2014, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 56, winter 2014-2015
“Made in Bollywood”:
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.[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.
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. Bollywood’s Brazil connection can be traced to the film Dhoom II that was filmed in Rio de Janerio. 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.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:
After Caminho das Indias not only have Bollywood films found distributors in Brazil, 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 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. 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).
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:
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 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. 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. 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. 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.
Locating Bollywood in the story
In terms of subject matter the telenovela evokes the classic Bollywood story line. It begins as a story of impossible and forbidden love; caste difference separates the lovelorn protagonists. From Himanshu Rai’s Achhut Kanya/Untouchable Girl (1936) to Shyam Benegal’s Ankur/The Seedling (1974), Satyajit Ray’s Sadgati/The Deliverance (1981), Shekhar Kapoor’s Bandit Queen (1993), K. Bikram Singh’s Tarpan/The Absolution (1994) to the more recent films Aarakshan/Reservation (2011) and Khap (2011), there have been many alternative Bollywood narratives that overtly address the issue of caste based discrimination in India. Even within the more mainstream “masala” Bollywood fare such as Omkara (2006, a remake of Shakespeare’s Othello where the black moor was substituted by a low caste political gangster) and Eklavya –The Royal Guard (2007) caste difference is often the main source of conflict (Dhaliwal 2010).
Achhuut Kanya/ Untouchable Girl (1936) was one of the first representations of the caste issue through film. It was the love story of an untouchable girl and a Brahmin boy. Then came Bimal Roy’s Sujata (1959)that portrayed the suffering and predicaments of an untouchable girl growing up in a Brahmin family. These early films placed caste difference at the center of the romantic conflict in the story. However, the lower caste protagonists in both these films are women, Omkara Bollywood’s more recent romances on the other hand is the story of a lower caste male protagonist. He is the illegitimate son of a lower caste woman and a high caste politician; hence his real caste status is “debatable.” The community though thinks of him as a low caste “bastard” but refrains from discriminating against him since Omi possesses a lot of political influence. He falls in love and elopes with his sweetheart Dolly, the local lawyer’s daughter who happens to be a Brahmin. This transgression causes resentment and furor in the community. Like Omkara, Bahuan’s caste status in the telenovela remains ambiguous (he is the adopted Dalit son of a rich Brahmin man ) until he falls in love with Maya and wants to marry her. The telenovela also features a scene where Bahuan tries to elope with Maya on her wedding day. This scene is strikingly similar to Omkara where Omi elopes with Dolly on the day of Dolly’s wedding. Additionally, the popular song Beedi Jalaile from the film Omkara features in the opening credits of all episodes of the telenovela. Evidently, class conflict as represented in Omkara appears to be an inspiration for Caminho das Indias.
Breaking caste and class barriers has been a running theme in Bollywood films. There are numerous other films that highlight caste and related class difference as the main cause that prevents the lovers from getting married. Some Bollywood films merely use caste difference as a plotline while several others offer a sensitive portrayal of caste and usually have a reformative focus; Caminho das Indias and its representation of caste falls somewhere between these two. The opening scene of Caminho das Indias begins on the banks of the river Ganga in Varanasi where Shanker a devout and learned Brahmin prays to the river deity and chants “jai Ganga Mata ki” (hail mother Ganga/Ganges).The atmosphere is one of religious devotion and piety that gets disrupted when Opash’s (another devout offering prayers on the steps of the ghat) son touches a dalit boy. The son is reprimanded by Opash for touching an untouchable. Shankar, who had been observing the scene, comes to dalit boy’s rescue.
This exchange between Shankar and Opash sets the tone for the telenovela.
Much like Bimal Roy’s Sujata, the dalit boy Bahuan is brought up by a Brahmin family and like Sujata, Bahuan too feels and understands that he is different. Upon his return from the United States after getting a Ph.D. in informatics Bahuan tells Shankar about a job offer he has received and expresses his intent to live in United States. Shankar responds by saying that “going to college in the U.S. does not make you American.” Bahuan then points to the stigma and detrimental social status he possesses in his homeland because of his caste. Although he is not American, in the US he will “not be a dalit.”
Despite inheriting Shankar’s legacy and possessions Bahuan loses Maya because of his caste. Her family opposes their marriage because Bahuan is a dalit. The treatment of caste in the telenovela is more complex than caste being a simple hurdle to love. The telenovela attempts to explicate the creation of caste, its functions and lived reality for people of different castes. Class and caste intersect in a curious way for Bahuan who is an upper class dalit educated abroad because he was fortunate to be adopted by Shankar. To contrast Bahuan’s privilege, the telenovela introduces another dalit boy Hari. Although Bahuan is aware of the travails of Hari, Bahuan’s class status conflicts with his caste affiliation and he does not prevent any discrimination against Hari. The telenovela’s exploration of the issue of caste is multifaceted however the primary lens through which the caste plot is constructed is one of Bollywood. It straddles between the simple Bollywood narrative that pits caste as a hurdle the lovers must overcome and more complex Bollywood representations that treat caste as a social problem.
