India, a mesmerising combination of old and new, rich and poor, native and foreign, has always been an assembly of everything that humans have mentally or physically produced. At the same time, it is a special world that contains elements different from everything that could be found elsewhere. Over the course of its history, it’s been both ruling and ruled over. The Indian culture, contrary to the idea of civilization and culture establishment during peaceful times that Foster introduced in his essay “What I Believe”, did not flourish in the periods of the absence of force, but rather was shaped by the inner and outer powers on their peeks.
The British imperialistic politics and colonization of India started in 1612 when the East India Company arrived to the Indian territory, and it ended in 1947 when British India was divided into three independent dominions (Bangladesh, Pakistan and India), which is known as the Partition of India. During this almost 400-year-long period, India was ruled not only by the UK but also by the Netherlands, Portugal and France. Imperialism and colonialism represented a manifestation of power and superiority in the worst possible way, but they helped India in producing its new and re-shaping its old culture and tradition, and creating a whole new civilisation. It is, however, very important to make a clear distinction between these two terms. While imperialism refers to an action of extending authority by the acquisition of inhabited territory and the exploitation of these territories, colonialism rather represents a physical expression of imperialism (Said 9). The United Kingdom, as one of the best-known examples of colonial powers, has left an indelible trace on the culture and history of India, the British greatest colony.
One could argue whether the British reign brought some positive changes in tradition while imposing a new system of beliefs on the Indians, but one thing is commonly accepted: The British established a system of production that allowed Indian new ideology to progress. As Maddison states in “Class Structure and Economic Growth: India and Pakistan Since the Moghuls”, during this period India got new railways, better-equipped mines and improved its trade relations with the neighbouring countries.
According to Marx, the system of production is a foundation on which a ruling class builds its ruling ideas and manages to keep power for itself. In other words, The British Raj established a special economy whose needs produced new ideas of the ruling class which eventually became the ruling ideas and swayed the opinion of the majority of the natives. This correlation of force and ideas, which Gramsci calls hegemony, kept 99% of Indians representing a subaltern class from rebelling against 1% percent of colonisers, a dominant class. Not until The British Empire’s economy started collapsing due to the constant exploitation of goods from India to the UK did the Indians see an opportunity to change the situation. Maddison claims that under British rule, India's share of the world economy declined from 24.4% in 1700 down to 4.2% in 1950. This might be a good proof for Marx’s claim introduced in his and Engel’s essay on the ruling class and the ruling ideas that the system of production is the essence of reign. With the termination of a ruling class’s material power ends its intellectual influence, too. That is how India slowly pushed aside the occupiers and finally resurrected in 1947 as an independent country. New culture, however, that was to replace the colonisers’ one, was much influenced by foreign politics and ideology. Based on the western ideology of the economy reign, a new culture revived the elements of the Indian tradition, which became vivid in the Indian film industry – Bollywood.
Bollywood, one of the best representations of popular Indian culture, is a term that was coined from the names of cities Bombay and Hollywood. Bombay, which is nowadays known as Mumbai, is one of the hugest cities in India with a population of 18.41 million (2011) and is Indian financial and industrial centre. Therefore, it is considered a centre of culture too, including cinematography. Bollywood refers to the Indian film industry which is the greatest one in the world when a number of released films is taken into consideration.
Bollywood films are mostly musicals, usually melodramatic and often work on the already tried formula: unhappy lovers, corrupt politicians, twins separated by birth and dramatic reversals of luck and coincidence. They are often labeled as low-quality trivial attempts to portray the culture. Bollywood cinematography is, therefore, characterized as deceptive and irrelevant to the understanding of Indian society and culture, or at least its majority of people.
Bollywood is deeply rooted in the classical Indian theatre, which has had different forms over the course of Indian history. However, indisputable is the influence of the old Hollywood to which many Indian film directors such as Anurag Kashyap or Yash Chopra look upon. Still, to the distinction from a Hollywood narration and the construction of a single film discourse mostly contributed the ancient epic. Therefore, Indian films are rich in traditional elements often originating from religious practice related to one’s private and social life.
On the other hand, Western viewers have different Bollywood-related stereotypes. To them, Indian films might be boring, pathetic, and quite too dramatic. In other words, western capitalist societies would question the morality of films where actors just dance and sing, while the children starve in the streets.
Still, there are Bollywood films that are opposed to imposed patriarchal patterns. They are socially engaged in a very interesting way - they reconstruct and re-evaluate the conventions. In a number of Bollywood films, the main hero or heroine goes to some of the most famous Western cities and learns how the West is immoral and extremely liberal. Some of them are films such as “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” (“Never say goodbye”, 2005) and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham” (“Sometimes happiness, sometimes sorrow”, 2001).
Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (“Sometimes happiness, sometimes sorrow”) is a Bollywood film produced in 2001. The main roles are interpreted by Amitabh Bachchan, Yaya Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Kajol, Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor and Rani Mukerji as a special guest actor. The scenes were filmed in India and in the UK and directed by Karan Johar. It describes Indian traditional family values, specifically respect for parents. Director aimed at presenting the significance of a family and how important it is to keep all the members together and to support and love each other. Furthermore, the traditional role of parents is emphasised and rather mythicized in many quotes such as the following one: "If you want to become someone in life if you want to accomplish it...if you want to win, always listen to your heart...Close your eyes and think about your parents...Then you will skip all obstacles...All your problems will disappear...The victory will be yours...Only yours... "
The film follows a well-known pattern in which the main protagonist solves a problem, fulfills a goal or a wish, establishes the order, and promotes the revised balance as the story comes to the end. Finally, all the characters assembled together remind spectators of what India is and how members of a family who stick together cope with any kind of problem.
In the past two decades, therefore, the belief that India's culture and values can be presented in different forms of media to the people all around the globe in order to increase the country's global influence has gone viral (Schaefer 88). This is partially due to the previously mentioned system of production which made India one of the fastest-growing world economies (Thussu 7).
The new Bollywood trend is to suppress male characters from the films and to make more space for female characters. Namely, it is not the awakened awareness of society that puts women into a position equal to that of men, but rather the economy needs for more production power. Men are no longer sufficient, so the women also need to be included in certain activities in which they were not allowed to participate before. This new trend besides being commercial represents an involvement of actresses who openly speak about the position of women in society and stereotype roles that they do not want to embody, and that is what attracts the foreign audiences.
However, it is not clear what forms of artistic expression Indian films really promote: The Indian or the global one. Some critics believe that a unique form of cultural expressions such as classical dance and poetry is what attracts the foreign audience and establishes domination over the film industry. The others claim that it is a process of westernisation that gradually brings this eastern tradition into western homes. Be that as it may, this expansion of Indian culture is truly reminiscent to the expansion of the British system of values during the period of colonialism, especially when taken into consideration how the western civilisations gradually accept many Indian customs throughout Indian domination over certain parts of the modern system of production. All of this inevitably brings one to the conclusion that a shift in domination in certain areas of human life has happened, and that once the colonised might slowly become a cultural coloniser.
Maddison, A. Class, Structure and Economic Growth: India and Pakistan since the Moghuls. Taylor & Francis: 2006.
Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Schaefer, David J. Bollywood and Globalization: The Global Power of Popular Hindi Cinema. London: Routledge, 2012.
Thussu, Kishan D. India in the international media sphere. London: University of Westminster, 2013.