JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The song Kajrare from the Bollywood film Bunty aur Bubli (2005, dir: Shaad Ali)is used in the telenovela several times. Maya’s dance features the flickering flame in a similar way to allude to passion and desire.

The song Tumhari Aadaon Pe Main Vari Vari  featured in  Bollywood film Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005, dir: Ketan Mehta)is used as a leitmotif for Maya’s romantic journey.

A still from the song Beedi Jalaile from Bollywood film Omkara (2006, dir: Vishal Bhardwaj). This is the theme song of the telenovela.

Salve Jorge (2012) was Gloria Perez’s next telenovela after Caminho das Indias. It is the story of an eighteen year old single Brazilian mother who becomes a victim of human trafficking and is sold at a brothel in Istanbul, Turkey.

The telenovela O Clone preceded Caminho das Indias. The story centered on Jade, a Brazilian who had to move to Morocco because her only surviving relative lived there. Caminho das Indias on the other featured Indians living in India as the main protagonists.

BRICS leaders at the most recent summit held in July 2014 in Brazil.

Pedro Alvarez Cabral a trusted courtier of King Manuel I was sent on an expedition to India. His ships crossed the Atlantic at its narrowest point and accidentally reached Brazil. For more see http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/cabral-discovers-brazil

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dir: Danny Boyle) is the story of Jamal Malik, a penniless orphan raised in the slums of Mumbai who becomes a millionaire by winning the TV game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Slumdog Millionaire, based on the novel Q & A by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup, won eight Academy Awards including best picture.

Why Bollywood? Why India?

The primary question that needs to be delved into is why would Brazilian telenovela producers choose to make a telenovela ostensibly about India? While it is true that there have been several Brazilian telenovela’s about foreign countries such as United States, Morocco, Turkey etc. most of them written by Gloria Perez, Caminho das Indias is different from the earlier and succeeding telenovelas. Perez’s first telenovela America (2005) was set in the United States however the focus was on the Brazilian migrant and the liminal spaces she occupied. The telenovela resonated with debates on Latin American immigration to the United States. Perez followed it up with another story set in “exotic” Morocco. The story however centered on Jade, a Brazilian who had to move to Morocco because her only surviving relative lived there. The other main characters, the Feraz family visit Morocco on vacation; their travel representative of the new socio-economic status of Brazil’s rising middle class[24] (Pezzini 2012). [open endnotes in new window] Perez followed up Caminho das Indias with Salve Jorge (2012) a story about human trafficking set in Turkey. The female protagonist Morena is brought to Turkey through human trafficking. Caminho das Indias stands apart from all of the other Perez telenovelas set in exotic lands because the main protagonist in India’s story are Indian[25] unlike the other narratives that feature the trails and travails of the Brazilian in a foreign land. The story is about Indian characters and their global movement and migration. Why would a network like Rede Globo produce a story about India and a successful telenovela writer Perez explore India as the subject for her story?

Brazil and India have shared geopolitical and socio-cultural correspondences in the past. However, Indo-Brazil ties are increasing being highlighted for their economic correspondences. India and Brazil were clubbed together as emerging economies when Jim O’Neill (chairman Goldman Sachs) coined the acronym BRIC in 2001. The Goldman Sachs report predicted that the BRIC countries will overtake the G6 nations that include the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France and Italy in terms of gross domestic product or GDP by 2050.[26] As a cascading effect Brazil and India started to be looked at and analyzed on comparable terms. The ensuing “mediascapes”[27] abounded with discussions linking India and Brazil thereby making India a part of the Brazilian global imaginary. The BRIC coinage also had a tangible effect on political relations between India and Brazil that contributed significantly to the mediascape. India and Brazil first came together as a political forum under the aegis of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) a tripartite group for international co-operation and then followed the BRIC road. Whereas IBSA was more focused on co-operation on international issues the BRIC umbrella included a distinct economic and political focus.