Treating caste as a social issue and problem dovetails neatly with the social functions performed by the telenovela genre (J. Straubhaar 1988) (Porto 2011).
These telenovelas perform an overt pedagogical function by presenting “‘social merchandising’ that brings to the forefront a certain conduct, position and behavioural response to societal questions” (Thomas 2011). For Caminho das Indias’ social merchandising the author Gloria Perez focused on psychic disorders and the social treatment of people with mental disabilities though a couple of minor Brazilian characters Yvone and Tarsus. Tarsus is the son of Ramiro the co-owner of a Brazilian firm Cadore which does business with Raj and Bahuan’s India based ventures. Yvone, is a seductress who entices Raul, Ramiro’s brother also a co-owner of Cadore. Yvone is depicted as a psychopath whereas Tarsus suffers chronic depression. However, for the Indian representation, caste, Indian customs and family ties remained the primary social focus that again emphasizes the telenovela’s Bollywood influence.
Due to its rootedness in oral culture, “Hindi film dramas are we-inflected [i.e. they focus on the collective joint family rather than the individual]… [and] consistently and continuously conserve the traditional order.” (Nayar 2004, 17). A typical Bollywood story therefore privileges parental control over a young couple’s romantic desires. A stereotypical Bollywood storyline is usually about forbidden love.
Several of these typical traits hark back to Nayar’s argument about oral roots of India’s cinema and hence the cinema’s communal rather than individual inflection. The films are also “tradition-refining” rather than “originality seeking” a distinction David Bordwell makes when comparing Chinese popular cinema with the west. The term “tradition refining” equally applies to a Bollywood storyline.
Caminho das Indias closely adheres to the stereotypical formula where Maya’s family object to her marriage with Bahuan because he is a Dalit and at the same time Raj is forbidden from marrying his Brazilian girlfriend Duda because she is a foreigner. The two heart-broken souls find comfort in each other as their families lure them into arranged marriages. The generational difference between the old and young become apparent when the elders explain to their belligerent children why an arranged marriage is best suited for them. In a melodramatic scene reminiscent of Indian soap operas and Hindi films, Raj’s elaborately dressed mom exhorts lord Shiva to “light the wisdom lights” in her son’s head and tells her son that she will fast every Monday till he changes his mind about the Brazilian girl Duda, the foreigner whom he wants to marry. The elaborate costume, sets and profuse melodrama also evoke India’s saas-bahu sagas popularized by Ekta Kapoor.
There is a popular adage in Indian culture that when a woman gets married she doesn’t just marry her husband but his entire family. Ekta Kapoor’s soap operas epitomize the adage with heightened drama and melodrama which mostly unfolds in the kitchen and the family living room. The soaps focus on the trials and tribulations of the daughter-in-law as she battles with her vile and malicious mother-in-law and sisters-in-law. In Caminho das Indias the ongoing rivalry between the main female protagonist Maya and her sister-in-law Surya is one of the most entertaining evocations of the saas-bahu genre. Feeling insecure upon the arrival of Maya, the family’s new daughter-in-law, Surya resorts to petty villainy like secretly putting salt instead of sugar in the tea that Maya brews for the elders in the family. She also tells Maya that her husband had an affair with a Brazilian woman and still has feelings for her in order to create a rift between the newly married couple. Maya’s discomfort with Surya builds up and the two women have a fight in the kitchen. They keep throwing utensils at each other until their father-in-law Opash intervenes and threatens to “return” them to their parents. There are many other instances in the telenovela where similar situations are enacted. Kitchen politics, rivalry among the women in the family and extramarital affairs are at the core of the Indian soap opera genre popularized by Ekta Kapoor which is reenacted in the telenovela. However, the Indian soaps too borrow heavily from Bollywood in terms of aesthetics and stylization as well as music. So there is a transitive relationship between Indian soap opera inspired parts of Caminho das Indias and Bollywood as well.
