Bangladesh and Bollywood

Sarwar Jahan Chowdhury

It's important for the established movie-makers and lead actors to be properly educated and culturally sensitive as they operate in this highly connected global society. Same applies for the Bollywood protagonists. Moreover, Bollywood movies these days stride to make international impressions and hundreds of prints of each mainstream movies are being distributed around the world. Even domestically for enlightened watchers of movies, who aren't too small in numbers, these two attributes are essential for the key players in a cinema project.

Bollywood often self-congratulates itself for its self-styled stride towards enhanced refines of its movies and proclaim that its flicks are almost touching global standards. While that may only be true for selected movies of very few selected directors or actors; genuine refine in Bollywood mainstream movie is still a far cry. Instead what has developed is the manifestation of raw Indian regional power and snobbery in the celluloid. Interestingly, this condensation isn't naive either; rather very much informed by profit making factors. The only things absent are propriety and principle.

Few years back Bollywood actors lined up to take oath that they won't utter anti-Pakistani dialogues in the movies. Initially many were taken aback by such generous civility of these performers, given the India-Pakistan antagonism in regional political sphere, just to find out later on that Pakistan actually allows Bollywood movies to be run in their countries and also Pakistani expats form a huge section in the Bollywood movie watchers in UK, USA, Gulf etc.

Bangladesh, on the contrary, doesn't allow Hindi movies to be commercially run in its theatres. That space is occupied by B Grade Bangladeshi Bangla movies with the exception of some theatres where often Bangladeshi parallel cinema of some quality is being shown. That explains why Bollywood doesn't care about Bangladesh with which India has much lesser contentious issues than that of, say, Pakistan; with which India has a host of volatile issues, yet the Bollywood film makers care about its sentiment.

It's not that Bangladesh is hostile towards Indian movies. Until 1965 Indo-Pak war, Calcatian Bangla movies were shown in the erstwhile East Pakistan and those were highly popular to the cinema goers. The ensued ban that wasn't lifted in independent Bangladesh had less to do with anti-India disposition and was more about the downward slide of Calcutta movies since mid-1970s. Again, in Bangladesh there was never a popular demand of commercial running of Bollywood movies in the theatres; although a lot of Bangladeshi cine-lovers actually watch Bollywood movies in TV and CD/DVD. Somehow emotion related to Bangla language, culture and associated political identity of the past have prevented the Bangladeshis to accept movies made in the (barring south) Indo-Pak lingua franca, i.e. Urdu and Punjabi influenced Bollywood Hindi, in the national public square.

Whatever may be the case, should this absence of business interest in Bangladesh permit careless distortion of sensitive historical fact that millions of people of a neighboring nation hold dear? It appears that the smug Bollywood protagonists be it the relatively new comer like Ali Abbas Zafar, the writer-director of recently released Gunday, or seasoned one are mostly don't want to invest much of their brain or effort for historical exactitude sensitive to many people unrelated to their profiteering venture. This is more about a transgressed class attitude and also a casual show of class power.

Therefore, whatever else they might be, with this primitive Bania culture still in vogue, mainstream Bollywood has surely not yet got to the mark where words like 'sophisticated', 'subtle' or 'sublime' can be associated with it.

Vol. 46, No. 43, May 4 -10, 2014