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Africa and the African Diaspora

Bollywood and Africa: A Love Story

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Few people in the West have heard international superstar Akon's new hit. But tens of millions throughout the rest of the world have been dancing to Chammak Challo for weeks. Why? Because the catchy tune is the musical centerpiece of the latest Bollywood sci-fi blockbuster Ra. One, whose (super) hero is no other than Shahrukh Khan, the most popular actor in the (rest of) the world. That Akon, a Senegalese, sings in Hindi will come as a surprise to many, but not to Africans. They have been singing Bollywood tunes in Hindi for 60 years.

Indian cinema arrived in West Africa in the early 1950s and people instantly related to it. Like them, Indians revered the family and the elders, dressed in long tunics, ate with their fingers, and carried loads on their heads. There were turbans and veils, cows in the streets, vibrant colors, large weddings, multi-generational households, songs, dances, tabla drumming, and romantic love — but no explicit sexuality.

More significantly, arranged marriages, caste barriers, and the importance of morality, honor, family name, and religion were all topics central to Bollywood and to African societies. Life under and the struggle against colonialism; the poor, the exploited and the oppressed as central characters; and mythology — issues European and American cinemas completely ignored — strongly resonated on the continent. Bollywood offered a model of cultural resistance and a path between tradition and modernity.

Although they were neither dubbed nor sub-titled, people flocked to Hindi films. After seeing a movie several times — and because of the recurrent themes — they understood enough Hindi to navigate the plots.

Senegal — arguably the most Indianophile West African country — counts more than 40 Indian clubs: men and women, young and old dress, sing, and dance Indian style; and the Miss Hindu competition was held there for several years. The most watched program on RDV TV is India in Senegal; and Allo Bombay follows Bollywood news. In Dakar, an Indian who owns a video store gives dance and Hindi classes several times a week.

In Northern Nigeria, the Islamic resurgence that followed the Iranian revolution in 1979 has re-framed the immense popularity of Bollywood. Islamic schools' girls choirs, as well as a male Sufi group, Society for the Lovers of India, sing Bollywood soundtracks with Hausa lyrics praising the Prophet Muhammad.

Indian films have inspired Hausa musicians, poets, and writers; and since the 1990s a local film industry on video, influenced by Bollywood, is popular among Hausa in Nigeria and Niger, whereas the southern Nigeria Nollywood films have limited success.

But as a few directors are catering to a wealthy Indian Diaspora, some wonder if the Bollywood/Africa love affair is not inching toward divorce. Still there are enough films on corruption, love, women's struggles, terrorism, and religious issues to satisfy an African audience. Some wish that African cinema could emulate Indian films, which maintain their cultural perspective and still appeal to different cultures. While Bollywood indeed remains rooted, it is also greatly influenced by the culture of the African Diaspora. After song and dance routines met funk, disco, Michael Jackson, and hip-hop, they were never the same.

Pirated Bollywood DVDs continue to sell in Africa, but Indian series are now all the rage and have replaced the Brazilian and Mexican telenovelas from Dakar to Madagascar. When Pallavi Kulkarni, the heroine of the immensely popular series Vaidehi, visited Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire last year, throngs of people lined the streets in a welcome that had not been seen in Dakar since the Senegalese soccer team returned from the quarter final of the World Cup in 2002.

Now with Akon and his perfect Hindi, there is one more reason for Africans to love Bollywood, and for India to expand its cultural and economic reach on the continent.

News: This post has been cited in International Business Times 

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Bollywood and Africa

Dear Ms.Diouf: I found this entry very interesting. I have always known that Indian/Bollywood cinema is very popular in Africa. A few years ago, I saw a Francophone African film In which there is a scene where the villagers gather around a televisibon set watching a dance and song number from the film, "Pakeezah," which was one of the big hits of the 1970s and starred the actress Meena Kumari. I don't remember the name of the film. I think it may have been Darrat, by the Chadian fillmmaker Mahamet Saleh Haroun, but I will need to research that. Thank you. Best, Binita P.S. I think you are a friend of my colleague Prof. Mohamed Mbodj of the History Department and the African Studies program at Manhttanville College,

My journey to India and Africa: An image I will never forget.

Having spent this past (2011) summer in rural and city India, I have noted and sometimes sadly noticed the vast amount of skin lighenten creams sold in India. I also notice that this love of "all that is fair" seems to permiate every context of India culture, mainly movies. Fair skin women are all the rage while medium brown to darker skinned women are not so celebrated. Having read a great deal about the cultural imperialism (forcing on Indians other standards of beauty, belief systems and intellect) by the British on Indian peoples I am empathetic to the people of India who seem (based on my oberservations and experiences) to accept this reality without question. I am though equally outraged at a people who are not offened by European standards of beauty being forced onto their culture. Why are they protesting? Why do they not demand that the 100 plus billboards I saw in India reading "Be better Be Fair" or "Fair Beauty" be taken down at once. While I delight in reading about the shared cultural experiences found in movies/music by Africans and Indians, I am concerned that Bollywood films (which mainly cast fair skinned Indian woman and White women in leading and supporting roles) will reinforce the already troubling dynamic of skin lightening across Africa. Skin lightening creams fill the shelves of stores in Africa. A deep healing is needed for people/cultures that uniformly celebrate light skin and are seemingly ashamed if the darker skin. I can not express the amount of psychological pain and injury attached to this topic. All people should be proud of themselves and their histories (and others).

I am from India. Let me

I am from India. Let me provide you with a dose of reality that most Indians and foreign observers are not familiar with. The notion among Indians that fair skin is better than dark skin isn't completely the result of the colonial period, as people seem to think. I feel and have observed myself that this notion was always present in India before Europeans even arrived. It wasn't rampant, neither was it prevalent to such an extent, but I feel this idea was still there in the minds of people. 1 out of every 3 ads on TV is on either a skin product, hair product or some other beauty product targeted towards the young, fragile, teenage and early 20s women. When you live in India, you get used to it and almost become impervious to it. After some time, you don't even notice the galling frequency and implications of such campaigns. I spent the last year in UK, and when I returned I was shocked to actually realize how bad the situation is. And sadly, I don't think its going away anytime soon.

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