its particular relation to present-day Western [or global] civilization. It is Anna M.M. Vetticad’s review of the movie, written in Firstpost, which goes some way in elucidating the issue of “feminism”, and how that is dealt with in “Manikarnika”. Vetticad writes as follows: “The goosebumps continued in scenes showing the queen in battle, leading her people – men and women – from the front, her sari ‘pallu’ secured around her waist, her flowing hair tied in a tight plait as she fired guns, swiveled her sword and felled enemy soldiers in large numbers. It is hard not to be moved by these passages because we know them to be true – Rani Lakshmibai actually existed and did all these things that 21st century women are still being held back from doing in a persistently patriarchal world” [my emph.]. Vetticad is thus suggesting that traditional, authentic “Indianness” allowed women to “lead”, and – like Rani Lakshmibai in the movie – actually “led” both males and females. She contrasts this to 21st modern patriarchal culture, and as that is being practiced on the global [presumably Western-dominated] terrain. She continues: “Cinemas across the globe are dominated by male protagonists taking centre stage while women support them from the sidelines of life. India’s film industries, Bollywood included, are guilty of this crime as much as anyone else, rarely telling the stories of women or telling them from a female point of view. Whatever the follies of ‘Manikarnika’ maybe [sic], this is why it is important to record right at the start how inspiring and heartening it is to see Rani Lakshmibai played by Kangana Ranaut on her throne and in the battlefield… Ranaut is lithe and lovely, the perfect choice to play this fiery queen whose feats were chronicled with admiration not just by her associates but also by her British opponents” [cf. https://www.firstpost.com, 25.01.2019].
We do not at all mean to present the ideological discourse of “Manikarnika” – be it the “hagiography” of an Indian queen or even the chauvinism that is said to colour its narrative dialogue – in whatever negative light. Ideological discourses serve their necessary functionality in terms of the needs of the State; they also serve the needs of masses of people. Such needs are neither “right” nor “wrong” – they are an objective and perfectly explainable fact of life, and nothing more. It is in the light of such an approach that one needs to understand how the movie chooses to portray the English. Gupta [op. cit.] tells us that “Manikarnika” presents us with “a whole series of bumbling Englishmen”. Kotecha [op. cit.] writes that the movie “throws light on how the riches of India are fast being plundered by the British… Needless to say, most of the British characters come off as caricatures…” Palat [op. cit.] also writes of a “bizarre caricaturing of the English”, and she continues her observations as follows: “In earlier films on freedom struggle,… filmmakers had still tried to make the British officers of the East India Company more nuanced, or to put it in fewer words – more believable. In Manikarnika, the evil and conniving British officers are straight out of an Ekta Kapoor serial”. The latter, by the way, happens to be an Indian T.V. soap opera. The “evil” in the British is above all highlighted in the conflictual relationship between Lakshmi Bai and Sir Hugh Rose – Palat notes: “Interestingly, Manikarnika the film seems to unintentionally be about a war between Laxmibai and a very vengeful and vindictive Sir Hugh Rose (the man who led the army against the queen in 1858). He’s such a bitter soul that he even kills a young child for sharing her name with Laxmibai (What?)”. While Palat seems to be disconcerted by such bias, Chatterjee is not – “Not surprisingly”, he writes, “the British colonial officers… are bad-guy caricatures”.
Ideological discourse is meant to communicate with mass audiences – it may therefore make use of narrative forms that are overly simplistic. While not all Bollywood productions may make use of such particular techniques of mass communication, “Manikarnika” the movie certainly does. Although certain reviewers have been critical of such oversimplicity in the movie’s narrative, we need keep in mind that what really matters – and especially in the case of a motion picture meant to facilitate a particular popular ideology – is the functionality of its discourse vis-à-vis its target audiences [there are other reviewers who do understand the importance of this].“Manikarnika” certainly did [and does] communicate with the Asian masses, both in India and in the diaspora. Keeping this in mind, we shall end our notes on the movie by quoting a number of reviewers on the question of “Manikarnika’s” so-called oversimplicity:
- “It’s all kept deliberately kindergarten-level simple (in some places, even simplistic), linear, first this happened, then this happened, and then” [cf. Gupta, op. cit.].
- “Sadly, the 148-minute Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi,… fails to give Laxmibai’s character some substance and more shades. What Manikarnika turns out to be is thus something straight out of a Class-8 history textbook…” [Palat, op. cit.].
