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Bollywood and Hollywood do not mix

December 26, 2006

Hindi films may have made $78 million in the United States in the last 6 months of 2006, but as everyone knows – it’s the NRI’s who are watching the films…not the locals. The reasons why they reject Hindi films are the same as why we watch them. Well, I guess I can’t speak for everybody but I can speak for myself. I watch Hindi films because:

1. I like certain stars (won’t name them here as they are too many of them!) and enjoy watching them on the screen. If I hear that a movie is average but it has my favourite star, I’ll go for it.
2. They are musicals and I enjoy the lyrics
3. Hindi movies can make me cry
4. They endorse family values (too conservative for westerners to digest)
5. They are about brown people and more importantly, I can identify with the issues raised.

These are very reasons are why westerners cannot relate to Bollywood films. But if some of us can relate to Hollywood films, why can’t they relate to Bollywood?
Let’s see why we like Hollywood films. Again, I will speak just for myself. I like Hollywood films because:

1. They are technologically superior which makes for a slicker product
2. Many have universal and more ‘realistic’ themes, that is if you leave out the trash.
3. Acting even by B-grade actors is generally good even if the plot is trash.
4. Important to remember that the mass audience in India can only related to the action movies of Hollywood like Spiderman for example. Or children can related to Harry Potter. But mostly our audience cannot relate to the issues raised in many serious Hollywood movies and frankly at times I find some of their films very artificial (like they find our films artificial). I think to some extent all films are artificial, but we can find something to relate to in a film that is ours and less to relate to in a film that is hollywood.

So this means if Bollywood starts making movies which are technologically superior (which will need lots of money), cut out the song and dance, make movies with universal and realistic themes (Satya) instead of a family oriented tear-jerkers (KANK) then they will break into the Hollywood market?
But wait…this doesn’t mean the so-called ‘crossover’ films like ‘Black’ or even the English language ‘Bride and Prejudice’. These films were far too ‘Bollywood’ to be enjoyed by the western audience. Hindi film directors’ efforts to cater to both markets haven’t worked. Our actors need to learn better acting for one thing.
The only way that Bollywood films can gain a toehold in Hollywood is if they make a completely separate product for that market by a director who understands the western mindset. But then such a film will bomb in India. So what’s the use anyway?

Related Reading: Double digit growth of Bollywood cheques (2006)
Why Bollywood and Hollywood do not mix
The narcism of celebrities
Will Hollywood ever thrash Bollywood?
Bollywood’s booming and star paychecks continue to rise in 2007
More Bollywood: How Aish catapulted to fame 12 years ago
Abhishek and Aish make a good pair
Shilpa Shetty’s Big Brother Reality TV experience
More Hollywood: Indian media’s obsession with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Brangelina broke laws when they were in India

41 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2006 8:51 pm

    As an Indian I vouch your views very much. But what I don’t like about todays’s bollywood makers that they imitate hollywood/west too much. There I cannot identify with them.

    I believe such approach has begun in just last decade. Ofcourse, previously Indian film-makers were copying Hollywood (sometime even entire footage of an english movie were put into movies) but such things were not prevailing in the mainstream cinema, which is now in the mainstream. Still there are few good movies come every year, but number is declining.

    If Indian movie makers want to make a movie s/he has to think universally not just for westerners. Say, an typical Indian movie cannot go without a hero, heroine, villain, few songs etc. These ingredients are mandatory for Indian viewers. So one has to think differently, think on a common theme which is common for everyone.

    It is not necessary to have big budget, or Star Wars technology to churn out a universal appealing movie. It can be very simple theme and risk-taking for taking creative approach.

  2. December 26, 2006 9:20 pm

    I agree that this copycat behavior of Bollywood is a phenomena of recent years…maybe it started about 10-15 years ago. I remember the movies we saw when we were growing up and the songs as well…in the seventies and in the eighties. The movies may not have been Oscar material but they were original. The music was fantastic.
    Now there is a breed of directors who are greedy. They are the get-rich-quick type and they want money without working for it. And real talent is often not given a chance to come up. For example if a youngster has talent he may be pulled down and shunted out. What’s left?
    A bunch of fat rich businessmen thieves who can only make movies if they copy.

