Seeing is Believing

James Cameron's 2009 Film Avatar, image via
James Cameron’s 2009 Film Avatar, image via

The tech-savvy James Cameron film, Avatar (2009) illustrates the developing ‘Bollywoodization’ that is currently surfacing in the North American film market. Through the incorporation of “ancient Hindu concepts (p. 311, 2010)as Shaefer and Karan write, Cameron’s $2.7 billion earning film can be judged as borrowing cultural elements from Indian mythology. Cameron’s acknowledgement of such “overt Indian influences (p. 312, 2010)highlights the expanding prominence that ‘Bollywoodism’ is having in North American media. However, the question remains that is this example of ‘cultural borrowing’ a suitable incidence of cross-cultural interaction, or an exploitation that damages cultural integrity?

After India’s economic liberalisation that occurred in 1991, Shaefer and Karan note that there was an “emergence of a global network of formal and informal channels (p. 312, 2010)that served to popularise Hindi films. Ergo, the Hindi cinema underwent notable modifications in regards to how it was incorporated in global media. Through ‘Bollywoodization,’ incorporating such Hindi cultural elements was “absorbed into the conglomerate multicultural marketing toolkit (p.314, 2010),” and thus, prompts us to consider the appropriate ‘mergence’ of cultural identities in the global cinema.

This is specifically seen in the ‘mislabelling’ of Indian cinema as evinced from the British film Slumdog Millionaire. While it was widely perceived to be a ‘Bollywood’ film, audiences were wrongfully encouraged to link Western and Indian cultural values, which ultimately distorted prominent features of Indian cinema. As mentioned by Kaur and Sinha, the popularisation of Indian cinema through globalisation has induced the “proliferation and fragmentation of its fantasy space” for its “narrative and spectacle” create “diverse fantasies for diasporic communities (p. 15, 2005).” Ergo, these ‘modifications’ that Indian cinema underwent, has ultimately threatened the representation of their culture through Westernised productions.

Ravi Vasudevan astutely noted, “Bollywood cinema indicates the crossing of borders (2010, Vasudevan).” This statement most assuredly can be applied to facets of Cameron’s positive promotion of Hindi culture in global media as seen through Avatar. By drawing from the Ramayana storyline, elevating religious figures and promoting the ‘darshan’ outlook in Hinduism, Cameron aptly incorporated cross-cultural representation into the global cinema.

Additionally, Disney’s Brother Bear released in 2003 explores the Hindu notion of rebirth and karma as shown through the main character Kenai. Long story short, Kenai is transformed into a bear in order to enhance his perspective through his ‘rebirth’ as an animal. Praised for its “spiritual elements ,” (Hawthorne, 2015) this example also reinforces the range of audiences that Bollywoodism is now reaching, for even children are being exposed to international cultures through cinematic measures.

Disney's Brother Bear Incorporates Hindu Concepts, image via
Disney’s Brother Bear reaches younger audiences, image via
Through such inclusions of Hindi concepts, we can agree that the globalisation of cinema is undoubtedly not slowing down. As mentioned in Bollywood and Globalisation, from 2007 onwards, erratic yet promising alliances with Hollywood have surfaced (p. 13, 2011).” As evinced from such high grossing films such as Slumdog Millionaire and Avatar, the rising reputation of Asian film industries will continually challenge the hierarchy of the global filmmaking business. Even more so, challenge the content of what is portrayed. Kaur and Sinha have remarked that Hollywood “pushes world cultures towards homogenisation (p. 15, 2005)” which suggests that the integration of cultures is imperative for sustaining an appropriate cultural awareness in global media. Ergo the Indian film industry has the ability to flourish in its cinematic contra-flows, but the means in which it is done can ultimately nurture or deform the collective comprehension of their culture.

Karan K, Shaefer D, 2010, Problematizing Chindia : Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema in global film flows, SAGE Publications, Los Angeles, USA pp. 311-314

Kaur R, Sinha A, 2005, Bollyworld: Popular Indian Cinema Through A Transnational Lens, SAGE Publications, New Delhi, India p. 15

Vasudevan R, 2010, The Melodramatic Public: Film Form and Spectatorship in Indian Cinema, Permanent Black, Ranikhet India

Mehta R, Pandharipande R, 2011, Bollywood and Globalization: Indian Popular Cinema, Nation, and Diaspora, Anthem Press, NY USA p. 13

Hawthorne M, 2015, Hindu Concepts in the Movies, Hinduism, weblog post, viewed 27th August


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