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Globalisation of Hindi films in 50s and 60s

Given the enthusiasm in Western and Indian media about the growing “popularity” and “clout” of Indian cinema in the west portraying it as symbolic of India’s economic and cultural clout, it sometimes pays to examine history. Doing so would inform us that this is not the first instance of the globalisation of Indian films. In fact, Hindi films were quite popular in Greece during the 50s and 60s.

Helen Abadzi and Emmmanuel Tasoulas in their book Indoprepon Apokalypsi demonstrated that “at least 111 Indian films were exhibited in Greece” during the period 1954-1968. They claim that Indian films had an important, lasting and all-pervasive presence in Greece.

What differentiates the globalisation this time around is that it is a project of the arrival and expansion of late capital. During that period, the Indian distributors or producers had no part in the films arriving in Greece. Except for major films such as Mother India (Mehboob Khan, 1957), Indians played little part in exporting the films perhaps not even being aware of such possibilities.

Abadzi and Tasoulas’ research shows that the themes in the film resonated with the Greek audiences, despite coming from a completely different cultural imagination. Not that it was accepted wholeheartedly by everyone. The critic and writer Nestor Matsas denounced the Greek audiences’ infatuation with Hindi films:

“It is not acceptable, at a moment when we are trying to establish ourselves in the European arena, to have become a cultural colony of India.”

Again, in comparison with the current expansion of Hindi films abroad where they play in A-theatres, the films in Greece were typified by the following local interventions:

  1. Trimming of films to 2 hours to fit exhibition slots.
  2. Titles of the films were changed, often beyond recognition (Aan as Mangala The Rose of India, Mother India as Land Soaked with Sweat). These were often done to emphasise the local imperative of melodramatic and exoticisation of India.
  3. The release of the films were rarely timed with their release in India, thus robbing it of all temporality. The films were released without concern for chronology.

In comparison, Hindi films in the contemporary globalisation phase are released simultaneously in different markets — India, UK, Middle-east, South Africa, North America, Singapore. Top theatres screen these films. However, the market for this overseas audience is mostly the large Indian community. This is rather different from the globalisation of the 50s and 60s when they were received by local audiences.

Dimitris Eleftheriotis offers a reason why the films were popular in Greece. He states that both cultures share many characteristics in textual similarities and affinities in the nature of the viewing experience. For example, audience reaction to melodrama, the role of music in melodramas, the visual organisation in the form of tableu, frontality, and iconicity amongst others. More importantly, Dimitris claims that the structural similarities between Greek and Indian socieities make possible a mode of address that can appeal to both audiences.

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