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India’s Brand Manager: Bollywood?

25th July, 2010

India, it seems, has quite a reputation.

Some people call it the poverty-stricken, disease-spreading and corruption-infused land of landfills. A place where lakhs are below the poverty line, struggling everyday to make their ends meet. A place where many are diseased, abused, harassed, even kidnapped.

I won’t disagree.

Others call India the upcoming economic powerhouse. The land where the demand-driven economy grows at galloping rates. Where the growing infrastructure accentuates the expansion in multiple service and manufacturing industries.

I won’t disagree either.

Reputation

Can I safely say that a country’s reputation is built up by cultural linkages, rather than forceful propaganda? Take North Korea as an example, it is totally in disconnect with the world and has an extremely despicable image in world affairs.

Assuming we want India’s reputation to be all-positive, and that’s a worthy assumption, we’d like to show a nice face to the world. There’s a Ministry of Tourism that’s hell-bent on this. So, where are our guns?

Bollywood To The Rescue

Woh! Just look at the Indian film industry, collectively called ‘Bollywood’. Churning out more than thousand films a year and selling more than 36 lakh tickets in the same time period, Bollywood has a great reach in and outside India. A powerhouse of cultural influence, if you ask me.

The sheer volume helps in giving India a more holistic image. Just about every section of society has a film capturing it. High society (Aisha, Dil Chahta Hai, Wake Up Sid), rural India (Sholay), lower-middle class (Rocket Singh), college students (3 Idiots), even Non-Resident Indians in America (Dostana). This is just a list of mainstream films! Niche movies capture an even more fine-grained section of society.

Aisha

Wake Up Sid

Sholay

Dostana

With so many Bollywood movies floating around, do we still achieve our original purpose of showing India’s best face? Maybe. Maybe not. Movie producers don’t share the same dream as that of the Ministry of Tourism.

So Bollywood Can’t Carry the Reputation Burden?

Its not that Bollywood can’t. Bollywood shouldn’t.

I’ve harped on this before and I’ll repeat a bit of what I said:

… the entertainment industry is a for-profit industry. They have CSR show-offs … but that shouldn’t come in the way of profits.

Why should Bollywood be restricted to painting a nice image of India? This would only restrict the artistic freedom that movie directors and script writers have. Sometimes showing only the nice things about India won’t make economic sense! Why should the film industry suffer?

In that regard, I’m happy we’ve produced some astounding films. Films that expose the rotten underbelly or make us question certain beliefs. Films that expand our horizons or rudely awaken us from our dream world. If a movie can start a debate that would eventually materialize into a better world for some people, then why not?

Rape, molestation, injustice, the caste system, racial discrimination, poverty, corruption. Just the tip of the iceberg.

Films that slam India include:

Parzania

Monsoon Wedding

Water

Slumdog Millionaire

So, What Then?

There are obvious advantages to having control over your country’s reputation. It’s possible too. <insert blatant hint at China!>. We have a medium at our disposal too: Bollywood.

Yet, there have been many movies that do the exact opposite: thrash India.

Let the world see what it has to see. In fact, this freedom is a huge advantage that we have over other countries trying to bury their follies. We need debates and discussions to solve issues, not propaganda-driven cover-ups. If nobody talks, or no one cares to listen, Bollywood movies can change that.

Bollywood, thank you!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 25th July, 2010 3:07 AM

    true. i wud never hv known bout the rajputana separatist movement if i hadn’t watched gulaal

  2. 25th July, 2010 10:47 AM

    have you watched the TED talk by Shashi Tharoor where he talks about soft power? that’s precisely how a nation builds it’s image and credibility. And according to him, India has a lot of soft power – bollywood being one of the means.

    • 26th July, 2010 12:32 PM

      Well, this soft power needn’t always work in India’s favour! I’ll definitely catch that TED video now that you recommend it!

  3. Priyanka the mazer permalink
    25th July, 2010 11:33 AM

    Well said K’Tall!

    Although, I think these polished, candy floss movies cater to the larger Bollywood audience, who wouldn’t like to watch what they see around them everyday.

    • 26th July, 2010 12:43 PM

      You have a very valid point! The candy floss movies reach a much larger audience and overshadow the other, more ‘arty’, films. So one side of the coin is shown more than the other 🙂

      The point is that they should have the freedom to show whichever side they want!

  4. 27th July, 2010 4:12 AM

    Wonderful site and theme, would really like to see a bit more content though!
    Great post all around, added your XML feed! Love this theme, too!

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