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Bollywood in Latin America

Bollywood in Latin America

Posted by Juan Gavasa on July 05, 2014

As Narendra Modi heads to Brazil for the BRICS Summit, Team Niti Central takes a look at India’s Soft Power in Latin America – the incredible popularity of Bollywood. A distant memory of a shared colonial past and a demographic dividend hungry for unbounded economic aspirations are not the only unifying factors between India and Latin America. India’s film industry is hugely popular in the region and has gone places where direct Indian diplomacy is perhaps yet to venture.

Think of Bollywood and Latin America and the first image that comes to mind is from Dhoom 2 of Rio De Janeiro, which was one of the first Indian movies to be shot in Brazil. Perhaps few are aware that the popular TV Serial on Sony TV from the decade gone by – “Jassi jaisi koi nahi” was an import from Colombia – Yo soy Betty, la fea.

Bollywood’s deep inroads in Latin America go many decades back. Taking a look at a PTI report of 2013 in Business Standard, one finds that while we may now be looking at Latin American countries as potential export centers, Bollywood  had opened shop in the 1970s itself. And that’s why Peru was looking forward to the release of Shahrukh Khan starrer ‘Chennai Express’ as much as the average Indian movie buff in 2013. The report quotes John Bellido, himself a SRK fan and head of Lima-based Indian Cinema Fan Association who said,

“Peru is no stranger to the phenomenon called Bollywood. Bollywood movies have been rooted in Peruvian hearts for so long. In the 70s, many Indian cinemas, very dramatic cinema including ‘Mother India’ and ‘Mera Naam Joker’ were a success in its time.”

The fact that the movie was released on the same day as it was in India says a lot. Bollywood too imported talent from Peru in the form of pop sensation Mia Mont who sang the Spanish title track of Dhoom 3. The Spanish version proved so popular that it was even aired on radio channels. The South American pop singer, in the Malaysia Insider report spoke of her desire to act in Bollywood as well. Also, according to the report,

“Bollywood has considerable presence in Latin America, especially in Peru and Colombia.”

Neighboring Columbia too harbours fondness for Bollywood storylines. As per a report by Priya Joshi in Digital Spy, a remake of Yash Raj Films’ ‘Ladies Vs Ricky Behl’ in Spanish is in the offing as the Indian production house has struck a deal with Colombia’s 64-A Films. In the report, Diego Ramirez of 64-A Films said,

“As of now, we are looking to film this in four Colombian cities of Cali, Medellín, Bogota and Cartagena for the sun and beaches there – there is a possibility of going across the entire Latin America once the final script is locked.”

Venezuela on its part looks to Bollywood for advice, according to Andres Schipani in a Financial Times blog. In order to breathe new life into its production industry, the Venezuelan Government turned to Bollywood professionals. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister in a visit to New Delhi had said, “The goal is for Bollywood professionals to train the technicians, screenwriters and producers of the emerging Venezuelan film industry.” Venezuela is one of India’s largest trading partners- bilateral trade between the two countries for 2012-13 was pegged at $14billion. The two countries are also signatories to a cultural exchange programme.

Gaining from the cultural popularity

Some experts believe that currently India’s foreign policy in the region is tailored primarily for Brazil with other Latin American countries on the margin. In a report published on the 12th of April, in the Diplomat, authors Tridivesh Singh Maini and Sridhar Ramasway write,

“While most countries may have looked at Latin America through a U.S. prism in the past, India seems to look at the region from a Brazilian perspective.”

The surmise is not surprising considering Brazil and India are partners on various forums and the two countries are backing each other for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, but it is time India’s broadened its vision. While in the recent past, India has signed Preferential Trade Agreements with Chile and MERCOSUR, a political and economic agreement comprising five member states of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, the report says,

“Many Latin American countries (with their huge potential market for services) have not received India’s due attention.”

There is also mention of New Delhi not reciprocating the visits made by many Latin American heads of states in spite of them according priority to India, the exceptions being Brazil, Cuba and Chile. India needs to re-fashion its policy, take aid of its soft power and its strong service sector and

“act to harness the economic potential of the entire Latin American region”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run up to the 2014 general election had on multiple occasions spoken about India’s Soft Power. During his Foreign Policy Vision speech in Chennai last year, Modi dwelled at length on the role he saw for India’s Soft Power. His most definitive speech on India’s Soft Power was at the platinum jubilee celebrations of the International Advertising Association (IAA) in Mumbai where he spoke on Brand India.

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