Clawing to escape the belly of the beast here in Hollywood. To commiserate, email my name assistantatlas at yahoo.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bollywood is the New Black: 1.25

India is probably the only democratic nation in the modern world to successfully resist the Hollywoodization of its film industry. Oh sure, Europe has its BBC and French film and Spanish film, but really, most of its box office dollars go to American films. Mexico has a cinematic tradition and the Middle East, especially Iran [oddly, considering its government] has produced some quality films. Japan gets a few good international hits, but for the most part, Hollywood has conquered the world. But not India. The latest figures show American films with, at most, a 10% market share in India. And that's a pretty optimistic figure. By comparison, American films get something like 80-90% of the market in most other nations.

There are a variety of reasons for this, not the least of which is language. Apparently, a century of British colonialism didn't wipe out the hundreds of local languages, nor did it even give most tech support personnel comprehensible accents. With so many local languages, traditions, customs, stories, legends-- indeed, whole cultures-- it's tough for American films to speak to enough of these cultures to really make a dent in the Indian market.

For example, it doesn't make financial sense to translate "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" into Tamil, because the potential profit of Tamil-language films is much lower than the cost of figuring out how to turn all of that into something Tamil-speaking locals would understand and enjoy. Plus, there's a ton of cultural reasons-- Indian moviegoers like seeing local legends [and Ganesh- they're big on Ganesh] come to life on the big screen as opposed to having outsiders' heroes forced upon them. Maybe it's that whole "centuries of colonialism" thing. And if you've seen Bollywood films, you'll know that Indian moviegoers also like seeing characters developed through song, dance and music video-like montages randomly strewn into the film.

So how do we, as Hollywoodites, destroy this threat to our world dominance? Well, there are a number of tried-and-true methods-- plus, we've got some social trends on our side, as well. The social trends include the increasing prevalence of English as the language of the wealthy and educated [ie- people with enough money to see movies in theatres] in India. There's also India's increasing exposure to outside cultures as a result of its bourgeoning economy and the end of the Cold War [remember India, despite being a functional democracy, was loosely allied with the USSR and thereby insulated from international/American pop culture]. But don't worry, even if these trends don't work fast enough, there are a number of other ways to stop India from

First method: If they get popular and profitable, buy them up. If Bollywood films start making a dent in our international market share, then we'll start buying up the Indian production companies. In fact, since production costs are so much lower in India, Hollywood could pull a Silicon Valley and outsource certain jobs [probably postproduction and animation, which has already been largely outsourced to South Korea] to the surprisingly-sophisticated facilities in India. This would leave the most creative jobs [script development, corportate/studio strategy, acting, marketing tie-ins] in LA, while reducing the cost of films-- thereby boosting profit margins.

Second method: Co-opt the popular aspects and combine them with Hollywood's proven formula[s]. If Bollywood films remain mostly the same but get more popular, this would mean a return to movie musicals-- or at least more musical numbers in otherwise non-musical movies. [Shudder]

Third method: Use Hollywood's muscle to block distribution of Indian films in markets we control. Effectively, we'd threaten to cut off the supply of high-quality American films in return for distributors not booking Bollywood films to show. This is a scorched-earth sort of approach and could easily backfire. Of course, this smacks of monopolies- but hey, it worked for Microsoft.

Really, Hollywood has little to fear from Bollywood. It's films are just too culture-specific to make much of a dent internationally. Remember, one of the reasons Hollywood films are so banal is that they look to be very broadly appealing. So there's a chance that Bollywood could even make Hollywood better by pushing American filmmakers to produce films that connect more strongly with domestic audiences. Of course, there's also a chance that monkeys might fly out of my butt.


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