- “These are cartoonish stunts [performed by Ranaut], but nothing outside the Hindi film playbook… [And] the storytelling is structured like a children’s film – albeit one with a fair bit of blood – which may not be a bad move, considering how quickly viewers get used to the simplistic syntax” [cf. Raja Sen, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com, 28.01.2019].
Towards the end of 2019 – by November 15 of that year – Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema would screen a movie by the name of “Marjaavaan” [translated as “I will die”]. This is a Hindi-language romantic action film directed by Milap Zaveri. It starred Sidharth Malhotra who, as we shall see, played Raghuven ‘Raghu’ Nath. The cast also included Tara Sutaria [playing Zoya Ahmed] and Rakul Preet Singh [playing Aarzoo Hussain].
The movie’s storyline has been presented as follows by the Bollywood Hungama News Network: it is “set against the backdrop of the underbelly of Mumbai. In one of the poorer areas of Mumbai, Narayan Anna (Nassar) calls the shots. He has an army of men at his disposal and the most faithful of them is Raghu (Sidharth Malhotra). As an infant, he was found abandoned and it was Narayan Anna who raised him. Raghu is faithful and dedicated and always in the good books of Narayan Anna. As a result, Narayan’s son Vishnu (Riteish Deshmukh), a three-foot-midget, feels very jealous and he detests Raghu. The said locality also consists of a brothel where one of the nautch girls [South Asian traditional dancers; could also operate as prostitutes] is Arzoo (Rakul Preet Singh). She is in love with Raghu but the latter doesn’t believe in this concept. It all however changes when Raghu comes across Zoya (Tara Sutaria), a mute girl from Kashmir. She teaches him the power and importance of music and love. In no time, both fall for each other. Things go smooth until one day, Zoya witnesses a murder committed by Vishnu. Vishnu informs Narayan Anna about it who in turn tells Raghu to finish off Zoya! Raghu decides to elope with Zoya but he’s caught by Vishnu’s men at the bus stand. Also, Vishnu kidnaps two kids – Timepass (Om Kanojia) and Payal (Alina Qazi) – both of whom train [as part of a troupe for a music festival] under Zoya. Narayan Anna then gives Raghu two choices – eliminate Zoya and save Timepass and Payal. Or else, everyone will die. Zoya insists that Raghu should kill her and Raghu reluctantly does so. Raghu is shattered like never before and he’s arrested by ACP [Assistant Commissioner of Police] Ravi Yadav… What happens next forms the rest of the film” [cf. Bollywood Hungama News Network, https://www.bollywoodhungama.com, 15.11.2019].
The Bollywood Hungama News Network review calls this movie “a true blue masala entertainer” [ibid.; with respect to the term “masala”, cf. above].
Now, it should be emphasized that “Marjaavaan” is completely unlike all of the motion pictures that we have thus far presented – and it is of interest for precisely this reason. In sharp contrast to all movies discussed above, “Marjaavaan” does not at all belong to the Bollywoodian “renaissance” of the 1990’s as examined in this Paper 4e [as also in Paper 4d], it being a “renaissance” that would seriously attempt to focus on the national [or even, as we have seen, nationalistic] discourse of “Indianness”. Although, as mentioned, the movie was produced in 2019, it would nonetheless regress to the pre-“renaissance” period. It is therefore of great interest to consider the reactions of Asian audiences to this movie, both in India as also in the Ilford-East Ham area. The case of “Marjaavaan” is also of sociological interest in that it demonstrates how “renaissances” may carry within themselves remnants – or residual cultural practices – of the distant [or fairly distant] past. In this case, and as we shall ascertain, the regression could be said to date back to movie cultural paradigms of the 1970’s.
The vast majority of reviews written on “Marjaavaan” testify to its regressive nature, while some point to the implications of this. We shall here present a number of reviews that discuss this particularly problematic nature of the movie:
- “The film’s plot is reminiscent of many potboilers straight out of the 80s…” [cf. Ronak Kotecha, Times of India, https://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com, 14.11.2019].
- “Milap Milan Zaveri’s story is dated and is reminiscent of the films witnessed in 70s, 80s and 90s. Milap Milan Zaveri’s screenplay sets the film in the same zone…” [cf. Bollywood Hungama News Network, op. cit.].
