Bollywood and Diaspora

Ritwik Mallik, India’s youngest published author, called up to gather some inputs from me for an essay which his friend was writing on Bollywood and Diaspora. These questions put me in a bind especially when suddenly asked out of the blue because these require the solid packaging of the entity of cinema to be dismantled and isolated into its various elements. Bollywood is a unity of diverse elements; the research on cinema is successful only when the unity of a work is identified rather than the isolation of its constituent ingredients. Unfortunately the path of modern science lies in isolation; a mineralogist is as good as the number of elements she can isolate, a geologist is as good as the number of rocks she can segregate. Social sciences too follow this path, isolating behaviour and phenomena and while such distinctions help in classification and eventually in social engineering and policy administration, things need to be put back together in order to observe the innate dynamism of the social process. Bollywood, too is a social process, best used as a theatre to observe the play of the myriad kinds of social forces that go into the creation of India’s most popular and hence universal art form; to try and isolate its elements in order to be able to relate it to a feature here and a feature there is to miss the plot. Appeal to the Indian diaspora is only one part of Bollywood and such appeal is an outcome of Bollywood’s holism, it is meant to be that way, appealing to a constructed identity of being Indians extracted from the embeddedness in space and time.
Bollywood is a pathetic term, conspired to place the Hindi popular cinema as a poor man’s Hollywood, a lesser relative seeking the family name. The coinage of this term, whosever must have done it reveals the inventors ignorance of the vast history of modern India; the invention of an impossible democracy, the emancipation project in its Constitutions and the daily struggles that emerge when dreams fail the reality of powers and privileges, of inequalities and injustices. Bollywood, for the want of a better term at the moment is the rather abstract representation of the above dream and the reality; where dreams defeat the reality to vindicate itself in neatly formulized stories with its own stereotypes forming the essential notes of a musical composition. We know from beforehand that the promises will be kept and anything and everything that stands in its way will be vanquished; we watch film after film not to have a different flavour but to watch the numerous possibilities of making our dreams win and stay as prodigious prospects of our lives. Bollywood is our imagined future.
Bollywood uses ever victorious heroes, ever virtuous heroines, vicious villains and predictable stock characters; among all of these it becomes an abstract formula which necessarily must rise above concrete conditions contained in the premise of the story. Bollywood because of its abstraction gravitates so close to music, and in fact so keenly does it follow the form of a musical composition that it becomes music itself. Once abstracted in this manner, Bollywood is like a spirit, free to travel to lands far beyond its moorings, wafting across oceans, flying over deserts and prevailing in the night skies like eternal stars. It becomes like the moon itself, or the sun, the Deity of the skies, the same from wherever it is viewed. To a diasporic community, the appeal of Bollywood lies in its abstraction, its transcendence of the concrete, its universalization of particulars. The closest relation of Bollywood to the diaspora is its abstract form, or the formula.
In a rather paradoxical manner, Bollywood becomes concretized and particularized when it becomes conscious of its diasporic audience. When through a DDLJ, or through Kal Ho Na Ho, Bollywood tries to reach out to the non-resident Indians, it gets fractured and disoriented. Bollywood may be abstract but were it not abstractions out of vitally experienced concrete; such abstractions could have not had the reach they did. When Bollywood tries to cater to the diaspora population it tries to locate itself in the real life world of the non-resident Indian, a reality that is vastly different from the one at home. In developing abstractions out of a strange and alienated concrete, Bollywood brings about strange universals, unknown transcendences. Perhaps this is the reason that cinema must develop its art ever more strongly, appealing through excellence in visual images what it lacks in the redemptive moments as art. The development of visual excellence in Bollywood is a direct outcome of its ambitions to make meaning to the diaspora.
Irrespective of whether the popular film caters to the Indian audiences or to the diaspora the song and dance routine remains intrinsic to its abstract formula. This is because it has to reach out to a general audience beyond the cultural specificities. When Bollywood was about us, our shared world, our common past and future, the reality was conceived of social dynamics and social forces; this dynamism expressed itself in melody. The idea of the popular cinema was one of music. But the diaspora

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
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