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A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

The telenovela uses several colloquial Hindi phrases like those that follow:

Namaste is a customary Hindu greeting which means the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you.

Arrey Baba means Oh, my goodness.

Accha means OK.

Bhagwan Ke Liye means For God's sake.

Opening scene of Caminhos das Indias:

The telenovela's opening scene features the ghats (riverbank)of Varanasi, India’s ancient and holiest city.

Shankar walking down the steps of the ghat (riverbank).

Vista of the river Ganga.

A sadhu (hermit) meditating on the banks of the Ganga.

Establishing shot of devotees praying to the Sun God and river Ganga.

On the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi Shanker a devout and learned Brahmin prays to the river deity.

He chants “jai Ganga Mata ki” (Hail, Mother Ganga/Ganges).

In a  Bollywood film a courtesan’s song and dance expresses ...

... her desire to engage in a romantic relationship.

In the telenovela, the female protagonist Maya dances to a Bollywood courtesan song for the first time when she is in a relationship with Bahuan.

The set mirrors the courtesan’s abode or kotha as depicted in Bollywood films.

 

 

“Made in Bollywood”:
Indian popular culture in Brazil's Caminho das Indias

by Swapnil Rai

A year after the release of Slumdog Millionaire, Brazil’s Rede Globo came up with one of its most popular and expensive telenovelas, Caminho das Indias. Ethnically convincing Brazilian actors in sparkling saris dancing to Bollywood songs, enacting melodramatic gestures interspersed with colloquial Hindi like “arrey baba (oh, my goodness), “bhagwan ke liye” (for God’s sake), this telenovela captured the essence of Bollywood. Caminho das Indias (literal translation: Path to the Indies) or India—A Love Story (2009) proved to be an astounding success in Brazil with over 35 million viewers; it went on to win an international Emmy for Best Telenovela in 2009.[1][open endnotes in new window] The Spanish version of the telenovela broadcast in the United States by Telefutura outperformed its rival networks in ratings (Villarreal 2010).

This Bollywood-like Brazilian telenovela is an instance of global flow of popular culture, more specifically the flow of Indian popular culture. Bollywood becomes the mirror through which the vision of India is constructed in Brazilian imagination and televisual landscape. This paper attempts to locate the Bollywood influences within the narrative through the telenovela’s use of common Bollywood tropes such as song and dance, similar storylines, dialogue, and other thematic and aesthetic features. The paper also analyzes the sociological, commercial and economic aspects of such a production to assess why would Brazilian telenovela producers choose to make a telenovela ostensibly about India? Given the importance of the emerging BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that make up over 40 percent of the world’s population and are the worlds fast rising entertainment markets, I articulate Caminho das Indias as a new form of south-south media flow and a viable alternate media space. I explore the cultural justification for a production like Caminho das Indias that portrays a complex subject such as caste in India and delve into cultural homologies between India and Brazil to assess the audience appeal and commercial success of such a production.

Introduction to Bollywood

Mainstream Indian Hindi Cinema, aka Bollywood, is one of the biggest cultural industries in the world. Bollywood is the informal name for India’s Mumbai-based Hindi language commercial film industry. Bollywood is a portmanteau term made up of Bombay (former name of Mumbai) and Hollywood. In the 1970s a journalist first used the term and it gradually gained currency. It was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2003 as an informal name for “Indian popular film industry based in Bombay.”

Apart from mainstream Bollywood films (i.e. films made in India’s national language Hindi), the Indian film industry produces films in regional Indian languages as well. The sheer diversity and number of films produced in India is staggering. India produces nearly 1000 films every year in twelve different languages. The Indian film industry is the largest in the world in terms of number of films produced and movie theater admissions each year. Song and dance sequences are integral to Bollywood films. The films are largely melodramatic and Indian culture affects Bollywood’s plot lines, characters and song sequences (Indian Entertainment Industry Focus 2010: Dreams to Reality 2010, Gopal and Moorti 2008, Ganti 2004). This paper however, is focused exclusively on India’s mainstream Hindi language film industry or Bollywood. In recent years, Bollywood has made significant inroads into the global popular culture and is attempting to establish itself as an international brand (Kavoori and Punathambekar 2008, Rai 2009).