- “Stuck in the 80s, it is the throwback you don’t need… Marjaavaan belongs to the 80s. We saw its clones and the clones of its clones back in the day and suffered for it. With the 90s new wave, we had hoped that the decade and its particular brand of cinema will forever rest in peace… So set is the formula of an 80s masala film that it may well have been concocted in a test tube by a particularly evil scientist. A boy, an orphan, is rescued by the local crime lord; the said crime lord is the god of the local basti [ghetto] which missed the news alert that India is a democracy with a penal code now; the boy grows up to become the crime lord’s muscle but has a heart of gold. The love of a good virginal woman is his redemption. He does away with the crime lord in a fight sequence in which bodies do cartwheels before they hit the ground. The film outlasts your patience but not before our hero rescues one woman – or five – from getting raped. There will be times he will be too late, a failing he shares with the police in films such as this; so then he avenges the woman… Maybe, just maybe, the older films were a product of their times, when we ostensibly didn’t know any better; back when… creativity was dying a slow death on the front benches of paan-stained theatres [“paan” is an Asian preparation of betel leaf combined with cured tobacco; it is an addictive and euphoria-inducing formulation; also popular amongst Asian diasporic settlers]. Why, oh why, bring it back for an airing in 2019?” [cf. Jyoti Sharma Bawa, Hindustan Times, https://www.hindustantimes.com, 15.11.2019, my emph.].
- “Marjaavaan” is “A stinky dustbin of ’80s Bollywood… The film… has everything borrowed from the worst of Bollywood of that trashy era… If, for some reason, you have an urgent craving for a rather tacky and soulless recap of Bollywood in the half-decent late-Seventies and its quick descent into the terrible Eighties, you could try to sit through Marjaavaan, otherwise a cretin of a film that is a complete waste of time, energy and money” [cf. Suparna Sharma, Deccan Chronicle, https://www.deccanchronicle.com, 16.11.2019, my emph.].
- “If only Marjaavaan was the name of a time capsule whose main aim was to fill you in on everything that was tried, tested and failed from the Eighties… this is not a tongue-in-cheek parody of the problematic film decade, but rather a loud, half-hearted attempt to recreate and celebrate it…” [cf. Ektaa Malik, The Indian Express, https://www.indianexpress.com, 15.11.2019].
- “This movie triggers nightmares about the worst scenarios in the days when ‘masala’ Hindi films [were] released on single screen theatres in the late 1980s and early 1990s. These films would be without much plot, and no narrative layers of any kind. They would begin with random situations presented, there would be movie stars to enact them, and they would end with dead bodies strewn across the screen… ‘Marjaavaan’… [is] a reincarnation of the blood and gore of those times” [cf. Ajit Duara, Open, https://www.openmagazine.com, 16.11.2019].
Audience response to this movie – both in India as also in the Ilford-East Ham region – was especially negative. We may here present a sample comment made by a patron – a certain Minhaz Miah – who had watched the movie at Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema. We read as follows: “I watched a movie here with my partner today and I just wanted to express how disappointed I am with the production. Marjaavaan was my first Hindi movie that I have watched… Please rethink, re-edit and recast this terrible excuse for a movie. I understand this has nothing to do with the cinema itself but I must express my disappointment somewhere” [cf. Google Reviews].
Generally speaking, one could say that at least by the 2000’s, Asian audiences had already come to adjust to – or even demand – the type of Bollywood movie that would be meeting the original standards of the “90s new wave”, and whatever adjunct features had come to accompany such ideological-cultural “renaissance” in the field of movie production. Movies that for some reason or other regressed to the “terrible Eighties” – as did “Marjaavaan” – would simply be rejected.
Such rejection is not only evident in the type of commentaries that have been written on the movie by patrons [both in India and the UK] – it is as much evident in the type of patron behaviour elicited within movie theatres that screened it. We have already discussed above how Bollywood fans usually behave within cinemas – their spontaneous, lively and even boisterous behaviour has been described in a number of contexts both in this Paper 4e as also in Paper 4d. “Marjaavaan” would fail to elicit whatever form of enthusiasm amongst audiences. Malik [op. cit.] observes: “The entire cast talks in one-liners, with the idea of eliciting whistles and claps, but none of the lines land”. And Duara [op. cit.] adds: “In a multiplex theatre, the regurgitation of this old content from a bygone era, appears surreal”.
We shall end this brief survey of Bollywood movies screened at Ilford’s Cineworld Cinema by considering a film shown in March 2020. The screening of this movie, entitled “Chal Mera Putt 2”, would be interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic; its screening in the UK would be resumed by August 2021.
