Indian cinema has emerged as a major cultural product not only among the Indian diaspora but also in countries that did not have a significant presence of Indians, according to experts at a special event at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Film experts studying the cultural impact of Indian films around the world believe that Raj Kapoor's 1951 film Awaara could turn out to be one of the world's most popular works of cinema.
Leading experts at the University's Centre for Film Studies spoke to students about the growing importance of Indian film in studies of transnational cinema and covered issues related to the teaching of Indian cinema at British universities.
The university's library holds one of the best collections of Indian films in the UK.
Head of Film Studies at St Andrews, Professor Dina Iordanova, said, "India is the world's largest film producer, with an annual output of between 800 and 900 titles. It is only recently, however, that the economic importance of Indian cinema has been recognised, and there is a growing interest in investing in Indian cinema."
The Indian study day covered the history of Indian cinema from early silent films to recent Bollywood blockbusters. The first Indian film, Raja Harishchandra, was made in 1913 and the film industry's biggest historical star Dadasaheb Phalke, who made more than 90 films, is considered to be "the father of Indian cinema".
Iordanova added: "Films are extremely important not just in India but in Indian diasporic communities around the world (North America, Europe, the Arab world, Australasia) where they are very successful and bring great box office revenues.
<b1>"There are also many countries without any significant presence of diasporic Indians where Indian cinema is the most popular form of cinematic entertainment. This is true for a large part of the African continent, and, historically, for countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, Turkey, Greece or Egypt."
"And in the UK there are currently at least two Bollywood blockbusters per annum which get into the top 10 box office charts."
The event included illustrated talks on classical director/actor Guru Dutt, on narrative conventions in Indian cinema and on the international distribution and impact of Indian film.
Speakers included academics from Film Studies and the University's School of History, and Rosie Thomas from the University of Westminster, who is one of the leading international authorities on Indian cinema. She spoke on popular Indian cinema from the 1930s and in particular about a famous film star called 'fearless Nadia'.
Iordanova believes that Awaara has enjoyed more transnational success than any other film over a prolonged period of time. It is difficult to think of any other film from the 1950s that was seen in so many countries and was as widely acclaimed as Awaara.
"Most film history books analysed other films and mentioned Awaara only in passing, yet I cannot think of any other film from that period that would have enjoyed such popular success transnationally. Indeed, during those key periods, songs from Indian films were huge hits in many other countries".
Growing up in Bulgaria, Iordanova remembers regularly seeing Indian films as a child. She said: "I knew Indian films long before I had met any living Indian. We knew next to nothing of India and the Indians.
"However, the fascination with a film like Awaara was everlasting; everybody knew Raj Kapoor's ever-singing dancing persona. Nothing could match up to the experience of watching Awaara; this film was more fascinating than any other I can remember.
"Even though repeat viewing is not typical for the cinema going practices of Bulgarians, many admit that they have seen Awaara numerous times. Why such fascination? It was the candid praise of love and affection in the Indian movies that was truly enchanting for us... Awaara remains a truly enduring global hit, yet one that is understudied and under-researched."