In sum, Caminho das Indias is a Bollywood-esque narrative where social and family pressures prevail; the protagonists Raj and Maya offer meek opposition to their families when the families try to get their marriage arranged. Upholding tradition is paramount in the story; the telenovela emphasizes the rituals accompanying Indian social life, be it warding off the effects of a Manglik spouse in a hindu marriage or fasting for Karva Chauth. The milieu evoked resembles the colorful India of festivals, marriages and song and dance presented through Hindi cinema. In the telenovela communal values supersede individual desires, another common narrative trope in Bollywood. However the telenovela is different because the episodic nature of the telenovela renders/requires its plotline to be more complicated than a three hour Bollywood feature. Caminho das Indias for instance featured 203 episodes and was telecast in Brazil every week day at prime time from January 2009 to September 2009, the average length of each episode was about fifty minutes. Since telenovelas have a finite story arc yet they are beamed every day, they feature several intermeshing minor storylines within the main narrative. The plot therefore is akin to Ekta Kapoor’s saas bahu (mother-in-law daughter-in-law) sagas on Indian TV that weave similarly intricate plotlines where the married woman’s ex-lover or boyfriend (unable to forget her) keeps reappearing in her life. The social order however, is restored and all the loose ends are neatly tied together when Maya is reunited with her husband Raj.
Locating Bollywood in language
Caminho das Indias abounds with Hindi phrases like “Arrey Baba” (Oh, my goodness), “Bhagwan Ke Liye” (For God’s sake) and hindi words like chalo (let's go) accha (okay), namaste (customary Hindu greeting which means the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you). All these are common cultural phrases heavily used in Bollywood films. Several Bollywood songs begin with the word arrey baba. Ruk Ruk Ruk Arrey Baba Ruk was a popular song from the 1994 Bollywood film Vijaypath and Arrey Baba Arrey Baba Karey Kya Deewana was another well-known song from Auzaar (1997). Bhagwan Ke Liye is another melodramatic phrase that is integral to Bollywood films. Often used to express shock or dismay, Bhagwan Ke Liye amplifies melodrama. Arrey Baba, another popular colloquial term connotes frustration with the situation at hand.
It is evident that Bollywood has been important in the conceptualization and production of the telenovela. There is a self-reflexive acknowledgement and homage to Bollywood in a scene where Maya along with Raj and his family members watch Jodha Akbar in a movie theater and try to mimic the emotions, exuberant celebration and dance enacted on the screen.
The aesthetics and stylization of the telenovela are closely based on Bollywood. The sets closely resemble Bollywood film sets. For instance Maya Meetha performs to the song Tumhari mehfil main aa gaye hain from the 2006 Bollywood film Umrao Jaan for the first time in a setting that is similar to the original. The general appearance and look for Maya Meetha’s character were based on Bollywood actor Aishwarya Rai. Juliana Paes who played Maya in the telenovela asserts that they tried to “find a balance between the everyday life of Indians and the glitz of Bollywood.” However, in the series in the fashion of a typical Indian soap opera “everyone is dressed for a wedding, even if they are just stepping out to the shops or a casual lunch” (Mathur 2009).
Additionally, everything depicted in the telenovela is explained through Bollywood celebrity practice. In order to lend credibility and establish the contemporaneity of her cultural translation of India, Gloria Perez alludes to Bollywood celebrities and their embodiment of those cultural, religious symbols and practices. There are several instances in the narrative of the telenovela, the accompanying authorial voice through Gloria’s blog and the Rede Globo website that substantiate this. In the telenovela the female lead character, Maya, is a Manglik. In Hindu customs pertaining to marriage, astrology is emphasized and being Manglik (i.e. Mars in a particular position in a person’s birth chart) is considered a dosha (flaw) because it indicates difficulties in marriage and marital life. It is believed that the negative consequences of the flaw can be resolved if the Manglik performs a kumbh vivah before their actual marriage. In the kumbh vivah ceremony the person with the Manglik dosha marries a tree or a silver or gold idol of Lord Vishnu, a Hindu deity. The ceremony is said to ward off the negative effects of Manglik dosha. Perez explains the concept and its depiction in the telenovela in her blog using Bollywood celebrity actor Aishwarya Rai’s kumbh vivah as the exemplary instantiation of this Hindu tradition:
Another instance of celebrity embodiment of cultural practices can be found in Perez’s post about Karva Chauth where she mentions Bollywood celebrity Aishwarya again and quotes the actress talking about the religious fast she observes for her husband’s well-being.
Evidently, the author’s translation of India for the telenovela audience is filtered through a Bollywood lens whereby celebrity embodiment provides justification of cultural and religious practices. Bollywood and Indian popular culture in essence epitomize India in the telenovela.
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 (Pezzini 2012). 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 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. As a cascading effect Brazil and India started to be looked at and analyzed on comparable terms. The ensuing “mediascapes” 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. 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. 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.
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 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.” He also connected the mediascape produced by the telenovela to the burgeoning prospective business opportunities.
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:
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.
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 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:
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.
1. Varanasi is the holiest of the seven sacred cities in Hindu religion. [return to text]
2. See Caminho das Indias international trailer
3. See above
6. See (Salem 2012)
7. Dayakishan Thussu defines ‘dominant [media] flows,’ as programming largely emanating from the global North, with the United States at its core; followed by contra-flows that originate from the erstwhile peripheries of global media industries (Thussu 2006).
