Academic journal article Hemispheres

Bollywood in the Arms of the West A Short Study of the Effects of Western Culture on Indian Commercial Cinema with a Particular Emphasis on Songs

Academic journal article Hemispheres

Bollywood in the Arms of the West A Short Study of the Effects of Western Culture on Indian Commercial Cinema with a Particular Emphasis on Songs

Article excerpt


The process of westernization of Indian commercial cinema is connected mostly with Indian diasporas but also with a fast growing middle class living in Indian metropolises. It is not a matter of the last years. A century-long tradition of Indian cinema shows different forms of this phenomenon and various degrees of its intensity nevertheless the process of westernization has become more radical in last 10 years. When discussing the effects of Western culture on Bollywood the author focuses on one significant element of Hindi films - songs - divided into two main categories: celebratory songs and love songs. The main function of song is to express words forbidden to be spoken and things forbidden to be shown, it induces in the spectator's heart the same emotions that accompany heroes and provokes the viewer to identify with a character. However it is also a kind of interval which provides entertainment and delights the audience. Underlining the importance of film songs the author refers to two main sources of the aesthetic of Indian commercial cinema: the Parsi theatre and the Natyashastra - an ancient Indian treatise on the rules of the performing arts. The purpose of this paper is aimed at analyzing how the Western world affects Bollywood and what are the reasons of Westernization to become radical. Compressing the history of Indian cinema the author differentiates three periods of time to show how the process of westernization has changed the style and the function of songs but also the presentation of the Western world. The author considers the consequences of this process and how it has affected viewer's perception and his attitude to a character which changes from committed and unquestionable to more reflective and dispassionate.


Westernization is a process whereby societies adopt elements of the Western world, especially in such areas as language, industry, technology, education and its system of values. From the colonial era up until presently, Westernization in India has profoundly affected its political and educational system, language, and architecture in the same way as art and entertainment has been, especially so in cinema. The Indian film industry, since the beginning of its existence, has referenced the West, transferring and adapting the products, images and styles of Western culture. This has been achieved mainly by the process of domestication or rather glocalization defined as the way in which ideas and structures that circulate globally are adapted and changed by local realities} As we shall see, during the last decade it has been progressing further and uses Western examples even more radically.

The name Bollywood although it is well known, needs an explanation. The term, popularized in 1970s, is a blend of two words: Hollywood and Bombay2 - considered as the capital of Indian film industry. Although it defines Hindi language films produced in Mumbai, it is often mistakenly used as a name of the whole Indian commercial cinema.3 Whereas it is only one of at least a dozen regional language cinemas in India such as Kollywood (Tamil cinema with the center in Kodambakkam) or Ollywood (Oriyan language film industry). However having the largest distribution across the world it is indeed the most popular and powerful of Indian cinemas.4

There is a pervasive claim of identifying Bollywood exclusively with so-called masala movies. According to this a typical film is melodramatic, long (three to four hours), filled with songs and dance numbers, elaborate sets, and brightly coloured costumes; and based on traditional values such as family and religion.5 As we shall see it seems to be unreliable. It is true that most films are produced according to the above-mentioned pattern however nowadays defining Bollywood is becoming more difficult. Bollywood is not a genre6, but a phenomenon, a combination of many genres, styles and modes of expression which are progressing rapidly. …

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