Bollywood calling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 31 July, 2011, 12:00am


Japan has always been on Bollywood's radar. As far back as 1966 there was the popular film Love in Tokyo and its sing-along theme, Sayonara Sayonara. More recently there has been the popularity in Japan of actor Rajnikanth - during a visit in 2006, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acknowledged the success of the Indian star's 1995 film Muthu as an example of the positive ties between the two nations.

But China, not so much. Indian cinema has had an up-and-down relationship with the Asian giant for the past few decades. In the 1940s and 50s, actor Raj Kapoor was famous on the mainland for his movie Awara, and Awara Hoon, a song from the film, was on everyone's lips (although until recently only Russia was mentioned in the context of Kapoor's popularity outside India). In 1962, there was the gangster film China Town (set in Darjeeling and Calcutta). But over the following decades, Bollywood movies - Mumbai's main cultural export to the world - were nowhere to be seen in China while India's idea of 'Chinese cinema' was restricted to the action films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. My husband has a broken tooth from his childhood to prove how much his generation adored Hong Kong's 'chopsocky' cinema.

Then, in 2001, with the thawing of cultural relations between the countries, Oscar-nominated Lagaan became a hit across the mainland. A.R. Rahman, the music director of the film starring Aamir Khan, was asked to compose the score for Chinese filmmaker He Ping's 2003 film, Warriors of Heaven and Earth.

Bollywood went on to conquer Chinese hearts. Indian newspapers have reported on the popularity of Bollywood dancing (movements synchronised to Hindi film songs) in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. The Merchants of Bollywood, a musical about the history of the Indian film industry, toured the mainland in 2009 and the first exhibition of Indian cinema was held in China last year. The month-long event, held to mark 60 years of diplomatic ties between the countries, stopped at Beijing, Chongqing and Guangzhou.

Cut to the present and there are two exciting Indo-Sino entertainment ventures to look forward to. One is the plan to take Kingdom of Dreams, an Indian-culture theme park (which Bollywood has a major stake in), near Delhi, to four cities on the mainland. The first is expected to open in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, next year.

The other is Goldstruck, a Bollywood-style film being produced by Beijing's Light House Productions (backed by the state-run China Film Group) with India's Eros Entertainment. Goldstruck is said to be set in India, China and the United States, and the dialogue will be in Putonghua, Hindi and English.

After years of friction, relations between two of the world's oldest cultures appear to be on the mend - so what if pop culture is the catalyst?