Bollywood and Hollywood: Collaborative or Competitive?

The first moving picture shows were created in the very late 19th century, using still pictures sequenced and played rapidly to take advantage of the persistence of vision phenomenon. Since then, motion pictures have evolved into an everyday, common entity, with motion captured on film in real time, sound and more recently, digitalized graphic effects and film animation.

The first ever shot movie in Hollywood, In Old California, was shot in 1910 by D. W. Griffith. From then on, the movie industry in this area of Los Angeles did nothing but grow. Three years later, the first silent feature film made in India, Raja Harishchandra was released.  By the 1930s, the Bollywood film industry was producing over 200 films per year. At the height of early Hollywood’s popularity in the 1940s, the studios were producing about 400 films per year. Hollywood started producing films in color in the 1960s. Bollywood produced its first color film a decade earlier. Since then, the histories of Hollywood and Bollywood have continued to run similar courses.

Technically, Bollywood films refer to specifically the popular Mumbai-based (previously Bombay) Hindustani language film industry, but the title is often stretched to encompass the whole of the Indian cinema (including Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Malayalam and Kannada). Bollywood, gaining much support and popularity during the Great Depression and World War II era, the Indian independence movement, and the violence of the Partition, developed a formula for movies that gave viewers a world in which to escape that could provide eternal hope and happiness. This theme has continued into the films produced today. There are a few principals that make up the Bollywood film industry:

  1. Bollywood films are usually musicals, and feature at least one dance scene.
  2. Films tend to be about three hours long, usually showed with an intermission.
  3. The plots are melodramatic, and have an almost unvarying formula including such elements as star-crossed lovers, corrupt politicians, twins separated at birth (or other family members being separated and finding each other again), conniving villains, angry parents, courtesans with hearts of gold, dramatic reversals of fortune, and oddly convenient coincidences.
  4. The films are decidedly escapist, and showcase not the problems in society (such as the impenetrable levels of the caste system) but instead parade (literally or figuratively) the ideas of miracles, happily-ever-after, people with good hearts, and love.
  5. Bollywood films always feature bright colors, beautiful scenery, pretty actors, and lots of culture, (Bollywood World).

The first Hollywood sound motion pictures featured slap-stick comedy, Western themes (influenced heavily, of course, by location), animated cartoons and musicals. But there is one gaping difference between the early Hollywood and Bollywood movies. Hollywood addressed social issues head on. Since early Hollywood, U.S. films have to analyzed social, international, and political issues, sometimes metaphorically (Wizard of Oz), sometimes more realistically (Citizen Kane, or Gone with the Wind) .

This trend has continued into the most modern cinematography. Hollywood films do not lack gore, despair, rage, horror, or anything else. Bollywood films continue to be escapist, even if political, social, and international issues hide in the film as the back-story. Bollywood films are bright, happy, colorful, filled with sound, and saturated with hope. Hollywood films do not rely on the happily-ever-after ending. Despite the differences between the film industries, the courses of history of both are coming back to a more central road.

Competition abounds between the two industries, and it is common knowledge that the Indian film industry produces more films annually than does Hollywood, and more tickets are sold to see those movies. However, it is possible that Hollywood movies, reliant on special effects, large budgets and subtitles, have a more significant impact on the world. Some even insist that Bollywood movies are all knock-offs of recent Hollywood movies, made with a smaller budget, less talented actors, and a few more songs.

Today, there is much debate about who had the original story line, who is copying, and which industry is better. Bollywood stars, directors, and writers are adamant that their story lines are original. Actress Konkona Sensharma, denies that her latest film, Mixed Doubles, is a sex comedy like the Hollywood movie series, American Pie. “I completely object to the term sex comedy. If it was a sex comedy, I wouldn’t be in it.”

This is the same attitude seen when other Bollywood affiliates are accused of taking material from Hollywood.  Bollywood is extremely careful about sexual themes and acts in films, and prides itself on the wholesomeness of the films, and the actors. Kissing on the mouth between actors is not a common practice in Bollywood film, no matter how much love and romance is involved in the theme.

Despite the plot formula differences, Hollywood and Bollywood are using the same methods to market their movies, even though Bollywood movies have much lower budgets. One way Bollywood increases interest enough in its movies to generate more ticket sales than Hollywood is releasing the music or music videos from the film before the release of the film. For some films, publicists use the Internet, just like Hollywood films. Each film has its own website, with information about the movie, the cast, the plot, and the crew. Websites like the International Movie Database (IMDb) have many pages for Bollywood stars and the movies they star in. Even product placement is used to advertise Bollywood films.

Hollywood is often thought to be the more influential of the two film industries. Hollywood films often become popular in a multitude of countries, but so do Bollywood films. Bollywood films are just as popular in Afghanistan as they are in India. Actors in these movies become role models to Afghan children. Arab countries provide a huge fan database for Bollywood stars. As soon as a new film comes out of Mumbai, it is dubbed in Arabic, and fans start talking. Neighboring Bangladeshis are not allowed to see Bollywood films in theaters, but they can purchase them on DVD nearly as soon as the films are released. Indian films also dominate Iranian cinema. Entire theaters are dedicated solely to Bollywood. Politics in Pakistan ban Bollywood films, but pirating makes these films readily available to Pakistani people. Due to the hope always found in Bollywood films, the impact made on the world spread even to the former Soviet Union.

While Bollywood still dislikes categorization of films as anything other than Bollywood (due to the want for all films to be able to please every viewer, regardless of caste, likes and dislikes, and country of origin), this could soon be changing. Hollywood has proven that catering to individual interests makes a lot more money. Bollywood could soon be adopting this trend and others from Hollywood. At the same time, the mystique, exoticism and beauty of Bollywood is spreading to the United States, especially California. “Bollywood dancing” is a new seductive fitness trend. Collaborations between the two industries (Bride and Prejudice, Moulin Rouge, and Bend it Like Beckham) have shown great success, and it is very likely that the world will see more attempts to fuse the two cultures in the future.