By way of an introduction to “Chal Mera Putt 2” [an English translation of its title could not be ascertained; reviewers often refer to the movie as “CMP 2”], we may say that this is a 2020 Punjabi-language comedy-drama film directed by Janjot Singh. It starred both Indian and Pakistani Punjabi actors. The movie is a sequel to the highly popular “Chal Mera Putt”, produced in 2019 – this prequel being one of the highest-grossing Punjabi films ever produced, and which is also said to be the highest-grossing Punjabi film amongst the Asian diaspora [cf. https://www.boxofficeindia.com, 27.08.2019].
An Asian residing in the UK would make the following comment after watching “CMP 2” on March 14, 2020: “Non stop brilliance… Absolutely brilliant film, just watched the first showing in UK and can’t wait to go watch it again! Never wanted the film to end! Can’t wait for the 3rd installment” [cf. Internet Movie Database, https://www.imdb.com, 14.03.2020]. A Cineworld Cinema patron by the name of Gowhar Shaikh [cf. Paper 4d], who would also watch the movie in that period of time, would note: “Had a great evening… Watched Chal Mera Putt 2. Laughed so much. Packed cinema…” [my emph.].
Writing in August 2021, when the movie would be back on the screens yet once more, a reviewer by the name of Alisha would comment as follows in Get India News: “… the popular 2020 Punjabi language comedy-drama ‘Chal Mera Putt 2’ is back and the fans are keenly waiting to watch it once again… The film was the direct sequel of the 2019 film ‘Chal Mera Putt’…” [cf. https://www.getindianews.com, 28.08.2021].
Formal reviews of the movie have thus far been relatively scant – our notes on “CMP 2” shall therefore draw heavily on the comments of cinemagoers who watched the movie [we shall be making use of commentary retrieved from the Internet Movie Database, op. cit., as also from Goggle Reviews, op. cit.; all comments were recorded either in 2020 or 2021]. As we shall see below, patron comments are here of special interest, given the particular theme of the movie.
Before we examine the theme of “CMP 2”, it is of importance to note that this movie was shot both in the UK [Birmingham] and in India – this is of significance as we here have yet another case of what has been termed “creative collaboration” [cf. above]. As already discussed, such “collaboration” testifies to the importance of diasporic audiences in determining the very content of an Indian movie – it is precisely such “collaboration” in “CMP 2” that determined its own narrative theme, it being a focus on the experiences of diasporic Asians in India.
More specifically, the theme of the movie revolves around the experiences of illegal immigrants in the UK, and it is on such theme that we need to dwell if we are to understand the intentions of “CMP 2”.
The illegal immigrants portrayed in the movie are all Punjabis originating either from Pakistan or India, and the narrative focuses on their struggles to survive and settle in a foreign land, the UK. Gurlove Singh, writing in BookMyShow, presents the central theme of “CMP 2” as follows: “Jinder… and others [viz. the rest of the Punjabi immigrants]… continue living together under one roof in the UK. Their struggle to earn pounds and make ends meet whilst also sending money home and getting permanent residency in the UK still continues. But they take it all with smiles on their faces. The owner of the house they’re living in comes back to demand rent. Thus starts the struggle of arranging money or else they must vacate the house… [T]he emotional bond that they all share with each other is what wins your heart over… At times, the film tends to speak the language of the youth who face problems in foreign lands…” [cf. https://www.in.bookmyshow.com, 13.03.2020].
The theme of the movie makes a number of salient points regarding the phenomenon of illegal immigration, and especially as that is manifested amongst Asians wishing to settle in the UK. We shall present these points by recording a number of quotes retrieved either from writers formally reviewing the movie in various publications and/or platforms or from comments made by cinemagoers [whatever repetition of ideas or impressions would simply verify the points highlighted]. There is no need to discuss the quotes separately, as each speaks for itself – we shall, however, draw a number of general conclusions based on the quotes. Consider the following:
- “The genre of the film is comedy-drama which means audiences can watch and enjoy this film with their family. The story of the film revolves around Punjabis trying hard to make a living in a foreign land. The film carries forward the same eccentric friendship and love amongst illegal immigrants who strive for their PR [Permanent Residency] in the UK, as last in superhit Chal Mera Putt. It’s a tale of the problems they face and how they conquer them. They come across a few like-minded roles adding more pleasure to their journey showing us that when it comes to the grapple of life, no border can separate human hearts and the love inside” [cf. Alisha, op. cit., my emph.].
