Friday, June 30, 2006

Indian Cinema

Whenever there is a lull in the news cycle, the U.S. or Indian news media come out with a story about how Bollywood is on the verge of going global. Yet the simple truth is that while French and Italian films are quite easy to find in mainstream video stores in the U.S. (even in Walmart sometimes!), it can be a challenge to find even Lagaan outside of specialty Indian video stores in the U.S. And no Hindi film actor or actress has yet to achieve the same crossover success of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan.

Yet this is all about the Bombay film industry so far. In the broader sense, Indian cinema has had some success abroad. Samsara, a foreign-produced film made with an Indian cast by an Indian director set in India, grossed $19 million worldwide before even being released in India. Monsoon Wedding, another foreign-produced Indian film, grossed $20 million. So why is it that an Indian film must be financed abroad to be successful abroad?

It could be that, traditionally, Indian film studios were cash-constrained and needed to make "safe," formulaic movies to ensure rapid cash turnover. Or perhaps Bombay film studios do not have the connections and business partnerships to work with distributors abroad. I saw film posters for Monsoon Wedding in the Prague metro when I visited four years ago. I doubt any locally-produced Hindi film has ever had such extensive marketing abroad.

Whatever the cause, it seems that if Indian film is to make inroads internationally in the future, it will be through foreign film studios taking on projects too unconventional for domestic producers. That is, unless the Bombay film industry begins to branch out and starts to take on riskier, more serious projects. There may be a broader lesson here as well. After all, why is it that Bangalore has such a long way to go before it can catch up with Silicon Valley? The fault certainly does not lie with lack of Indian talent.

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