8. Parsi – Zorastrian : Parsis follow the religion of Zoroaster, an Iranian prophet of the seventh century B. C.. The Parsis emigrated to India from Persia to avoid religious persecution by the Muslims. They arrived in India in the 8th century. See (Encyclopedia Britannica - Parsi n.d.)
9. Bahuan : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgueeRkfPN4
10. Raj 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IH75LJBkvTo
11. Raj 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMSK8ZvjQYs
12. Brahmin is the highest caste in Hindu caste hierarchy
13. Ganga is a reference to the river Ganges and is personified as a goddess. The British referred to the river as Ganges. In Hindu religion it is believed that bathing in the river washes away sins and liberates the soul from the cycle of birth and death thereby facilitating moksha. The opening scene of the telenovela is shot in Varanasi on the bank of river Ganga.
14. Hindi word for riverbank
15. Dalit is a designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable. Dalits are a mixed population, consisting of numerous social groups from all over India; they speak a variety of languages and practice a multitude of religions
16. Other social differences like family rivalry
17. In Planet Hong Kong David Bordwell defines Chinese popular cinema’s distinct aesthetic. He describes the films’ form and energy as: (1) non-contemplative, (2) “Manichean”, (3) loosely plotted (and of ‘kaleidoscopic variety’), (5) kinesthetically arousing, (6) flashback using (7) tradition refining (as opposed to originality seeking western films), (8) favoring formulas and clichés, (9) brutal in their violence, (10) plagiaristic, and (11) possessing a tendency to “swerve into a happy ending.”
18. Mother-in-law daughter-in-law saga
19. Ekta Kapoor is an Indian TV and film producer. She is the Joint Managing Director and Creative Director of Balaji Telefilms, her production company. She has produced numerous soap opera, television series and movies.
20. Mangal Dosha is an astrological combination that occurs if Mars (astrology)(Mangal) is in the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 7th, 8th, or 12th house of the Vedic astrology Ascendant chart. A person born in the presence of this condition is termed a manglik. This condition is astrologically believed to be unfavorable for marriages, causing discomfort and tension in relationship, leading to severe disharmony among the spouses and eventually to other bigger problems. This is attributed to the "fiery" nature of Mars, the planet of war. (Source: Wikipedia)
21. Karva Chauth is an annual one-day festival celebrated by Hindu women in North India, the Indian state of Gujarat and parts of Pakistan in which married women fast from sunrise to moonrise for the safety and longevity of their husbands. (Source: Wikipedia)
22. Karan Johar type of films
23. Indian men and women born as Mangliks are believed to be cursed. It is believed that Mangalik Dosha negatively impacts married life, causing tension and sometimes the untimely death of one of the partners. To cancel these effects, a Kumbh Vivah can be performed before the wedding. This is a wedding between a Mangalik and either a statue of Vishnu or an earthen pot or peepal or banana tree. Source: www.speakingtree.in
24. Thanks to a decrease in poverty from almost 40% of the population in 2001 to around 25% in 2009, 31 million people joined the middle class in Brazil. Today 52% of Brazil’s population is middle class
25. Played by Brazilian actors
26. The GDP indicates the market value of all final goods and services from a nation in a given year
27. Mediascapes refer both to the distribution of the electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information (newspapers, magazines, television stations, film production studios, etc.), which are now available to a growing number of private and public interests throughout the world; and to the images of the world created by these media. These images of the world involve many complicated inflections, depending on their mode (documentary or entertainment), their hardware (electronic or pre-electronic), their audience (local, national or transnational) and the interests of those who own and control them. What is most important about these mediascapes is that they provide (especially in television film and cassette forms) large and complex repertoires of images, narratives and 'ethnoscapes' to viewers throughout the world, in which the world of commodities and the world of 'news' and politics are profoundly mixed. (Appadurai 1990)
28. The Portuguese colonized Goa in 1510 and it remained a colony until 1960. Portugal did not give up control over Goa at the end of British colonial rule in 1947. In December, 1961 Indian Army began military operations to seize control over Goa and declared Goa an Indian territory [Source: Wikipedia]
29. Right Wing dictator of Portugal Antonio de Oliviera Salazar insisted that Goa and Daman and Diu were as Portuguese as Lisbon. He claimed that the territories were not colonies but “part of a metropolitan Portugal.” See (Gavaghan 2013)
30. See (Gautam 2010)
31. See (Press Trust of India 2009) and (Infosys Technologies Opens its First Development Center in Brazil 2009)
32. The concept of cultural proximity (Straubhaar, 1991) in this case could be stretched to imply that a text can provide local viewers with ideological content that does not challenge or question the viewers’ own values and beliefs but rather returns them to an idealized reception state in which telenovelas provide a melodramatic and safe cathartic space. See (Pastina and Straubhaar 2005)
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