Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, August 01, 2005

Outsourcing Hollywood to Bollywood

We have heard a lot in recent years about “outsourcing”: the idea of moving production to cheaper overseas locations. But while India has received outsourcing in software production and in call centers, and other industries, so far the Indian movie industry has been relatively unaffected. I suspect that this may soon change. India produces more films than any other country and they can produce films for a fraction of the cost of a Hollywood production. It is just a matter of time before someone begins seeing a way of tapping in to this capability.

I speculated about this in a comment to a nice post about Hindi films by Sunil Laxman, (who writes and excellent blog). I thought that there are two possibilities for Indian-American cooperation in film:
1. Serious movies made in English set in India and starring popular American and Indian movie stars.
2. Fun song-and-dance movies made in English designed to appeal to Americans that have never seen a musical.
I thought the recent film Bend it like Beckham (2003) showed that there was interest in movies that stared Indian actors and dealt with Indian themes, and such a movie could cross over and appeal to mainstream western audience. Bend it was an enormously profitable movie, and I suspect it made the director Gurinder Chadha very wealthy.

Last weekend, my wife rented the forgettable Bride and Prejudice (2004) made by the very same Gurinder Chadha. She was definitely thinking that there is a market for Indian style song-and-dance in the western market. The movie was based on an old Jane Austen novel, and it was kind of fun to see how they transformed it into story about modern India. But the lead characters were badly miscast. This is especially surprising considering that Chadha found the rising star Keira Knightly and as the wonderful Parminder Nagra who found some success in the T.V. show ER. In Bride, Chadha cast the no-talents Aishwarya Rai and Martin Henderson (playing an American and he is not even American) in the lead roles. This was a blunder. If she had cast the lead roles properly, it could have made double the box office. Even then, the movie did make a profit, and it proves that there may be a market for turning the typically Bollywood song-and-dance into something western audiences could enjoy.

I think that there is an enormous market for serious films set in India with Indian actors (and maybe a few American actors) made in English and dealing with real issues. These movies could be made for less $10 million and make money both in India with the English-speaking minority and in the U.S. and other English speaking countries. I would wish that Chadha would move in that direction. Bend it like Beckham was sort of like that in that it was not a campy Bollywood masala but a movie that cast Indians (or desis) in lead roles and dealt with themes relevant to Indians.

On the other hand, maybe there is a market for super campy masala type films. The genre needs a good Mike Myers-style parody. This whole genre is so silly anyway, it really lends itself to an over-the-top spoof. Here are some possible running gags.

Have fun with the dubbed songs:
1. Have the woman sing with the men’s voices and the men sing like Lata Mangeshkar.
2. The hero and heroine eat at a Chinese restaurant and then the break out into Chinese song which neither one of them understands.
3. Put a scratch in the CD moment: suddenly the music changes in mid song to another song and the hero tries his best to lip sync to the changes.
4. Have the song suddenly end, the hero and heroine keep mouthing non-existent lyrics and someone walks up and asks them, “What are you doing?”

Have fun with the classic break into dance routine: the music switches on at inappropriate times and everyone is force to dance:
1. The hero is running away from the villain. His only way to escape is to switch on the music and force everyone to dance, and he secretly dances away.
2. Have ridiculous things dance: cows, (Amit would love this), elephants, whatever.
3. Have the “match fixer villains” try to fix a cricket match by switching on the music while India is batting, but it backfires as the batsmen’s footwork improves.
4. Have the hero and heroine get a little too intimate for the Indian censors – and then the music starts forcing them to try to continue kissing while dancing.
5. Have office workers “dancing” while doing mundane office things like sitting at a desk in front of a computer or whatever.
6. This would be cool: have what would look like a typical crowd city street with all kinds of pedestrians, cows, autos and whatever and suddenly everyone breaks into dance. (We have to have dancing cows).
7. Have a major battle sequence where people with swords are killing each other and then the music starts and they start dancing (including the corpses), and the music stops and the continue killing.

