Geographies in Depth

3 ways Bollywood can help shape the future of globalization

A cinema goer takes a picture as others watch Bollywood movie "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" (The Big Hearted Will Take the Bride), starring actor Shah Rukh Khan, inside Maratha Mandir theatre in Mumbai December 12, 2014. The movie, released in October 1995, has set a record of completing 1000 weeks of continuous screening at a cinema, a feat unmatched by any other Bollywood movies. According to Manoj Desai, owner of the theatre, the movie, which is still being screened, enjoys at least 50 to 60 percent occupancy on weekdays and full house on weekends at his theatre.

By reflecting the concerns of millennial audiences, Bollywood can help shape a brighter future Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Mayuri Bhattacharjee
Founder, Sikun Relief Foundation
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Like most Indian millennials, films are an inseparable part of my life. After all, we produce the most number of movies (between 1,500 to 2,000) in the world every year. The Hindi film industry based in Mumbai, also known as Bollywood, represents the largest chunk of domestic and international box office revenue, making it the largest sector in the Indian film industry. Economic liberalization in India, the growing strength of the Indian diaspora and the shift to ‘glocal’ content have been some of the key drivers for Bollywood’s growth in the global market. Increasingly our films are finding a global audience and Bollywood actors are getting more substantial roles in Hollywood.

As an Indian, I am proud of the global success of Bollywood, while as a global citizen I am optimistic about its influence on society and culture. In his Agenda piece, Why art has the power to change the world, Crystal Award winner Olafur Eliasson says: “Art does not show people what to do, yet engaging with a good work of art can connect you to your senses, body, and mind. It can make the world felt. And this felt feeling may spur thinking, engagement, and even action.” Even scientists believe that by immersing audiences in the perspective of another person, movies help generate empathy.

Bollywood has created socially progressive content and - through off-screen initiatives - Bollywood artists have focused on important issues, but as a millennial I believe it can do more to enable sustainable, empathetic and inclusive societies. Here are a few ways in which Bollywood can shape the future of globalization by acting on some of the critical issues identified by millennials.

Climate change

Compared to other sectors, the film industry may not be seen as a major polluter, but its carbon footprint is still significant. There have been standalone efforts in Bollywood to make films about climate change or to produce carbon-neutral films, but these developments have not been embraced by the top stars and big studios yet.

This is surprising, because Bollywood should be worried about the climate crisis threatening its core business: Mumbai will be at high risk from sea-level rise by 2050.

In the West, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) and Producers Guild of America (PGA) have issued guides to film and production companies on how to measure and manage their carbon footprint. Bollywood can take a cue from this and gradually shift to more sustainable means of film production. It can also follow ISO 20121 standards while organizing events such as awards functions, film launches and parties.

Conflicts and toxic nationalism

One of the most reassuring findings of the Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017 was this: “For a large majority of young people, identity is not about region, geography, religion or ethnicity; they simply see themselves as ‘human’. Young people feel they are united simply because they exist in the same world together. Both as individuals and as a collective, they share similar concerns and desires. For them, their race is the human race.”

Image: Global Shaper Annual Survey

In the past, wars and conflicts between India and Pakistan have been an inspiration for some of the highest grossing Bollywood films. In the pursuit to make India look good, these films chose to dehumanize ‘the enemy’. However, the surprise success of Raazi, a 2018 box office hit, shows that modern audiences can appreciate patriotic films which don’t demonize the other country.

At a time of worsening political polarization, art can either be a healing force or it can be manipulated to deepen fracture lines. I admit that Bollywood can’t mend relations between countries and communities on its own, but it can choose to refrain from fuelling the politics of hatred.

Gender inequality and discrimination

The year 2018 witnessed the box office success of small budget female-centric Bollywood movies and the rise of male actors who do not conform to traditional hyper masculine behaviour. Professor Gopalan Mullik, a lecturer in film studies at St Xavier’s College in Kolkata, has put it this way: “Look at the young heroes who are emerging now - Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal, Rajkummar Rao - they are far removed from the male machismo images of the previous generation of Bollywood heroes. My reading is that these new crop of heroes are much closer to the gender proximity of the male and the female in the Indian ethos. In other words, they have a lot of feminine in them, which is the hallmark of traditional Indian thinking about the male and the female.”

Have you read?

Sadly, Bollywood films are often accused of perpetuating rape culture through objectification of women, a fact which filmmaker Karan Johar admitted in a session at Davos in 2017. Sexism and toxic masculinity might have sold in the past but globally movements such as #MeToo and Time’s Up show there is a growing consensus that gender discrimination must end. Young people across the world are taking action to raise awareness on gender equality and sparking conversations challenging the status quo. Bollywood must respond to this evolving audience through its content while taking concrete steps to make the industry a safe place for all genders.

With Bollywood’s biggest market getting younger, responding to these issues identified by millennials also means better business sense. Bollywood must work with millennials if it wants to be a transformative agent of change. The time is now to shape the future of globalization on our terms.

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