How travelling in South America made me fall in love with Bollywood

There is a new-found respect in my heart for our superstars and starlets.

 |  5-minute read |   02-06-2016
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Only a few months ago I held no great love or respect for Indian cinema, specifically Bollywood. The song and dance routine, the sugary sweet romance and the larger than life emotional stories drew only mockery from me.

To me, everything about Bollywood was what was wrong with Indian cinema. In many ways I felt that our movies were not a true representation of Indian culture and art.

But then things changed. No longer do I think that Bollywood sucks. In fact my feeling for our tinsel town is now quite the opposite. There is a new-found respect in my heart for our superstars and starlets. Not just that, I think our music and dance is the best in the world.

img_9480_060216112906.jpg Bollywood's influence seems purely organic, at least outside of its traditional NRI markets. 

It might be of some interest to you to know how this transformation occurred.

For the last one year I travelled through many countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. A personal project called "The 12 Project" took me to all these countries.

And slowly it dawned upon me that Bollywood is a force to reckon with. Much beyond the imagination of many Indians like me.

Also read - 8 reasons Bollywood must do away with song and dance

I, myself, did not know much about the countries I was visiting. Then, who would have expected that Kareena Kapoor is loved in a tiny Central American country called Nicaragua? But she is, and that is a fact.

My host in the capital Managua, Denis Solano, would wake up to and go to bed watching videos of Hindi songs. "Dhoom machale" was his favourite.

"I understand nothing, but I just love the music and movies from your country," he would say with the excitement of a teenager.

img_9326_060216112929.jpg Bollywood displays the beauty of Indian culture, our dress, our music and culture. 

The enthusiasm was not just limited to him. Apparently, Hindi movies with Spanish subtitles were a regular at multiplexes of Managua.

Denis is lucky, because he can watch Hrithik or Kangana at a cinema near him. Not everyone in Latin America is so lucky.

But that does not stop them from getting their regular fix of Danca - Indu (Bollywood dancing is known this way across Latin America). It was in Banos, an adventure junkie destination in Ecuador, that I noticed something completely unexpected.

The local market had many stalls selling pirated CDs and DVDs. And would you believe it if I said that number of Bollywood movies on offer almost rivalled the Hollywood ones?

Also read - India can change cinema, with a little help from Hollywood

And in all probability, I was one of the first Indians to have arrived in that small town. But Bollywood had beaten me by many years.

I would realise that this was a trend everywhere. Markets in small towns across the continent would be incomplete without their Bollywood offerings.

People across the world are smitten by our dress, accessories and the grace of our performing arts. Most cities in Colombia, like any other South American country, have at least one Danca-Indu academy.

And if the number of students were anything to go by, all of them were doing good business. Closer home, in Sri Lanka any social occasion of importance is incomplete without a Bollywood dance performance.

Also read - Assam's roving theatre is stealing the show from its films

And I am sure like me you would have awed at the ability of Sinhala dancers to recreate the moves of their favourite stars.

Yes, it is true that Bollywood is way behind Hollywood in terms of reach and influence. Having said that, Bollywood's influence seems purely organic, at least outside of its traditional NRI markets.

And for a country that suffers from some major negative perceptions, Bollywood is its required balancing act.

img_9322_060216112941.jpg 

Without Bollywood, most people would only know stories about India's caste system and that cow is a god. Most foreigners just cannot comprehend these aspects of Indian society.

It is Bollywood that displays the beauty of Indian culture, our dress, our music and culture. Sometimes, also the beauty of our land. Surely, Bollywood needs to do some work on bringing more realism into its cinema.

But now I am of the view that the realism should not mean sacrificing Bollywood's traditional routine. Also, somehow if the industry can market itself beyond the US, UK and a few other markets, it has a real shot at being a global force in cinema. And like some of our actors say, then the Oscars truly would not matter.

The most poignant example of Bollywood's dream building ability was what I found in Oruro in Bolivia. This non-descript town surrounded by the Andes Mountains is home to Indi-World, an Indian dance group.

Also read - Why Bollywood is heavily borrowing from reality

Members of this group are more passionate about Bollywood than most Indians are. They spend their own money to dance like their Bollywood stars. Sometimes at graduation ceremonies and other times on the streets.

And I remember the exact moment when I started loving and respecting Bollywood.

Norma, a girl from this group said to me, almost teary-eyed, "All I dream of is to someday go to India and do a Bollywood dance for a huge crowd in your country. That's all I want from life."

Let's hope someone is listening.

Writer

Sachin Bhandary Sachin Bhandary @eccentrips

The writer is an ex PR professional who quit his career to travel the world, take challenges and share insights from across the world. He also started a website called www.eccentrips.com

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