  3. December 27, 2006 6:12 am

    Hello there,

    Read your blog. Agreed with you except the budget aspect. There was this movie called Blair Witch Project that was shot in hand held camera but was a super hit film. There are so many films that were made in Hollywood which were called indie films with a low budget and were hit… producers in India should change the attitude and try making different films..infact we are the ones who should make accept and refuse films… Dhoom II was a hit film that didnt find me so interesting… in India movies are made in formulas… same track… in Dhoom 2 if you see the climax… Abhishek leaves Hrithik & Ash for no reason… there is no law in the world which leaves a criminal…so it was director who had let go the pair in the end without any punishment… so what was the fun going after them like a crazy…

    As far as budget I am sure when the Indian producers will come to know that they will be able to get back the money from the market they will invest in the bigger projects…I say time is not far for that….in another 10 years this will happen…

    One more thing Hindi films are becoming popular in Europe and Asia but unfortunately movies make their most money in UK & USA. I am sure when different part of the world enjoy the Indian films even in USA the American will also enjoy…

  4. December 28, 2006 6:13 pm

    Actually I think lots of foreigners do enjoy Bollywood films. Amitabh Bachchan got mobbed in Egypt (and he was not expecting it!) and when I went to Egypt, the locals saw my skin and all they could say was “Amitabh Bachchan!” and “Amar Akbar Anthony” which even I haven’t watched, lol. They don’t even speak hindi but they watch with subtitles. Similarly in Australia and the UK, Indian films play in their theatres and I have an australian friend who loves watching the DVDs I send him. My sister in the UK tells me the Bollywood shows in her city are often sold out. The Indians aren’t the only ones watching… 🙂 Hey we make really good movies sometimes, like Black and Munnabhai MBBS, and Paheli and others.

    I prefer to use the word “inspire” rather than copy. It’s an Indian trait to be inspired by cultures around our own, that is why India has always welcomed people of all kinds into its soil and traditions and even in its languages. I think we would do well to continue this trend and “grow” with the times and be a country of love, peace and harmony.

    Thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

  5. December 28, 2006 7:42 pm

    I do agree that some foreigners watch Hindi films, but I was referring to the majority really. The majority of Indians (in India)prefer Bollywood and the majority of westerners prefer Hollywood. I guess it’s natural.

  6. January 8, 2007 9:40 am

    Hindi movies are basically westerns + musicals. It is a complete fantasy with emphasis on (what bollywood and eastern cultures call) powerful emotion, but other cultures call bad over the top acting.

    the reason hindi movies are unattractive or attractive to some cultures would be the same reason for us – would you watch a telugu, malyalam film or regional film with same story line, stars, and dialogue delivery as a hindi film ?

    if you would, then others would watch hindi films.

  7. January 8, 2007 10:08 am

    You are bang on SD. We wouldn’t even watch a Telugu film even if it had sub-titles. It would be difficult to relate to the situations and characters. Very few Indian films have universal themes and when they do they are usually re-made in other Indian languages.

  8. jaz permalink
    January 8, 2007 10:10 am

    Actually, I believe the biggest issue of why “bollywood” films for atleast the next few years will not gain success in the west is due to lack of promotion. IMO if Black, Rang De Basanti, Omkara, Lage Raho, Yuva, etc. were mass marketed and released in atleast 500 screens the could have done well. (Currently, Don holds the record for most screens in NA at ~110. The figure pales in comparison when a Pirates or a Spiderman releases at over 4000 screens) Ofcourse additional things such as expensive TV campaigns, reviews in local papers, star interviews, ect. would be absolutely neccessary as well.

  9. Pat permalink
    January 8, 2007 11:01 am

    Yes i actually enjoy reading your article. i really did. i am totally agree with the comments that you have made, but as a residence of US, i have noticed that there are some of indian (NIR) in us are turning their backs on bollywood movie, because they think that makes um not cool may be, i don’t know. i also wanna say that when people in india watch hollywood movie, they appreciate um on big scale, but when indian director try to approach the same path, indian people do not appreciate that. for example the movie DON was outstanding, but i have heard and read lots of indian people saying that the movie was OK. they try to compare the Bib B with Khan. on the other hand, the first indian superhero movie came out. KRRISH. now indian people commented that it’s outstanding. i personally didn’t find Krrish really good, because all the actions were easy to spot that they are fake. if you wanna spend millions on movie then make it more realastic. i give them credit for trying something new, but come on let face it. and i think that’s the reason, westerner do not appreciate the indian movie.

