A friend of mine once asked me to point out Bollywood on a map of India. My answer, that Bollywood did not exist in the real world, and that Bollywood was a media creation, did not go down well with her. She thought I was lying; worse, she thought I was making fun of her.
But that set me digging. The parentage of Bollywood has been attributed to three people – Bevinda Collaco, HRF Keating, and, Amit Khanna. Here are some of the links which point to these connections:
Bevinda Collaco is an Indian journalist who used to work for Cine Blitz in the late 1970s. I managed to contact her and even got a response from her. Here’s her response:
Just to say that I certainly do not think I invented the term Bollywood: I would not have dared. When I came to write Filmi, filmi, Inspector Ghote, the title in the Inspector Ghote series that was published in the UK in 1976, it was after I had been treated most generously by the Indian film industry, touring the studios and meeting the people involved there, but the industry was already saddled with the, opprobrious if you like, but possibly affectionate, name, Bollywood. Possibly emanating from the Bombay,as they were then, gossip journalists. Bavinda Collaco says she invented it in 1976/77 but to fit my writing of the book and its publication date she may have had to coin it before that date. I may have helped to perpetuate the name but I make no claim to its invention
“Lyricist, filmmaker, cinema scholar, industry spokesperson and the president of the Film & Television Guild, Amit Khanna is the man who saw Bollywood’s future” is how Subhash K Jha, an Indian film journalist, describes Amit Khanna in a story (http://sify.com/movies/bollywood/fullstory.php?id=13713296). Amit Khanna is currently the chairman of Reliance Big Entertainment.
I contacted Mr. Amit Khanna via his facebook page and he, too, was very prompt in responding. He was emphatic that he coined the word Bollywood when he was writing his column for Filmworld, a film magazine published in the 70s. He could not recollect the name of his column, but he was sure that Cine Blitz was not around when he coined the word ‘Bollywood’. Cine Blitz started its initial run with a story on Protima Bedi’s (naked) run across Juhu beach in December 1974. Even Keating points to the same thing – that ‘Bollywood’ had to be in existence in 1976 or earlier.
As is evident from Bevinda’s response (quoted above), she is not very proud of the word. On the other hand, Amit Khanna is certainly not ashamed of it. In the same story by Subhash Jha, referred to earlier, he is quoted as saying, “People still have a problem with the word ‘Bollywood’. But the whole notion of what’s pejorative has changed. We’ve to see the Indian film industry as a brand. To say Bollywood is demeaning is to question a brand name like Coke or Macdonalds”(sic).
I, for one, do see that as demeaning. And that is not just because of nationalistic feelings. From a person purporting to be at the front lines of taking Indian (Hindi) cinema global, that certainly is a dampener. Reliance Big Entertainment, the same entity that Amit Khanna currently heads, has signed deals with Steven Spielberg and his Dreamworks team. If you are not proud of what you represent, how do you promote it day in and day out? And ‘Bollywood’, most certainly, does not manifest that pride in what Amit Khanna represents.
I am, in the words of my lovely wife, a cinemchee – somebody who loves cinema. I am not an expert on cinema, I just love cinema. Cinema fascinates me. So strong is my fascination for cinema that I can, and I do, even watch movies in languages that I do not understand. I have watched several Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam movies – I do not understand any of these languages. I have also watched Italian, French and Swedish language movies – without subtitles. Of course, I watch a lot of English and Hindi movies. I have even watched most of the old movies – the ones that were a part of popular lore before my time.
While Indian Cinema in general and Mumbai Cinema specifically may lack the technical brilliance of Hollywood, it certainly leads Hollywood as far as influence and representation is concerned. To my mind, that is what matters in popular culture. Hindi films are wildly popular; any film with a recognizable cast of characters is assured of recovering its money. Their influence on society and culture can hardly be overstated. Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, and Madhuri Dixit and their cinema have been the subject of much popular fascination and even of doctoral theses.
Lest the English-school educated, MBA types turn their noses up in disdain let me clarify that it’s not just the masses who act crazy under the influence; Madhuri Dixit even drove M.F.Hussain crazy. And I don’t know about the 4 Ps of marketing, but I do know about the three Cs of marketing in India – Cinema and Cricket pave the path to the Indian Customer. Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan have what marketers call mass connectivity, and are often referred to as walking billboards. They endorse anything and everything.
While the average Indian does not break into song and dance at the slightest pretext, as shown in the movies, Mumbai movies are still representative of Indian society. A 1990s Shahrukh Khan movie is markedly different from a 1970s Amitabh Bachchan movie. While a Amitabh Bachchan was equally apt to dance and sing in his movies, most of his movies represented the angst of the 1970s. Shahrukh Khan’s movies have him playing the computer-savvy, branded-goods loving, yuppy that he really is.
And, while they may not be the top revenue earners, Mumbai Cinemas are still India’s top export. Well, maybe they rank after the I/T professional. They are the prism through which much of the world sees India. In fact, a non-Mumbai film like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ had to fall back on the Mumbai formula to be ‘representative’ of India.
That brings me to the issue du jour. Let us kill Bollywood. We are not Hollywood’s poor cousins; why show a poverty of ideas by being Bollywood? So what do we call the Mumbai film world? How about M-Town? People living in the Northern suburbs of Mumbai refer to it as going to ‘Town’ when they go to South Mumbai/ downtown Mumbai.
I am aware that I went up against the establishment the moment I decided to kill Bollywood. This is not the movie establishment – Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan, among others, are on record with their aversion to Bollywood. No, this is the media establishment – made up of both old and new world media.
I need help – who better than you to help me? Let us kill Bollywood. What can you do? You can stop referring to the Mumbai film world as Bollywood. You can convince five friends to do the same. If this blog has in any way influenced your thoughts, you can forward this blog to your friends, nobody would be happier than me.