Introduction to the telenovela

Brazilian telenovelas are “popular prime-time serial melodrama” (La Pastina 2001). The telenovela is an extremely popular genre and a symbol of Brazilian and Latin American audio-visual entertainment. TV Globo is the largest telenovela producer in Brazil and its telenovelas are exported to over 130 countries (Globo in the World 2008). Gundo Rial Y Costas discusses the Brazilian telenovela as an extension of the country’s strong oral tradition and Latin America’s most emblematic genre. The genre according to Costas acts as a forum for public debates and the depictions in the telenovela are often “fragments of the real” (Costas 2011). Brazilian telenovelas perform specific social functions—namely i) pedagogical, ii) collective memory and iii) consolidation of identity. The pedagogical function relies “partly on the appropriation of cultural literary heritage for the production of numerous TV adaptations, as well as on the ‘social merchandising’ of telenovelas” (Thomas 2011). Social merchandising is a specific type of marketing that that sells awareness instead of products; the awareness issues though are decided by the writers and network executives (Singhal and Cody 2003). The social merchandising therefore has a hegemonic structure.

“Unlike commercial product placements which are mostly defined by the network’s marketing and advertising departments …social issue insertions were generally based on the writer’s personal agenda... Recently, Globo, development organizations and scriptwriters work collectively to create intentional, programmatic agendas that dictate the type of pro social issue inserted into the narrative. Lobbying efforts by different organizations help prompt TV Globo to adopt an official position supporting the inclusion of socio-educational messages in its telenovelas.” (Singhal and Cody 2003, 267)

It is evident that the subject of any telenovela and the representation of a pro-social issue emerges from the socio-political context of Brazil and is influenced by political/corporate leadership and their agendas. The depiction of India in a specific manner in a telenovela is therefore not merely a fictional narrative about an exotic country, it holds socio-political significance and stands to greatly influence future policy making and the common perception of India in Brazil. Additionally, the Brazilian television network Rede Globo has a history of close ties with the political administration. Costas elaborates on this history and points out that close ties between the production company Rede Globo and Brazil’s military dictatorship led to the telenovela’s evolution into a form that ‘narrated the nation.’ This alliance led to the telenovela becoming a part of the national collective and integral to Brazilian national identity. Hence it is imperative to analyze the political and global focus of any telenovela in terms of diplomatic ties, government policy and agenda represented through the telenovela and the resultant economic, socio-cultural impact.

With the formation of the BRICS forum India and Brazil have attempted to establish ties in multiple arenas and Caminhos das Indias can be studied as a media text that is emblematic of the effort. However, the telenovela is immensely significant merely for the fact that it brings together two of the world’s largest entertainment industries in the global south.

Bollywood and the telenovela

Caminho das Indias aired in Brazil from January 19th to September 11th 2009 and aired in the United States on TeleFutura from October of the following year. The coverage in the United States was centered on the telenovela’s Bollywood connection. An article in the Los Angeles Times called it “Bollywood-like Brazilian telenovela, which showcases Indian mores in a story of forbidden love” (Villarreal 2010). TeleuFutura’s website called it “a Bollywood soap opera” (Venant 2010). The Bollywood connection was obvious because of the storyline itself and the licensed Bollywood songs and music extensively used throughout the telenovela, as well as other aesthetic factors including shooting on location with a part Indian crew.

The telenovela was a first partnership of any kind between the two industries. The international promo of the telenovela accentuated this relationship with Bollywood with bold text accompanying the visuals that framed the telenovela as made in Bollywood.[3] Bollywood’s Brazil connection can be traced to the film Dhoom II that was filmed in Rio de Janerio.[4] The plot presented Rio as a desirable tourist destination (a common practice in Bollywood Films) (Rai 2009). Thereafter, Giselli Monteiro a Brazilian model was cast in a cameo role in the 2009 film Love Aaj Kal.[5]However, these connections were related primarily with Bollywood’s globalization rather than an effort to forge a partnership with Brazil. However, post Caminho das Indias there have been new developments that indicate recognition of Brazil as a viable partner.

One of the early attempts to venture into the Latin American entertainment market was the Bollywood film Kites (2010). The film starred popular Bollywood actor Hritik Roshan and Mexican actress Barbara Mori. Three different versions of the film were released, a Hindi version, an English version along with a Spanish one on 2300 screens worldwide (Press Trust of India 2010). However, Kites failed miserably at the box office. The film was criticized for being too Hollywood-like:

“[it seems] the producers did not realize that for the same ticket price, the audience could watch a real Hollywood movie, instead of a movie pretending to be a Hollywood movie” (Kaul 2010).

After Caminho das Indias not only have Bollywood films found distributors in Brazil,[6] celebrated Indian director Anurag Kashyap is co-producing a film with Brazilian filmmaker Beatriz Seigner, Bollywood’s first ever South American co-production (Sreeharsha 2012). 

Caminho das Indias therefore occupies a distinctive space as a media text that not only epitomizes a unique media flow and contraflow[7] but also creates and presages the possibility of co-productions that would be “Made in Bollywood.” The following section traces the telenovela’s Bollywood influences.

