Bollywood: Whose audience is it anyway?

By Hindustan Times

MUMBAI, Oct. 26 -- Given the enormous number of Indians settled around the world, it's clear that Indian cinema has gone global - but only in one way, to the diaspora. Though our filmmaking techniques and storytelling are getting better, Indian cinema has still not been able to pull in global audiences.

But what's holding us back? That was the topic of discussion at an open forum at the Mumbai Film Festival on Wednesday, with four panellists - filmmakers Ashutosh Gowarikar and Zoya Akhtar, director of the film department and deputy general delegate of the Cannes Film Festival, Christian Jeune, and CEO, Reliance Entertainment, Sanjeev Lamba.

The need to be heard

What's the main thing that holds us back? The ability to appeal to audiences who come from diverse cultures. And it isn't easy to reach out to all sorts of audiences, pointed out Christian Jeune.

"There's actually no recipe to make something appealing for a worldwide audience," he explained. "To make a film that the world will enjoy, it's important for filmmakers to get the feeling that they want their cinema to reach out to the world."

Language is a barrier

Zoya Akhtar pointed out that the one of the main barriers that has held Indian cinema back from the world is language. "When you make a film, you need to know who you're speaking to," she said. "When we say 'global', we're talking about the west. If we have to speak to people there, we have to change the way we narrate."

Zoya explained that films such as Salaam Bombay and Monsoon Wedding worked well in the west because people understood the movies. She said, "People there want something different. If you want to hit the west, you need to know their language."

Explore different genres

But a big part of the problem, said Ashutosh Gowarikar, is that India simply does not have the kind of hold over the world that the west has. "We're not really able to define the term 'global'," he said. "There are films made in Iran and China that don't come to India. We didn't know Jackie Chan until Hollywood discovered him. There have been several French films no one knew of until their Hollywood remakes happened. My point is, the west has the power, the budget, the reach and a better distribution market." He added: "We need to expand our horizons. We need to understand that we have to cater to a different audience."

Do we want a global audience? But are we actually interested in catering to a global audience? Sanjeev Lamba didn't really think so. "We've established the fact that filmmakers here have the ability to go global, but what about the intent?" he asked. "We're all making films that only work for the Indian market. But for the west, the world is their market. They intend to make films for people all over the world."

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