Bollywood goes global. It could be a flop
The most expensive Indian movie ever made, Ra.One, premiered in London’s O2 complex last week. Produced with a budget of $30m, the film features highly bankable Shah Rukh Khan and Karina Kapoor, the rescue of the heroine from a runaway train, and the explosion of Mumbai’s main station - a cocktail of stars and effects bidding to compete with Hollywood’s well-tested recipe. But will it be enough?
In a parallel to the last post - where international pop stars saw Bollywood soundtracks as a trojan horse to reach India’s billion ears - Ra.One exemplifies Bollywood’s ambition to recruit viewers far beyond their domestic audience. The choice of an international capital for the premiere, the filming in high profile foreign locations (Los Angeles and Paris) as well as the increasing emphasis on slick visual effects clearly seeks to attract a worldly public. Bollywood studios are confident: the financial gap with Hollywood, they say, is narrowing fast; soon enough equal means and technology will allow them to capture a profitable share of the global market.
There are reasons to be sceptical. What’s crippling the Indian movie industry internationally is not a lack of money, but the difficulty to please both at home and abroad: whereas Western viewers take interest in the harsh realities of India’s stratified society, India’s public mostly wants to see its stars singing catchy tracks and parading in exotic locations such as Thailand, Singapour, Australia and the US. And when the foreign audience is looking for tales exposing India’s widening social chasms, the domestic middle-class wants to see how the national identity copes with modern economic and social changes.
It may thus take some time before the industry can achieve its objectives. And in fact, for all its international glitter, Ra.One remains centered on traditional Bollywood features: family, melodrama, singing and dancing. A sign that, for the moment at least, Bollywood producers know where they’re going to sell their tickets.