Locating Bollywood in song and dance

Song and dance numbers are a quintessential element of any Bollywood film and Caminho das Indias extensively appropriates popular Bollywood film music. Some songs from the Bollywood hits like Umrao Jaan (2006), Salaam-e-Ishq: A tribute to love (2007), Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005), Bunty aur Bubli (2005) are used multiple times, often as narrative tropes. It is therefore important to analyze the function of song and dance in a Bollywood film to evaluate and the compare the ways in which song and dance is employed in the telenovela. Song and dance are integral to the Bollywood genre and have emerged from an extensive literary and dramatic tradition that was “similarly coded” (Mishra 2009). Mishra traces the song and dance tradition back to Kalidasa, fourth century classical Sanskrit playwright. He recalls a scene from Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam to explicate the dramatic codes for the song and dance to be performed. The stage narrator (Sutradhar) in Kalidasa’s play asserts that a song must be sung in a certain way that brings “metaphor and feeling together” (Mishra, 248). It should also be accessible to the common folks hence the actress in the play sings it in the vernacular rather than Sanskrit, a rendering applauded by the stage-director.

Through Kalidasa’s example Mishra clearly lays out the tradition in which the Bollywood song and dance was born. Song functions as a performance in a dramatic narrative. Its vernacular language sets it apart from the rest of the narrative, which was in classical language in Kalidasa’s time. The subject of the songs predominantly centered on love, desire and change of seasons and was structured within the realm of the pastoral and the romantic.

As a nascent film industry sought to define and create its conventions in early 1900s, Parsi theater was also a great influence. Parsi theater was a modern theatrical tradition started by the Parsi Zoroastrian community in India.[8] Folk theater had existed in India for a long time. However, the unique contribution of Parsi theater lies in amalgamating diverse cultural influences ranging from classical Sanskrit drama and Urdu poetry to colonial British dramatic traditions. The end outcome was a modern theater movement that was unique and accessible to the masses because the plays incorporated vernacular languages and traveling theater companies (PARZOR - The UNESCO Parsi - Zorastrian Project n.d.). Tejaswini Ganti points to the founding role Parsi theater groups played by providing the “initial pool of performers and writers” (Ganti 2004).

“With its assimilation of diverse influences – Shakespeare, Persian lyric poetry, Indian folk traditions, and Sanskrit drama; an operatic structure integrating songs into the narrative; dominant genres being the historical, mythological, and romantic melodrama; and the use of the Urdu language, Parsi theater was the immediate aesthetic and cultural antecedent of popular Hindi cinema.” (Ganti 2004, 8)

Although the historical antecedents of Bollywood cinema have been traced back to theater, the role of songs in a Bollywood narrative has been often debated. Are the songs extraneous to the narrative or do they perform specific functions within the story? As Ganti and other scholars have argued the songs are an essential component of a Bollywood film and unlike the west, the Indian subcontinent’s oral culture accords music “an expressive equivalence to speech” (Vasudevan 2000, 9). Also, songs and music are integral to Indian life – all rituals pertaining to worship, festivities or life events such as birth and marriage are celebrated through songs and music and are therefore similarly represented through Bollywood (Morcom 2007). Also, Bollywood films are predominantly melodramatic and music is an essential component of the melodramatic mode since it heightens the melodrama (Elsaesser 1987).

From the above discussion it can be surmised that within a typical Bollywood narrative song and dance perform the following functions:

  • introduce characters
  • define characters/ community
  • advance the plot (in some cases)
  • express love and advance courtship (with change of seasons being a popular metaphor for articulating love)
  • provide psychological perspective on characters
  • mirror the cultural practice of song and dance by incorporating them in depiction of festivities, marriages etc
  • enhance and aid the melodramatic mode of the film.

Song and dance sequences in Caminho das Indias perform the same functions. The first episode begins by introducing the lead protagonist Bahuan through a song. “Azeem o Shan Shahanshah” from Jodha Akbar (2008)plays in the background amid festivities welcoming Bahuan upon his return from the United States. Adorned elephants and Indian dancers in colorful costumes move to the lyrics of this popular Bollywood song, with stylization and sets closely reminiscent of Bollywood’s historical romance set in the 16th century, Jodha Akbar (2008). In the original Bollywood feature this song is sung in praise of King Akbar and as a narrative device expresses his grandeur and his popularity among his subjects. Transposed onto the telenovela the song expresses the grand return of a rich man’s son. This becomes a tactical introduction because Bahuan’s grandeur is later subverted by identifying him as an adopted dalit (untouchable caste) son of a rich Brahmin. Song is therefore used as a strategic introductory device.

