BollyWood for the Trees

Curator's Note

Does America get it right when it looks at Indian cinema? This Simpsons episode shows detail (e.g. Kannada shop signs) and orientalist-"apocalyptic" fantasy (Homer going Marlon Brando)—but the punch-line here is the Hindi movie song. Fun dominates when the West glances at "Bollywood," but is this trapped by an expectation of otherness? What "Bollywood" seems to suggest to the West is nothing more than a "form," with the "content" remaining invisible. The Simpsons, Moulin Rouge, Shakira, even Bollywood-Hollywood, all seem to skim the surface, seeing a campy pastiche where there is deep postcolonial reality. Is the masala of Indian movies the same thing as the postmodern collages of Western media genres? Are Indian movies only going to be seen as totems of cultural difference, or can they ever be seen as statements about universal themes, the human condition, even? My key question: What does "Bollywood" mean as it enters global discourse?


perhaps it is only because I have just reread Ulf Hannerz's work on Cosmopolitan identity in preparation for a class lecture, but I am struck watching this clip on the question of mastery -- how the Simpsons (and Smithers) have no problem integrating themselves into a Bollywood musical, despite their common failures to accomplish the simplest tasks at home. Strange considering how Homer is supposedly the embodiment of underachieving American identity that he seems so comfortable in taking on the customs of "others".

My experiences with "America...looking at Indian cinema" has been online, through blogs and fan groups where a growing number of Americans and others outside the subcontinent are looking, learning, commenting, and participating in Bollywood culture. While I would agree that an "expectation of otherness" frames their consumption of Bollywood (and to an extent, "regional" cinema), it is also clear that there is much deeper engagement as well. Even a quick look at a blog like points to ways in which the lure of cultural difference does, in the long run, lead to a sustained learning process. "Beth," among several others out there, would not confuse "masala" with po-mo kitsch! Just something to keep in mind as we track Bollywood's global travels...

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.