It’s that time of the year on London’s cinematic calendar, The Times BFI 52nd London Film Festival. Amidst feature films from 43 countries, the organisers are promoting the event with: “Expect Bollywood glamour in the West End”.
Recent figures show that Bollywood films bring in a hefty revenue — £10m to £15m every year — and that English meadows, castles and ruins have become the most sought after locations for shooting films, signs of the Bolly spell.
“The contemporary relevance of Cinema India goes beyond the purely academic,” said Anil Sinanan, the Times film critic.” Indian films are now in the mainstream and at least five or six figure in the first 10 most popular at Box Office.
“It is rare nowadays for the top 20 films each week not to feature at least one Bollywood title,” says Mark Batey, chief executive of the FDA.
Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan are the icons that made Indian films cross over to around five per cent of the white filmgoers too. Their charisma and fan-following cut across faiths, nationalities and even the boundary of Britain. “Shah Rukh has”, said Rachel Dwyer, professor of arts and culture at SOAS and expert on Indian cinema, “a hysterical female following in Germany. And Amitabh has influence the world over. It is their personality and their peculiar magnetism that has made them most popular and known actors over the world, despite the glamour of Hollywood stars.”
Few would forget the spectacle of white women of all ages striding out of three luxury buses outside Somerset House, to attend the premiere of Chak de India. A blushing Shah Rukh had to let some bold ones embrace him. “We all love him in Germany,” shouted a venerable old lady.
“The second generation started becoming comfortable with Bollywood because of the huge Shah Rukh phenomenon that grew dramatically from Dilwale Dhulaniya Le Jayenge. The rest was done by Karan Johar’s family-oriented films,” both Dwyer and Sinanan agree. “These films portrayed the Indian family in a very Utopian way which audiences here lapped up.
All these linked the Indians to the tales of tradition and culture of their forefathers, while the whites got mesmerized by the song and dance routine.”
No wonder John and his girlfriend Gina said “Bolly is jolly” coming out after seeing Singh is King, that got into sixth slot in the first 10 box-office hits.