Maya and Bahuan’s first meeting:
Maya and Bahuan meet for the first time in a temple immediately following Bahuan’s introduction. She showers rose petals on the statue of the deity.
Their love at first sight is conveyed through a song: "I have fallen for your style." She glances coyly.
Bahuan is captivated by Maya’s beauty. They both shower rose petals on Lord Ganesha
The priest notices them, mistakenly thinks they are a couple and blesses them. Maya blushes at the priest’s confusion, a mix of embarrassment and delight.
Maya glances at Bahuan as she leaves the temple precincts. Bahuan sighs and looks at her longingly.

Maya and Bahuan meet for the first time in a temple immediately following Bahuan’s introduction. Their love at first sight is conveyed through a song. The lyrics tumhari addao pe main vari vari (I have fallen for your style) from the film Mangal Pandey-The Rising (2005) translate Maya and Bahuan’s mutual emotions as Maya continues to shower rose petals on the Hindu deity Ganesha while coyly glancing at Bahuan who appears mesmerized by Maya. In this case the song introduces us to the couple as well as advances the plot by depicting them falling in love.

Song and dance also function as a recurrent theme in telenovela to express the characters’ emotions and romantic sojourn. The song salaam karne ki aarjoo from the Bollywood film Umrao Jaan (2006) is used multiple times in the telenovela. In the context of the Bollywood film the song is sung by a courtesan to entice her male audience. The lyrics express the courtesan’s desire to engage in a romantic relationship. In the telenovela, the female protagonist Maya dances to this song for the first time when she is in a relationship with Bahuan.[9] The set mirrors the courtesan’s abode or kotha as depicted in Bollywood films. Maya’s gestures and moves are sensual as she attempts to entice her lover in a perfect romantic setting. Maya and Bahuan’s romance goes awry when Maya’s family discover that Bahuan is a dalit.

The second occasion for the song is after Maya is married to Raj.[10] Maya’s betrothal to Raj is arranged by her family and the second time she performs to this song in her bedroom, she is reconciling with her new life with Raj. The fact that Raj plays the same song evokes memories of Bahuan yet she is able to perform, and as the song progresses express some emotions for her husband Raj. This reveals that she is trying settle into her marriage. Maya and Raj dance together again to the same song for a third time later on in the telenovela when Maya and Raj are in love.[11] Raj joins Maya in the performance and the dance ends in a passionate kiss. The song therefore becomes emblematic of Maya’s romantic journey. As a repeated theme the song occurs at different times to reflect Maya’s emotional and romantic state and the extent of her emotional involvement in the relationship. This type of song usage clearly expresses love and is used for advancing courtship within the narrative. It also provides the viewers a perspective on Maya’s state of mind and her psychological engagement with the two men at different stages in the story.

The telenovela is interspersed with songs that reflect the life-cycle rituals marriage, birth and the like. The very first episode depicts a wedding in Maya’s family where everyone is engaged in dance and celebration. The joyous and colorful occasion in India cuts to a dry urban landscape and then an airport to signify that we are not in festive India anymore but in Brazil. Although the language of the telenovela is Portuguese, it is interspersed with colloquial Hindi when the location of the scene is India. Additionally, songs that are set in India are popular Bollywood songs. The song and dance sequences and the melodious cultural rhythms are used as markers of Indian cultural identity and juxtaposed to western culture. However, in terms of usage the song and dance become markers of the Indian community and its lifestyle, a representation not very divergent from a mainstream Bollywood film that centers on celebrations and festivities to establish an “Indian” cultural identity. The telenovela incorporates songs at every occasion, be it weddings, welcoming guests, festivals or merely celebrating the rhythms of the everyday. The use of the Bollywood song becomes a narrative trope that defines Indian culture as celebratory and Bollywood-esque.

Caminho das Indias too employs songs in similar ways to express melodrama. In a scene featuring Maya and her conniving sister-in-law melodrama is evoked as they challenge each other with dance moves that are novice and comical renditions of Bollywood dance. The snake dance made popular through a host of Bollywood films like Nagin (1954), Nagin (1976), Nagina (1986), Nigahen (1989) etc. (that draw on Indian mythology of snakes morphing into humans hence dancing like a snake in their human form) is reproduced (through a few common steps) as the two sister-in-laws express their pent up hostility for each other through dance. In terms of content and subject matter Caminho das Indias is also reminiscent of Indian Television’s family intrigue stories popularly known as saas-bahu (mother-in-law – daughter-in-law) sagas.

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