Indian films which have a history of over hundred years had been instrumental in creating its own trend in the international cinema and apparently influencing the international crowd across the globe. With its vibrant colours, story telling style and value loaded script, Bollywood movies made a long standing impact. While rolling out thousands of movies out of this subcontinent every year, the movies featured varied themes carrying socio-political issues, often brimful of dance and songs. At first glance the movies would look bizarre as the background music doesn’t remain limited to background. In China, dancing and songs are assumed to be the distinct feature of Indianness. Once this ‘Indian-ness’ was termed absurd and idiotic and was limited to the Indian subcontinent only. But a few movies took the Indian films across Himalayas to China and they were welcomed because they were amusing in there own way. Perhaps, more than the morals, values and humanistic view, the blockbuster formula with this Indianness infatuated China. Raj Kapoor’s Awara is still one of the greatest movies Chinese remember vividly and sing the tunes. Language didn’t remain a boundary anymore; the influence of melody was far reaching.
The Indian film influence on Chinese minds started back in 1946 when V Shantaram produced Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Prem Kahani, a movie which showcased the character of Dr. Kotnis who went to China on a medical mission and stayed in China before dying at the age of 32. The story revolves around his sacrifice for China and his love for a Chinese woman whom he later married. From the cross-cultural perspective it was a great beginning. So far, the Chinese and the Indian civilisations co-existed throughout the millennia, but they barely interacted in the modern times. The movie was groundbreaking and it started the much awaited cultural ties to grow up between the two countries. The political environment further ushered the sprouting cultural ties. More than a movie, for India, Dr. Kotnis turned auspicious to make cultural pathways in the forbidden land of China.
Within five years of Dr. Kotnis Ki Amar Prem Kahani, Raj Kapoor came with a movie which changed the history of Indian movies outside the subcontinent. Awara (1951) was a huge sensation in China. The Chinese economy was under reconstruction and Indian social-political conditions were also going through a similar spell of hard time, this movie left an impact as audiences could easily connect to the story. Awara characterised the oppressed Raju who represented the spirit of youth; the film was also filled with romance which attracted the Chinese masses. Not so rich and still the rebellious society in China found much to connect with a movie. Even Mao liked the song Awara hun.
Before the 1962 Chinese border war with India, which escalated the cultural ties for next decade, Do Bigha Zameen (1955) was another hit on the mainland. The colour screen, cinematography and techniques in the film direction underwent a monumental change and brought a flavour to Indian movies; for a western crowd it was not unordinary but for Chinese it was gourmet. Movies from India were even more beautiful and vibrant. Caravan (1971), which featured Jeetendra and Asha Parekh, could entice Chinese audiences for its dance flicks, the movie also had songs featuring Helen and Aurna Irani and they were bonus for Chinese buying tickets to watch the lead pair. The strife for good movies came to en end with another iconic Raj Kapoor movie, Mera Naam Joker (1972). It hit the Chinese booking counters a few years later after it was released in India and made a fantastic success. Another movie released in 1979, Noorie, was a musical hit in China. Yash Chopra fame love story and Khayyam’s ‘scenic’ music raised Chinese hopes about the Indian movies. For a reader’s record, Aa ja re is one of the most downloaded Hindi ringtones across China.
The 1980s saw a few movies entering the mainland market, some lacked story and those which had a good story couldn’t cross the legal restrictions. The films found it harder to enter in China because of strict laws on importing movies. Moreover, Indian movies falling short to get Chinese distributors and the competition with western movies made the window of opportunity much smaller than a needle hole. The Hollywood and Hong Kong movies got better while Chinese producers started importing English movies because of changing political terrain and government’s encouragement to English among foreign languages, which further restricted Indian movies’ access to Chinese crowds. The Internet was still in its infancy and the contacts, industry networking meant a lot. Another breakthrough came in 1995 when Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) went viral in China. Again Yash Chopra gave a treat to Chinese film taste buds. Chinese were long awaiting a movie to shake off their ‘burdens’. The decade of 80s and early 90s were frenzied for Chinese, the economy was opened and the competition and living up to expectations while limiting exposure to capitalist thoughts kept mounting up the pressure on common Chinese. DDLJ rocked the karaoke, pubs, evening parties, Foot Street dancing and elite get together. Hollywood sci-fi movies and orchestrated singing didn’t meet Chinese expectations. Chinese wanted something cranky, footloose steps mixed with romance. A perfect Asian drama, DDLJ, opened the Chinese mainland for India again.
Films like Ashoka (2001) and Lagaan (2001) took the baton ahead and entered the Chinese theaters. Both films did well and garnered public attention. Lagaan was distinct, Chinese adored the storytelling style. Indian village, foreign rule and a rebellious struggle were a fine milieu. In this movie, Gracy Singh was a female lead with a bindi on forehead, Chinese jostled to applause her innocence, a brave peasant reminded Chinese the feudal atrocities and thus a perfect meal was ready to serve! Had a Chinese been on the Oscar board, Lagaan would have won Oscars for next hundred years (For a Chinese, anything less then 100 years would be considered less famous). Recently, a movie, 3 Idiots (2009), made a deep impact on China. The film was an instant success, it attracted hoards of young crowd and was one of the most streamed and downloaded movies on the mainland. Once, the Chinese ambassador to India told at a public function that, in China three Indian things are popular, Buddha, Yoga and 3 Idiots. Among the fierce competition from foreign movies (remember, China allows only 22 foreign films to be screened every year), 3 Idiots amassed huge success and in future more Chinese distributors may gamble for importing Indian movies. A Chinese film group, Lighthouse Productions has even gone a step ahead and is involved in a project to co-produce a Bollywood movie. It will cast leading actors from Bollywood and planning to invest $ 15 million, which is slated for production in this year and then probably will be released in early 2015.
The above analysis is about Hindi movies, the regional movies are yet to embark on their journey to China. If the regional movies are showcased in China, they will have huge potential to attract Chinese crowd. The regional movies (for example, Tamil and Telugu) are already doing well overseas. The Indian films are playing an important role in building cultural links between these two countries. For some it may be an opportunity to do business and for others a ground breaking phenomenon to build cooperative ties, be it corporate or political. The Indian films carry a huge task of image building overseas. Precisely, in future, Indian films can play a larger role to pave the way for better understanding and building partnerships.