Bollywood and the Hinduja Brothers

The following passage is taken from Amrit Wilson’s book Dream, Questions, Struggles: South Asian Women in Britain (Pluto Press, 2006) – a book borrowed from Evington library.

A Few Messages from Bollywood

“As we have seen in the context of weddings, Bollywood is increasingly influencing the lives of the South Asian diaspora. Two Bollywood films which have been particularly influential in this respect over the last ten years and are mega-hits in both India and Britain are Hum Aapke Hain Koun (HAHK) (1995) and Kabhi Khushie, Kabhi Gham (K3G) (2002).

“The two films have very different storylines but they also have striking similarities. Both present a sanitised picture of India, with none of the poverty which might embarrass Asians living in the West and none of the ‘strangeness’ which might make them or their children feel uncomfortable in white society; and both focus on the consumption of commodities (often with brand labels clearly visible) while at the same time presenting a new Hindu identity – upper caste, ‘modern’, market-led and conservative – which fits in with the right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology of the BJP (see Chapter 3).” (p.134)

Baghban (2003) is the story of an elderly (though still very glamorous) couple, Raj Malhotra, played by mega-star Amitabh Bachchan, and his wife Pooja (Hema Malini), who, although they are apparently not well off (Raj is a bank employee), live in a palatial house and are deeply romantic about each other… (p.135)

“I realise that despite Baghban’s powerful evocation of the modern Hindu identity (also glorified in HAHK and K3G), it does not in any way appear anti-Muslim. It will not lose audiences in Muslim countries or among the Muslim South Asian diaspora. Instead – like similar films – it concentrates on a more immediate goal – the constant redefining and strengthening of a modern investor-friendly Hindu identity which appeals especially to the diaspora. There is the projection of wealth and material success – opulent houses and large-scale ownership – as something akin to dignity, honour, even godliness: in K3G it’s made explicit that when the father has amassed a huge fortune, it is the son’s duty to acquire even more; and in Baghban, the bad sons were sweating it out as the employees of multinationals but the good adopted son had his own business as a successful car dealer. These contemporary Bollywood blockbusters also project a very conservative patriarchy, which glorifies the extended family and insists on the wife’s total dedication and subservience to her husband, and the daughter-in-law’s self-abasement before her in-laws. This reflects the desperate efforts of the Indian, and in Britain the middle-class Asian extended family, to survive as an institution in the face of a variety of threats, most centrally the fact that women are increasingly economically independent.

Baghban shares the ‘family values’ of HAHK and K3G, but it is a few steps ahead in terms of the Hindutva agenda – the appearance of the battling grandmother who dispatches the potentially rapist boyfriend, for example, brings back images of right-wing Hindu women activists.

Baghban is not a mega-hit on the scale of HAHK or K3G but it is undoubtedly a trailbalzer. It is also particularly important because it is the first film financed by the Hinduja brothers, recently listed as the richest Asians in Britain, who are making inroads into Bollywood.” (pp.136-7)

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