If being ribbed about on late night comedy shows is one of the most telling indicators of popular acceptance of any foreign culture within the US, then Bollywood has just made an important debut.
The January 9 episode of the hugely popular The Colbert Report on Comedy Central featured a piece of gossip involving Amitach Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. In the new segment called "We the Mediator" which jests about celebrity feuds and takes sides, the show's host Stephen Colbert deadpanned the gossip about the alleged feud between Bachchan and Khan over new year celebrations.
Apparently, according to the gossip, Bachchan stayed away from Khan's new year do which was attended by among others Salman Khan, Vivek Oberoi, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta. The very idea of a mainstream American comic going through a list of unpronounceable Indian names (by American standards), had inherent humour to it.
Colebrt said, "The celebrity squabble that everyone in the nation is talking about, and by nation I mean India, is between Amitabh Bachchan (he pronounced it as Bakchan) and Shah Rukh Khan, the king and prince of Bollywood, kind of like the Indian Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, only crank up the handsome and rip off the knob. We all know the details.
Amitabh snubbed Shah Rukh Khan by not showing up at his lavish new year party. All the other major industry players attended, Vivek Oberoi, Rani Mukherjee, Salman Khan (all pronounced reasonably accurately), Preity Zinta (pronounced Priyeti)."
Then he took a pause and said apparently addressing Bachchan, "Let me tell you something, if Priyeti Zinta is there you better f**king show up." He was greeted with loud cheers at this comment. "Still this is a tough one to call," Colbert said with his tongue firmly in his cheek. "If I can only judge them side by side. Oh wait, they were both in the hit movie Mohabbatein (pronounced mohobatiyan)."
Then a couple of clips of Bachchan and Khan were shown where Bachchan looking patrician throws a showl around himself and Khan is singing a song. "Normally I would go with the distinguished older gentleman but where is that dancing? Decision? Shah Rukh Khan," Colbert said and then brought the house down with this punch line, "Congratulations, you are truly the Dilip Kumar to Amitabh's Raj Kapoor."
Of course, the popular cultural context may have been a bit skewed but the very fact that The Colbert Report, which is known to skewer popular American trends, should spend over two and a half minutes on a piece of Bollywood gossip is indicative of the inroads Hindi cinema is making within the US. Of course, it may also have been prompted by the realization that a lot of Indian Americans watch the show every night.