Oliver Stuenkel in his analysis of Indo-Brazil relationship points out that until the 1960’s Brazil and India shared a strained diplomatic relationship because of Brazil’s support of Portuguese occupation of Goa.[28] India expected Brazil to support India’s claim over Goa because like India Brazil was an ex-colony too and India hoped that the Brazilian leadership would understand India’s demand for Portuguese retreat from Goa. Brazil however supported Portugal’s position on the issue and also acted as an intermediary for Portugal after India severed all diplomatic ties with Portugal.[29] Thereafter, India and Brazil shared a lukewarm relationship. Although, political leadership evoked former colonial past and cultural ties with a common anecdote about Alvarez Cabral’s accidental discovery of Brazil on his way to India, Indo Brazil relations were limited due to various reasons.

“While Brazil was geopolitically tied to the United States, India turned out to be much more aligned with the Soviet Union. In 1976, a constitutional amendment was passed to make India a socialist republic. Ten years later, India unofficially invited Brazil to turn into a full member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to balance leftist radical countries, but Brazil declined and preferred to remain an observer. Throughout the decades bilateral ties remained minimum, and in 1990, less than 100 Brazilians lived in India. (Stuenkel 2010)

The strained political relations limited the socio-cultural or economic exchange between the two countries. However, the coinage BRIC (an interesting example of media agenda setting) revived the dormant relationship. It is also worthwhile to note here that Latin America has had a very limited number of diasporic Indians mostly concentrated in Northern Chile, Brazil and Bolivia (Indian Council of World Affairs n.d.). As Stuenkel points out, “After IBSA, the G20 in the WTO and the G4, the BRIC label provided [them] yet another opportunity to engage.” (Stuenkel 2010, 294). This level of focused political engagement is bound to impact media coverage thereby creating a curiosity and interest in Brazil’s new partner in the new “global world order.” It is not surprising then that Rede Globo chose to produce an India centric telenovela (the same year as the first BRIC summit) that delved into the history and culture of the country, albeit through a Bollywood lens.

Expectedly, the telenovela was articulated as a media soft power by B.S. Prakash, India’s ambassador to Brazil.

“In the political and economic arenas, relations between Brazil and India are very strong, with both countries being considered emerging powers. However, when it comes to the cultural aspects, Brazilians know very little about India. I think the soap opera is a way of making Brazilians curious about our country” (Almeida 2009).

In one of the early journalistic articles about the telenovela Romil Gautam, wrote that “acquisitions and partnerships in Brazil are a foot in the door for Indian IT and telecom looking to expand into the Latin American market.”[30] He also connected the mediascape produced by the telenovela to the burgeoning prospective business opportunities.

“Singlehandedly, the telenovela [Caminho das Indias] took the Brazil-India connection from the dry world of the boardroom and beamed it straight into Brazil’s living rooms. And the burgeoning relationship did not stop there. A.R. Rahman’s tunes suddenly blared in markets and discos, Brazilian women sported bindis, and my Brazilian friends all wanted to know if I knew how to make chai.” (Gautam 2010)

Given the economic impetus of the BRICS, Brazil and India are working on different partnerships and Information Technology is a major area of interest. Brazil will be hosting some of the biggest sporting events like the soccer world cup in 2014 and the Olympics two years hence thereby creating a huge demand for IT services. Shobhan Saxena sums up the Indian market sentiment:

“Indians .. looked at Latin America in such stereotypical terms. But then Indian IT firms discovered the truth: the region is politically vibrant, economically booming, has a huge talent pool of multi-lingual, cost-effective professionals, which could be used in a near-shore business model to service their North American clients for 12 hours from the same time zone and the remaining 12 hours from India.” (Saxena 2013)

Not only does Brazil offer a lucrative market on its own terms, Indian firms operating through Brazil have a time advantage that would enable them to service their North American clients as well. Predictably, leading Indian IT companies Infosys and HCL set up their Brazilian business centers in 2009 the same as the telenovela’s broadcast and the first BRIC summit. Additionally, India has also established trade relations with other Latin American countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Venezuela.

“India is now a palpable economic presence from the Caribbean to Uruguay…Since 2000, Indian companies have invested about USD 12 billion in the region in information technology, pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, mining, energy and manufacturing…In total, some 35,000 Latin Americans work for Indian companies in the region today- more than half in IT, business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing” (Heine and Viswanathan 2011).

It is hardly surprising then that the lead characters in the telenovela Bahuan and Raj are IT professionals. The plot makes an obvious connection with dominant discourse with respect to India and Indo-Brazil relationship. Bahuan holds a degree in computer science from the United States and in the latter half of the telenovela stars his own entrepreneurial venture whereas Raj, educated in the UK, works on integrating IT into his family’s textile business. Both characters seek partnerships with Brazilian firms.