  10. Eric MacDonald permalink
    January 8, 2007 9:49 pm

    I am a westerner who has recently started watching Bollywood movies
    in an attempt to understand India better. I have enjoyed most of them.

    The reason these movies are not popular here in the US are the reasons
    2 and 3 that you listed. Musicals were big in the west in the 40’s and 50’s
    (think “Westside Story”) but now very few westerners appreciate musicals.
    Musicals are considered campy and over-the-top.

    The “brown people” reason is definitely not true. I think most in the US see
    India as exotic and cool and that most Indian actors and actresses are stunning.
    However, my western view of the acting in Bollywood is that it is definitely

  11. jatin permalink
    January 9, 2007 3:31 am

    who watch is this film oversesas??? sad indians pakistanis and bengalis the working class from that part of the world

  12. Sum permalink
    January 9, 2007 9:29 pm

    A good movie is a good movie….it doesnt matter who makes it and
    where it comes from….if bollywood movies arent watched much by
    westerners ..its not their fault..consider the top grossers of
    this year : dhoom 2, Krishh ,lage raho and KANK.
    And mind u….these are the movies that are going to be promoted
    abroad….coz they have done well in their own country.
    Of these first 2…..even a C grade hollywood action thriller is
    better….and “lage raho “…has been watched and appreciated by
    ppl everywhere all over the world. And the same goes for
    KANK….though it had mixed reports.

    Now u cant go and complain that whites arent watching your DHOOM
    2 and KRISSH…..for obvious reasons….”Lage Raho” is a good
    movie…whites saw it and liked it…and over….do u expect each
    and every white to see it?? ..obviously NO… .do u watch each
    and every french ,german, chinese movie…..even the ones that do
    well??….there are so many movies of every country ….that are
    technically far superior than our own….that never get the kind
    of attention in America…..that they deserve…..only the best
    make it….I think good indian movies get good attention all over
    the world….in film festivals etc….and thats whats
    required…..ur not seriously thinking about a Shah rukh movie
    making it to mainstream hollywoood cinema and becoming this huge
    box office success….and all the Americans are shouting “shah
    rukh ….shah rukh”……is that your idea of bollywood doing
    well abroad??? don’t they have their own stars???…

    Good bollywood movies are appreciated all over the
    world…especially UK and other parts of Europe…..and sometimes
    in the US. If they’re good.

  13. kaka permalink
    January 9, 2007 11:59 pm

    i just read about bimal roy to be honered its great news at least there was one directore who stood out ,,

  14. January 10, 2007 3:11 am

    i agree with you over here as well. movies should be more about acting and not aping the west. special effects dont make a movie great at all. what’s so great about dhoom 2 and krrish anyway? they are more like Indian versions of western movies. There are so many ways they can make great movies but they choose to take an easy way out. Its not as if special effect movies have not been done before. simple movies like “dor” were far more interesting than these movies. it proves that there are plenty of talented indian film makers out there.

  15. Sum permalink
    January 10, 2007 11:46 am

    ^^^^^^ exactly….even “khosla ka ghosla” was a well made movie.

    But it got no nomination…or mention…would this movie make it to

    the west??? …i dont think so.

  16. January 10, 2007 11:48 am

    I have seen two Bollywood productions and they were actually enjoyable. Not to sound snub, but my expectations were a lot lower. My Indian friend tells me that the industry releases hundreds of movies a year, but only a miniscule percentage are “good.” Anyways, being raised by immigrant parents, I share your idea about conservative family dynamics not shared as wholeheartedly by the majority of American audiences. Good post. 🙂

  17. Carolyn permalink
    January 10, 2007 9:42 pm

    I’m a westerner (Irish) and I love Bollywood movies. The main reason people don’t watch them here in Ireland is because alot of Irish haven’t even heard of Bollywood. It’s really only the educated or well travelled here who actually watch these movies. They’re getting hugely popular in the UK though and this popularity will eventually spread to Ireland in time.

