Daily Archives: May 30, 2008

Bhootnath: Films and the economics of identity.

I came across this fabulous song sung by Amitabh and Juhi Chavla in the film Bhoothnath. I liked the song so much that I decided to check out other songs from the movie and then eventually the movie itself. I usually avoid such mistakes when it comes to Bollywood movies. No, don’t get me wrong. I am far from being the alternate cinema snob. I like good action packed as well as the mushy sickeningly pink hollywood movies and I survive on soaps on television. I enjoy the regional movies from India too. But somehow the brainless, senseless and artificially stylized Bollwood movies scare me off almost always!

Back to Bhoothnath. What I found most interesting apart from its concept, which you might say is inspired by Casper, is the songs featuring kids. They are raunchy and foottaping numbers filmed in the current style of hindi movies with lots of gals and guys surrounding our main characters from the film. However, the imagery used is bit different form what I have seen (or not seen!) earlier.

There are kids wearing bandanas, steel chains and similar jwellery and sometimes girls masquerading as cheerleaders. Sometimes they are shown playing American football or bouncing a basketball or standing on a street corner surrounded by girls and bikes. There is no more the galli pappu who breaks the window pane with his cricket stroke. Instead there is cool dude who breaks a TV with a baseball stroke! One song, featuring Amitabh with kids, includes a scene where he stands kneeling on a wall on a random street corner with a sweatshirt hood and his glasses on.

What do you think is common in all these imagery? You got it. It comes from Uncle Sam’s own country! Completely devoid of its context though. Very few people in India would understand the sociology of the hip hop imagery and its origins and very few parents in US would think that its cool for their kids to hangout on street corners. Still the way in which Bollywood movies mix imagery with distorted contexts to create a completely stylized representation is worth serious study.

What do we take from this? Well you could brush this away calling me a jerk and a spoilsport or think a bit hard and speculate about its economic ramifications. The film is sponsored by company’s like McDonalds. It is well documented how these chains used marketing strategies to target kids and ended up fundamentally changing the way people treat and eat food in the US. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation is an eyeopening read in this regard. Hence, given the fact that a generation of kids fed on American imagery is good for business, it may not be unreasonable to expect that such companies will do whatever it takes to create such a mindset.

Of course this is speculation and you might deem it as far fetched. But its sometimes good to be a bit of an alarmist and see things even if everyone else does not see them. Its fun and ticklishly heretic!


Filed under social perspectives