The title of this anthology, Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance, edited by Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti, is written on the book’s front cover in a font traditionally used for Urdu, Pakistan’s national language. While at first this seems an unnerving introduction to a collection of essays centred on the Hindi film industry, it soon becomes evident that this is symbolic of the transnationality and universality of Hindi film and, in particular, the song and dance sequence, which is explored throughout this collection of essays. While in the history of Hollywood and Western cinema the musical has evolved into a genre of its own, in the Bollywood film industry the song and dance sequence has arguably become the definitive aspect of Hindi cinema. This anthology addresses the impact of the song and dance sequence on Hindi film both nationally and globally, with contributors debating whether this has been a hindrance to the reception of the Bollywood industry internationally or, in Shanti Kumar’s view, it has created a niche in cinematic expression (p. 139).
Gopal and Moorti begin this exploration by tracing the history and development of the Bollywood film industry alongside the development of the Indian nation itself. While the influence of Bollywood on the Indian nation is not a new topic, it proves to be a sensible and well-considered beginning to an anthology centred on the status of the industry globally. It places this anthology on solid foundations, providing a captivating introduction to those unfamiliar with Bollywood film and a well-synthesised summary for those who are. After India’s independence in 1947, Hindi became the national language; as a result, Bombay (where Hindi is the regional language) became the centre of the Indian film industry. Problems arose, however, with many Indians still unable to speak the national language. Gopal and Moorti argue that the Bollywood aesthetic was a direct result of the Bollywood industry poaching the most talented and well-established filmmakers, musical directors, choreographers, musicians and actors, who combined their different regional traditions to craft a product that could break through cultural barriers to create a “national product” (p. 13). It was the song and dance sequence that did this most effectively as it used non-verbal communication to empathise, relate and connect with a diverse nation, enabling “the creation of a common culture in a linguistically fragmented nation” (p. 14). In this sense, the song and dance sequences in Bollywood films became arguably one of the most powerful tools of Nationalism, operating as “capillaries” through which ideas of national belonging were circulated, consumed and reproduced (1). The song and dance sequence breaks down barriers of difference created by language and distance, forging relationships between strangers and creating a profound relationship between film and nationalism.
Nilanjana Bhattacharjya and Monika Mehta’s essay, “From Bombay to Bollywood: Tracking Cinematic and Musical Tours”, plays an important role in not only furthering the understanding of music’s impact on the Hindi film industry but significantly contributing to the understanding of the power and influence of music as a medium. While the power of film to shape, change and influence India’s public sphere was recognised, this was not always regarded as positive. After independence in 1947, the newly formed Indian state refused to recognise the legitimacy of the film industry. Cinema was regarded as a corrupting influence upon Indian culture, with a member of the Constituent Assembly stating that he thought “the greatest injury being done to the nation is by the cinematography” (p. 107). In the Rajya Sabha (Council of States) debates in 1954, the commercial film industry was seen as the key threat to Indian morality and restrictions were soon put in place to regulate film content. According to Biswarup Sen, in India “popular music …consists almost completely of filmigit, that is, songs featured in the movies” (p. 85). In this sense, music operates as a powerful reassertion of a film’s content and thematic concerns. Music’s ability to be extracted from film and travel through under-regulated mediums fundamentally contributes to its potency as a media source. Bhattacharjya and Mehta observe that “film’s music’s unique ability to escape the direct purview of the state has enabled its considerable facility to circumvent the state” (p. 108), which has meant that the Bollywood film industry has the power to shape a national culture that is reflective of those who watch it, rather than a national culture based purely on the ideologies of the state.
This culture is not just negotiated on a local level but is debated and negotiated internationally by diasporic and international audiences. Film has always been one of the most powerful tools for diasporic communities to stay connected to the motherland. In what is now India, this tradition can be traced back to 1908 where film moguls would take film to diasporic communities. Abdulallyi Esoofally, for example, travelled through the Far East including Burma, Ceylon, Singapore and Indonesia with a tent bioscope, introducing film to these regions. For those “dispersed to different continents as indentured labor servicing the commercial enterprises of Britain”, write Gopal and Moorti, “this Diaspora of empire turned to cinema to revive memories of home” (p. 32). Not only was film a way to exercise a nostalgia for the homeland but it also helped these communities keep in touch with the changing ethos and values of their motherland in a developing world. The ability of the media to act as the bridge between India and those abroad has been maintained throughout the twentieth century. The arrival of the audio cassette in India made film through music (as an extension of the film itself) more accessible to Indians at home and abroad. Today, international media like the Internet take Bollywood globally.
This global accessibility has now transcended Indian diasporic audiences, with the Bollywood song and dance tradition reaching a universal audience. Bettina David, in her essay “Intimate Neighbours: Bollywood, Dangdut music, and Globalising Modernities in Indonesia”, examines how popular Hindi film music and imagery have entered into the Indonesian popular music genre, Dangdut. In 1945, the allied armies began importing commercial Hindi films to Indonesia and “though not all moviegoers could read the Indonesian subtitles, they nevertheless could follow the formulaic storylines and enjoyed the song and dance sequences” (p. 182). Just as the song and dance sequences appealed to those living in India who could not speak Hindi, the same principle provides an insight as to why Bollywood is, and will continue to be, so well received internationally.
Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti present a cohesive and insightful anthology that highlights the power of song and dance for the Bollywood industry both locally and abroad. Global Bollywood grapples with the effects of the song and dance sequence on the Bollywood industry as an export, analysing whether song and dance can be detrimental to, or enhance, the appeal of Bollywood to an international audience. Overall, this anthology skillfully emphasises the power of song and dance to transcend barriers of differentiation though non-verbal communication, revealing how the Bollywood industry has become an international entity.
Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance, edited by Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2008.