An industry that relies on culture and tradition, how did Bollywood conquer Africa?
Bollywood movies were introduced in the 1950’s to Western Africa through Lebanese merchants, as they were cheaper to license than Hollywood movies. Many of these movies were watched outdoors in courtyards and movie houses and very quickly became popular amongst Western Africans. Despite the obvious language barriers and lack of subtitles, they did not prove to be an issue as many re-watched the movies numerous times; eventually picking up snippets of the language (Hindi) in the process.
What differentiates Bollywood from Hollywood are the themes that enrich the movies, such as tradition, importance of family and honour, which reflects the Indian society. India is a predominantly conservative country with conservative, traditional values therefore movies made in Bollywood make sure that they withhold those values in order to cater towards their target audience.
Yet what was unexpected is that the African values that are prevalent within their society were also very similar to the Indian society. Therefore, as they watched the movies, they were able to relate to the characters presented and the themes explored.
Sylviane A. Diouf elaborates, ‘Arranged marriages, caste barriers, and the importance of morality, honour, family name and religion were all topics central to Bollywood and African societies […] The struggle against colonialism; the poor, the exploited and the oppressed as central characters; and mythology – issues European and American cinemas completely ignored – strongly resonated on the [African] continent. Bollywood offers a model of cultural resistance and a path between tradition and modernity,”
With the popularity increasing and spreading across the African continent, Bollywood producers have noticed a way to garner money beyond screening and sales by actively collaborating with African artists. One of the most famous collaborations that occurred was Senegalese artist Akon singing in Hindi for a Bollywood movie that featured the biggest Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan (SRK).
The song ‘Chammak Challo’ from the 2011 movie ‘Ra One’ was a hit internationally and currently has 54 million views on YouTube. It peaked on the number two position for billboards charts and remained on there for 39 weeks. Akon was also nominated for Best Male Playback Singer at the 2012 Filmfare awards in India.
This was the first time an International star was asked to sing playback for a Bollywood movie, and definitely won’t be the last with the success they amassed. Akon himself decided to branch out and make tracks for Bollywood projects and also wants to dedicate a branch to specifically produce music with local talents.
Now that Bollywood has begun to modernise itself and share the very characteristics that once distinguished itself from Hollywood, it makes us wonder.
Will it still appeal to the very Africans that allowed it to succeed?