In recent years both India and Brazil have emerged as growing economies with a rising middle class and consequently a rising demand for domestic entertainment (Nayyar 2008). Choosing India as the subject and setting for a story offered a different yet comparable culture with caste being a social issue that was akin to the issue of race in Brazil. Race is a pervasive force in Brazilian society and black groups are demanding legal actions toward equality (Buckley 2000). Determining racial origins in Brazil is not always as easy as the activists claim. In 2007 one of two identical twins (who both applied to enter the University of Brasília) was classified as black, the other as white. (Affirming a Divide 2012). In Brazil race is determined not by family lineage but by appearance hence the twin brother who looked white was categorized as white while the other was not. Caste system in India offers a completely different perspective on a comparable issue of discrimination against a particular group. Caste is determined by birth and there is little a person can do to change it. Physical appearance does not factor into the equation. Although, much like inequality perpetrated through race a lower caste person also belongs to a lower class. Since India's independence, affirmative action policies for people of lower caste have helped the lower castes reach equitable status. Similar affirmative action reform is being demanded by blacks in Brazil. India therefore becomes an interesting subject to study because it is a comparable economy dealing with a related issue. Choosing to portray a subject like caste also evokes a kind of cultural proximity[32] that the audiences can relate to.

Since we have paid close attention to mediascapes that informed and led to the production of this telenovela, it is imperative to acknowledge the possible influence of a major India-centric film and Bollywood co-production that pervaded the global imaginary a year before the telenovela, Slumdog Millionaire.

The Slumdog effect

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) was a film that brought Bollywood into the global cultural lexicon. On the film’s release, Gloria Perez the writer of Caminho das Indias commented on her blog A bit of everything:

“Very soon, the film should be released in Brazil. You will recognize the customs, the way of seeing the world, the path that India is showing to you. Yeah, this globalizing world is increasing people's interest in different cultures.” (Perez 2009)

It is evident that Slumdog was a determining factor in her decision to depict the same customs and way of seeing the world through her own telenovela. International media reception of Caminho das Indias emphasized its connection to Slumdog and Bollywood. Sara Oliveira, a journalist writing from Portugal, pointed the contrast between Boyle’s India and the one created through the telenovela. The telenovela “belongs to a class that lives without difficulty” whereas the film Slumdog Millionaire shows images of “India as poor, violent.” (Oliveira 2009). Similarly, the US broadcast of the Spanish version of Caminho das Indias was painted in the Slumdog/Bollywood hue. The Univision website announced the broadcast as “India, una telenovela con aire de Bollywood” (India, a Bollywood soap opera)

Slumdog and with it the global popularity of all things Bollywood can be clearly attributed as one of the reasons Rede Globo conceived of Caminho das Indias as a viable production. The transnational appeal of the telenovela, as the earlier examples have pointed out, hinged on the global popularity of Bollywood in the wake of Slumdog. The success of Slumdog Millionaire made the world turn to India for a slice of its thriving film industry’s cost-effective “exoticism,” Caminho das Indias exemplifies this trend, although in a limited way. Slumdog Millionaire is a classic example of cinema that by its very nature enables global, cultural, social and economic exchange (O'Regan 2004). Caminho das Indias is a similarly interesting production and media flow that came into existence because of cultural, social and economic exchange and would propel similar flows.

Why is this relevant?

Caminho das Indias inhabits a unique temporal space that emerges from a specific political, economic and socio-cultural context. Bollywood’s global appeal and Brazil’s bilateral ties with India inform this unique text that explores social systems like caste and Indian cultural practices to create content that engages Brazil’s domestic viewers as well as a global audience. It uses a Bollywood lens to recreate India in Brazilian imagination, an exercise (as the Indian ambassador claimed) in media soft power. The telenovela presents a mediascape that by its very nature creates and fosters future economic and socio-cultural flows but more importantly is a non-hegemonic contraflow. With Brazil and India both being large-scale media producers possessing a rising middle class with high disposable incomes and hence a significant domestic market, the telenovela represents a new type of cultural and media flow that creates the possibility of an alternative, non-eurocentric BRICS media space.

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