    I agree with those saying that they are trying to become too much like Hollywood though, alot of the older films are so much better. If Bollywood loses all it’s typical ingredients such as the hero, heroine, villain, few songs etc then it’s going to lose what makes it so ‘different’ and good. I watch Bollywood for what it is, not to see a Hollywood wannabe.

    PS My husband is an ‘NRI’ so he’s the one that introduced me to Bollywood.

  18. Lois Lane permalink
    January 10, 2007 11:33 pm

    There’s actually a pretty decent amount of westerners that like Indian movies for their cheesy quirkiness. Hindi movies might never be mainstream, but they definitely have their own following. Ditto for the music.

    The problem with Hindi movies lately today is the simple fact that they’re trying too hard to be like American movies. Perfect examples? Krrish and Dhoom 2. The movies were massive hits in India, but you see it here, and honey, it ain’t nothing you haven’t seen in an American movie at least five times before. There are movies like Chandni Bar and Earth 1947 that are just so amazing in their own right…but for every one of those, we’re getting Krrishes and Dhooms and…I don’t know. Indian movies would improve if India found its own identity instead of trying to ape the West. Look at Japan. They’re doing their own thing, and they’re doing a damn good job of it.

  19. no_tv permalink
    January 11, 2007 2:45 am

    You are right about westerners not being interested in conservative values at all. I think it’s more than just a disinterest, I’d venture to say that we are offended by conservative values.

    “What,she respects her parents and isn’t showing her thong floss to the world!” She’s oppressed!!!!!!

  20. January 11, 2007 2:57 am

    hey Nita, I cant find ur article of Aishwariya rai, the one that is on, but just wanted you to know if you have any knowledge at all of hindi films, the FIRST FAMILY wasnt and will never be the Bachchan’s IT were, the Kapoors and they still are. They are even in the Guiness book of records for the many generations of being in films.

    Just for your information.

  21. Rocky Singh permalink
    January 11, 2007 4:16 am

    I just want people to know that black movies was copied from old american classic movie

  22. Rocky Singh permalink
    January 11, 2007 4:18 am

    Black movie of amitabh and rani mukherjee. Its nothing new same bollywood copying from hollywood. Dhoom – Fast and furious

  23. snipedout99 permalink
    January 11, 2007 7:11 am

    Well its kinda sad when every single hindi movie you watch has an intermission… haha

  24. January 11, 2007 7:29 am

    […]4. They endorse family values (too conservative for westerners to digest)[…]

    I’m not too sure what movies you are watching but I haven’t seen one in the past five years that “endorses family values”. Even if there is such a movie, there will be five more scenes of the people endorsing family values dancing with half-naked girls in a club.

    Indian movies are good when there is actual substance. Bazaar and Salaam Bombay are two of my favorites. I’ll even settle for something older like Darr or even something newer like Muna Bhai or Malamal Weekly. But I see more of shit like Phir Hera Pheri (complete imitation of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and Ek Ajanabee rather than actual original movies.

  25. January 11, 2007 8:11 am

    Lois – I agree that Indian film directors should stop trying to imitate the west. But take a film like Krissh. It was not my favorite film, but there are Indian audiences who loved it. It’s a different thing watching someone from one’s own culture doing all those stunts. Also, English subtitles for the Superman kind of films just don’t work as well as the real thing. But it’s a mistake to try and sell a film like Krissh to the west. Like you said, the stunts are just not good enough.
    Aresenalist – Whether Bollywood or Hollywood, some films are bad and some are good.

  26. January 14, 2007 5:19 pm

    If indian films need to stop trying to imitate the west, then the west ( and with this i mean hollywood) should stop imitating other countries films. They remake a lot of French films, Dutch films, Japanese and chinese and Italian films. Nobody is complaining about that, but they are doing it also.

    The only original industry is probably the Japanese filmindustry but they dont get credit for anything.

  27. HindiFan permalink
    January 16, 2007 3:56 am

    I strongly believe bollywood should stop recruiting western actors to create western version movies. If the western production can transform Sir Ben Kingsley to play our Ghandiji, then so can we.

    The western actors do not have respect nor appreciation of our melodramatic cinemas. In a recent TV interview in London by channel 4, actor James McAvoy whom played a doctor character in The last king of Scotland stated, if you want a bad film in your career, go to bollywood, which I think is an insult.

