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The term Bollywood — a catch-all for the movie industry working out of India’s Mumbai — is beginning to grate with those working in the world’s biggest film industry.
It seems reps from the industry in India harbor strong reservations about the label rather than the actual industry it represents.
At an event in London this summer, two of India’s most acclaimed actors with an international standing — Naseeruddin Shah (“The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”) and Om Puri (“East Is East”) made their objections against the Bollywood moniker quite clear.
“The term was used to mock us by the Western press. … It’s like being called an idiot all your life and then making it your name,” Shah said. Puri added that the label is “derogatory” and used by Westerners to refer to “those song and dance films.”
When Bollywood was officially included in the Oxford dictionary in 2003, Shah Rukh Khan joked, “At least it’s one pronunciation (in the dictionary) we will get right.”
In July, Bollywood also made it to Merriam-Webster’s etymology, which describes it as “Bombay (Mumbai), traditional center of the Indian film industry” coupled “with Hollywood” and hence “the motion picture industry in India.”
But it would be advisable to avoid mentioning Bollywood if you were to meet iconic Indian film legend Amitabh Bachchan. He openly discourages its use and he is the patron of the International Indian Film Academy, organizers of the annual IIFA Awards held in various countries.
The irony is that wherever the IIFAs are held, the expected media coverage ends up flooded with Bollywood headlines. “Indian Cinema Comes to Town” is, it seems, less colorful than “Bollywood Conquers Sheffield!”
The origins of the catch-all are debatable but the fact is that its strength as a global marketing label is obvious.
Early this year, Time Warner Cable put Bollywood films on its service in New York and New Jersey.
“The term Bollywood is now widely used to depict films from South Asia,” TWC NY/NJ director of marketing and on-demand services Betty Campbell-Adams explains. “How these films are labeled is beyond our control. However, having a strong brand (or familiar terminology) that is widely used is important when marketing a product. Bollywood films are the second most requested international On Demand purchases.”
Bollywood’s umbrella terminology has dwarfed other Indian genres, such as hugely popular South Indian films, according to New York-based digital content provider Saavn.com co-founder and GM Vin Bhat. (Saavn.com parent BODVOD Networks partnered with TWC.)
“Bollywood has come to represent every film product coming out of India. The pro is that the association and name piggybacks the recognition of Hollywood and the industry gets great exposure; the con is that it certainly sells the industry short, makes it look like a ‘me-too’ and represents other genres that should not necessarily be characterized as Bollywood,” Bhat says.
Changing global perceptions about an established label has its obvious challenges, something that San Mateo, Calif.-based world cinema download portal jaman.com is hoping to do.
“To effect change, you have to be proactive, not reactive,” jaman.com executive producer, South Asia, Geetanjali Dhillon says. “While Bollywood is a recognized brand, it is up to those passionate about Indian cinema to talk about the industry in an intelligent and inclusive way. We should point out the rich history of Indian cinema as well as the successful genres that exist side by side Bollywood.”
Despite his objections, Bachchan agrees that it will be difficult to counter the use of the term Bollywood.
“Those who want to use it I guess will, and those who don’t shouldn’t. This word has gone down in history so it’s a little late to counter it,” Bachchan says .
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