Film & TV Writer Paurush Kumar takes another look at the shifting landscape of Hindi cinema, this time examining the impact of Hollywood on its Indian counterpart.
Although the Hindi Film Industry has hit a lot of heights, it has more than its fair share of flaws, the chief of which being its many influences. Chief among these is Hollywood, from costumes, characters and plotlines to VFX, Bollywood cinema exists permanently under the weight of Tinseltown.
Throughout the 1990’s and early noughties, audiences watched as Hindi cinema began to change, influenced irrevocably by its bigger, louder and sexier counterpart.
1999’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (In English: I Have Given My Heart Away), directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali marked a tipping part for the Hindi Film Industry. Everything about the picture, its costumes, music, plot progression and character development, was very much in line with the traditions of Bollywood cinema up to that point. A three-hour long spectacle filled with comedy, romance and rip-roaring song and dance numbers, the film was adored by critics, (Filmfare’s reviewer called it ‘a once in a decade type of extravaganza’) and performed well at the box office both at home and overseas.
This stands in sharp contrast with the Dhoom series (the Hindi word ‘dhúm’) meaning ‘bang’ in English, which began with 2004’s Dhoom and was last updated with 2013’s Dhoom 3. The franchise, which was expanded in 2012 by a canonical graphic novel, is highly westernized, with the stylized visuals and choreographed action set pieces owing a significant debt to films such as the James Bond series and The Fast and the Furious. Dhoom 2: Back in Action (2006), also bought into the Hollywood’s habit of product placement in order to promote the film and boost box office revenue, creating associations with both Pepe Jeans and Coca-Cola. The second film proved wildly successful and became the highest-grossing Bollywood film in history upon its release, perhaps pointing to an appetite among Indian audiences to experience more Hollywood inspired pictures.
As Hindi Cinema continued to move into the 21st century the industry came to be defined by hip-hop and rap music, genres of music that are not a part of traditional Bollywood culture. Recent movies like Ok Jaannu and Dum Maaro Dum have even added hip-hop verses and grime overtones to evergreen Hindi classics, angering portions of audiences who consider these western influences to be rotting the hallmarks of Hindi cinema.
In terms of storylines, contemporary Hindi cinema is now home to a host of western remakes – mirroring the stagnant trend of unoriginality eating away at Hollywood today. In recent years Bollywood has seen a host of these direct adaptations, mostly of Hollywood classics, including versions of The Godfather, When Harry Met Sally and Reservoir Dogs among countless others.
Visual effects are another notable influence, with films like Ra.One and Krrish 3 marking significant technological advances for the Hindi film industry. Bollywood was borne out of the traditional and regional dances of Indian culture, although today a lot of these segments in Bollywood films are being replaced by westernized freestyle and hip hop dance sequences, a la Step Up and Stomp the Yard.
While the influence of Hollywood continues to seep through the Hindi cinema there is hope for the film industry yet. Select filmmakers continue to produce pictures which honor both India’s national and cinematic heritage with films like ‘Devdas’ and ‘The Lunchbox’ serving to express the unspoken emotions of the Indian people.
All this being said, the influence here tends to go both ways – Hollywood has also been inspired by Bollywood, although obviously not to the same extent. Chandran Rutnam’s A Common Man, starring Ben Kingsley and Ben Cross, is directly inspired by Indian film A Wednesday! while the critically panned Amy Adams starrer Leap Year, set in Ireland, is a loose adaptation of the 2007 romantic drama Jab We Met. While the Hindi Film Industry will undoubtedly continue to be bear the mark of Hollywood, its long term must be to strive to produce films that are on par with its western counterpart.
Paurush Kumar | Film & TV Writer