    I believe we are better off without them, we do not have to prove ourselves to them (Hollywood) and finally, both the English language and the people cannot speak our Indian melodrama.

  28. ravikiran permalink
    January 22, 2007 8:59 am

    I think that bollywood films are far more popular than hollywood films.I was in multi racial Germany and all the races especially bangladesh,nepal,pakistan,afghanistan,Iran.Iraq till turkey and a lot of african countries watch bollywood films and indian movies are famous for their music and dance.This is true because more or less the cuture of all these countries is the same.

    I know an african who said’we dont understand a word of hindi but we have experts who tell you whats happening based on the sceanes and expressions of the stars’.

    I had a german friend who had an indian husband and she told me that a lot of turkish people used to come to her to ask for Indian films.I think its hollywood that has less audience than bolly.

  29. February 26, 2007 10:15 am

    It doesn’t have anything to do with family values, people actually appreciate that. The reason why Bollywood is not so appreciated in the west is because of the unrealistic acting. Actually i showed some Indian movies which i knew would be liked by my friends..for example…everyone loved Lagaan, Dil Se and Asoka.

    Also i would like to point out the west is not America…

  30. April 29, 2007 9:10 pm

    I am doing a study here in London for my A Level Media. My investigation is ‘How Bollywood has become Americanised over the last three years, with specific reference to the films ‘Don’ ‘Girlfriend’ and ‘Krrish’. I would appreciate any related views on this topic…thanks.

  31. Jay permalink
    November 29, 2007 4:38 am

    Most Bollywood stars were chosen for their looks and dancing abilities. Few, if any, can actually “act,” and those who can are either dead (Smita Patil, Nargis, AK Hangal) or in their 50s (Shabana Azmi). The rest are all pretty faces and/or sexy bodies. Hollywood isn’t much better, but it does have bonafide actors whose performances transcend culture and language.

  32. Peaches permalink
    March 13, 2008 12:09 am

    I’m African-American, but I like Bollywood Cinema and music. Every Saturday, I would look forward to watching the Asian Variety Show( AVS). I really enjoy the show. Unfortunately, it went on COMCAST. For the time being, I just look at some of the clips that are provided on their website.

    When they had the writer’s strike, it was said that if they didn’t reach a compromise that they TV execs considered putting Bollywood films on TV. Honestly, I would have prefered it. I have no problem watching it as I’m getting tired at watching some of these pointless reality shows that has dominated our airwaves.

    Thanks for that feedback Peaches! – Nita.

  33. sujay permalink
    May 9, 2008 3:41 am

    cheers mate you do……………………………………………..

  34. Joss permalink
    July 1, 2008 4:00 pm

    Hi Nita

    You know, it is still a mystery to me why more British people (white ones) don’t watch Bollywood films. Of course, it does’t help that they are only aired late at night on Channel 4, well 1 am is actually early in the morning. If they were promoted properly I am sure that lots of people would love them.

    The main reason that Bollywood films ought to catch on is that in neither Britain nor America is anyone making musical films anymore. There is nothing in any way comparable. The musical stage is thriving, but those shows are rarely made into movies. You can appreciate how much we really want musical films by the popularity of High School Musical, which has taken the country by storm. And yet, compared to any Bollywood film the production is childish and cliched. It is, of course, aimed at children, but nevertheless… If you can remember how popular Grease and Saturday Night Fever were in the 70s you will see that there is a hunger for this type of entertainment. How could any teenager anywhere not love Main Hoon Na, for example.

    I think that at the moment things are probably changing, but it’s no thanks to the broadcast media or the cinemas. (When I took a friend and her 10 yr old daughter to see Taare Zameen Par last year we were ‘warned’ by two cinema attendants that it was a Bollywood film! Beyond belief …) I have several friends who are interested in watching Bollywood films but they don’t know where to go, what to look out for, who is in them or anything. I invite them to one of my Bollywood evenings at home, introduce them to Shah Rukh, and then they are hooked. But it still feels like this is an underground movement. Crazy, or rather Krazzy!

    Congrats on the millionth hit, Nita, I still read you every day. I really don’t know how you manage to do it, turn out such quality on a daily basis. Amazing yaar!