Would anyone like to add to the silly song-and-dance gag list? Please comment.


  • How about...
    The hero and his lady are kissing and the customary flower screens them...Then someone changes the tempo of the music and the flower starts dancing..

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:01 AM  

  • Hi Gokul
    Or how about this: the hero and heroine are doing the classic tree dance (the lady coyly behind the tree) and then the tree dances away!

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 8:51 AM  

  • Hi Michael
    Had you not been married to a desi gal, I would have fwd this article to the local Bajrang Dal or RSS clique, citing "firangs" poking fun at our glorious filmi tradition and instigating unwarranted cultural animosity. They would come and stage a "dharna" or something in front of your house. :))

    Hilarious piece Michael. Loved it.

    How about the celing fan singing and dancing when the hero and heroine make unsolicited love. The celing fan could be suggestively bobbing up and down horizontally. Do u think it will make it past the censors ?

    By Blogger Sourin Rao, at 10:23 AM  

  • Hi Sourin
    Maybe we could throw in some dancing politicians: we might like those more than the ordinary one.

    As for the censors - make them into another running gag - they come in with magic powers to seperate men and women when they get too close.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:10 AM  

  • The possibilities are limitless. How about entire court cases argued in ghazal? The final few scenes of Veer Zara for example.

    Your post reminded me of an ad for aids prevention that's running here right now. A man and a woman are singing around in a park, in 60s costume, hairstyle and sepia tone. They finally settle down behind a bush with some strategically placed flowers. Then, suddenly, they spring out from behind the bush. The song is out, a voice-over cuts in. "Don't have a condom? Don't go any further!" Interestingly, the ad seems to imply that pre-marital sex is ok, as long as precautions are taken. Such a big departure from when I lived here last.

    By Blogger Sujatha Bagal, at 11:35 AM  

  • The concept of a "Bollywood spoof" might have just taken off with the broadway musical..."Bollywood dreams", that Andrew Lloyd Webber and AR Rehman came up with.....

    I haven't seen it, but it's supposed to be some kind of bollywood parody. Going from Broadway to Hollywood can't be that hard, can it?

    In a way, Moulin Rouge was actually a Bollywood musical (with even some of the music, including "Chamma Chamma", from a Hindi movie). So...there was a start there, though many people missed it, and there wasn't any Indian-American cooperation there.

    I had a good laugh reading some of your suggestions :-)), and I would be the first person to stand in line at the theaters to buy a ticket for a Mike Myers Indian movie parody.

    ......In Bride, Chadha cast the no-talents Aishwarya Rai and...

    Ha, ha. But Rai is the perfect example of how far you can get with beauty and ambition, and no talent at all.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 2:27 PM  

  • Hi Sunil:
    Yes, Moulin Rouge was a good example of how you can make a popular campy song and dance film. It starred bona fide talents Nicole Kidman and (although I didn't like him too much) Ewan McGregor. I did think Moulin Rouge borrowed a lot from Bollywood (they even had a elephant - but it didn't dance).

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:01 PM  

  • Hi Suj and Eswaran
    Suj: That's interesting about the PSA on condoms.

    Eswaran: Thanks for the link to mulit: yes that is the general idea. I never saw that before.

    Sunil: Bollywood dreams...sounds like fun.

    But no one seems interested in seeing the serious movies that are made in English starring Indians and dealing with real Indian themes. I think there is a market for that as well. I loved Bend it.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 3:11 PM  

  • Hi Deba
    Hyderabad blues sounds interesting, maybe I'll try to find it.
    Movies made in English will never be a big hit in India because of the language issue, but it could be a growing market. You couple the English speaking India with the growing desi diaspora and you have a big market that really isn't being served.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 5:06 AM  

  • Hi Vikram
    Yes- action films set in India would be fun. The only issue there is that Bollywood might not have the experience with that genre to really capitalize on the lower production cost in India. Maybe some Hollywood-Bollywood cooperation would help.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 4:46 AM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:22 AM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:38 AM  

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