- “Movie is showing true reality of immigrant’s life in foreign countries where they go for sake of good life and struggling with own life problem and do work and help each [other]… Picture also showing love between of people who devided by borders also the bonding between each character” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 05.09.2021, my emph.]. Although the English syntax is problematic, as is the spelling, the comment does make full sense – this also applies to other cinemagoer comments presented below.
- “Best Punjabi movie… This movie can tell about many things like emotions or… especially for foreign worker… excellent approach” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 17.03.2021].
- “Awesome movie great work by all. Reflects the love and emotion of immigrants” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- The movie depicts, inter alia, “the friendship between Pakistani and Indians at London…” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified].
- “And heading towards the plot of the movie,… it’s based on the lives of six illegal migrants from India and Pakistan, living, struggling and sharing laughter together. It is basically the story of any individual who’s living away from his family, and struggling to get good work and make his family proud. And this is exactly what makes the story and theme of the movie most relevant and relatable…” [cf. Kiddaan.com Team, Kiddaan, https://www.kiddaan.com, 27.08.2021, my emph.].
- “Must watch movie… based on true reality, shows the hardwork and dedication each and every citizen of India does for family” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 20.03.2020, my emph.].
- “Excellent movie! Brilliant comedy, brings together some of the best talent from two countries, showing the tough situations faced by illegal immigrants in England” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 29.08.2021, my emph.].
- “… this [movie] shows a poor vision into how immigrants are living in the UK whom originated from India. No new content” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 19.03.2020].
Based on these quotes, one may say that the salient points regarding illegal immigrants in the UK are the following:
- Tight emotional bonds [of “love”] are forged amongst Asian migrants living illegally in the UK.
- Illegal migrants originating from India and trying to settle in the UK are above all “citizens of India” dedicated to their family back home – and they wish to make their family “proud” of them.
- The “situations” faced by illegal immigrants in the UK are “tough” – this point is especially reminiscent of the observation made by Krämer [op. cit.], who has argued that one thematic notion characteristic of the Bollywood genre is the portrayal of the West and/or the UK as a “negative reality” or as “potentially dangerous” for Asian migrants and settlers.
We may now supplement the quotes recorded above by presenting yet another set of comments that capture the sentiments and impressions of Asians who watched “CMP 2” – all such subjective commentary certainly verifies the salient points regarding illegal migrants as delineated above. Consider the following:
- “A good movie on a very important subject. The acting by the lead All Cast is outstanding” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 29.08.2021, my emph.].
- “… absolutely true issues are highlighted of immigrants… Love Punjab and a great movie” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “Awesome movie, it is movie you should watch to have a good laugh as well as to see the troubles of illegal immigrants and their hardships, very realistic movie” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “Trying to give moral message to Punjabis in foreign [countries] or plan to go foreign. But message is incomplete. But a good initiative to do so” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “A very good and a must watch movie for those who love to spread peace and harmony among nations” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “It is give a big moral of our life and the important thing of Indian and Pakistani Punjabi people very nice” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “Excellent movie. Full of fun and family movie with great lesson of peace between Pakistan & India” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “Very heart touching movie. Made me cry. Remind me the struggling days” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “The very good movie I say it today after interval all started crying in my all around” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “It’s more than a movie because every Punjabi experienced those things in foreign countries during their work” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
- “Very upsetting as this Indian movie has Pakistani actors. Say no to movie…” [cf. comment by cinemagoer, Google Reviews, date not specified, my emph.].
We shall end our notes on “CMP 2” with two final comments made by cinemagoers, both of which place emphasis on the Pollywoodian [cf. Paper 4d] and/or Punjabi genre of India’s film industry, to which “CMP 2” naturally belongs:
- “Future is Pollywood… Very nice movie. No nudity no profanity complete “U” family entertainer [“U” standing for “universal”; it suggests that a movie is suitable for all audiences over the age of four]… Hollywood/Bollywood/Tollywood should learn how to make family movies. Well done Rhythm Boyz production house. They always come up with beautiful content” [cf. comment made by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 29.08.2021, my emph.]. It should be noted that Rhythm Boyz Entertainment INC is a Punjabi film production and distribution company founded in 2013.
- “Must watch Punjabi movie. If you are Punjabi you must watch this. You will love this in every possible way. Background music so perfect. Best wishes to Rhythm Boyz” [cf. comment made by cinemagoer, Internet Movie Database, 29.08.2021, my emph.].
The UK’s Muslim community and its relation to the Bollywood phenomenon – cf. forthcoming Paper 4e/cont.