    Joss, thanks. And am glad you read the blog still and hope you continue too. I think maybe over there people don’t see bollywood because they don’t have a good image of India. Well, that’s another reason! – Nita.

  35. vinod permalink
    July 26, 2008 11:17 am

    A little off-topic comment

    I’ve been introduced to Korean dramas and movies lately. Korean dramas carry the same family values as Indian movies. But Korean dramas are far better made in being slightly more realistic; the typical melodramatic exaggerations of Indian movies are avoided. I think if Korean dramas are copied into Indian movies they’ll make a great hit. Korean dramas are a raging hit in South East Asia. And I love them too.

    Something to the same effect can also be said of Japanese movies.

  36. guqin permalink
    July 27, 2008 10:13 am

    I have seen movies from India too. My general impression is that East Asian films are warm, Indian films are hot. I think it is consequential to cultural differences. East Asia is Confucian in culture. Confucianism is more of harmony and peace. Passion and ecstasy are not its charecteristics. I see this difference between young people from India and those from East Asia too. A very good observation for me since I had wrongly assumed that Indian people and Chinese people must be very similar in charecters.

  37. July 27, 2008 9:51 pm

    Vinod, you are new to my blog and have realised you left several comments but I have not replied to any. Sorry about that, but I don’t usually reply to comments on my old posts, unless someone asks a question. Thanks for that information on Korean cinema.

    Gugin, indeed a great difference there is between the Chinese and the Indians, I would say they are opposites in most of the way. The only thing they share is a vast deep-rooted culture, but because of the wars and invasions, the temperament and character of Indians has changed….or rather I should say is different within each state. India is a mix and match of many different countries. China has been more or less homogenised due to the confucian influence. It may be perhaps possible to characterize the Chinese as one entity but it is not possible to do so for Indians. The difference is very very vast…though overall yes we are more of a very emotional people.

  38. guqin permalink
    July 29, 2008 3:03 pm

    Indian people are like water in a boiling pot, it looks hot with the bubbles and it is hot. Chinese people are like tea in a cup, without the bubbles it looks cool, but when you feel it, it is hot. People of the U.S. are like Coke in a can just opened, with the boiling bubbles it looks hot, but when you feel it, it is in fact cold.

    Gugin. 🙂 – Nita

  39. September 3, 2008 12:19 pm

    I always hope the mindset of the whole people living either in the west and and in the east will become universal to an extent that we will not talk anymore about Holly or Bolly but we will get completely cool movies completely enjoyed by anybody in any spot of the earth. I also choose tham basing on the quality of my mood 😉

  40. Naveen Pedditi permalink
    September 20, 2008 10:05 pm

    Hi Nita,

    I came here from your other posts. Any ways, I can offer a new angle to the quality of films (both Hollywood & Bollywood).

    Indias average IQ is 86 Americas Average IQ is about 95.

    Now, my view is that Bollywood makes movies for an audience whose avg IQ is 86.

    On top of that the stats say that the variance is high for Indian IQ. Go figure!

    My two cents.

  41. Manish permalink
    February 7, 2009 1:38 pm

    Bollywood is far more popular than Hollywood in Africa, Australia and East European nations. That’s mainly due to it being cheaper and also aesthetically almost similar to Hollywood. In fact, a lot of what is spent on Hollywood films to make it technically superior goes to waste as Bollywood catches it up with less expenditure.
    The thing is that in India, Bollywood is less popular than Hollywood but that too not everywhere. Techomaniacs in Kolkata would for example get hooked to English films like those of James Bond or Wanted because they are slightly pedantic and also don’t understand Hindi well, but, notice the huge popularity of even simple films like Taare Zameen Par or Ghajini. I can still hear countryside areas thriving with the old romantic songs of such films as Raja Hindustani,Refugee and Quayamat Se Quayamat Tak,Maachis… Hollywood can never come up with such brilliant music as their focus is on technology, not on emotions.
    Lastly, it’s only the irrational craze to be all western which makes Indian youths specially in urban areas of today watch more Hollywood than Bollywood.But Bollywood can never lose itself on rational citizens who want to see reality rather than frequent violence of Hollyowood. Such people may be few in India but are huge in number abroad.

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