29 November 2009

Bollywood is dead, long live M-Town!

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:

Hello Alok,
The thing is I am not sure.
I thought up this name in 1976 or 1977. Rita Mehta editor and owner of Cine Blitz wanted me to do a column called Studio Beat and fresh from Junior Statesman Magazine which had just closed down I wanted something more spectacular. I thought of "Flopping Around Follywood" and was just batting the idea around in a producer Johnny Bakshi's office at Mehboob Studios and a scriptwriter Suraj Sanim told me not to ridicule something I knew nothing about.
I disliked the open copying that the Hindi film industry was doing with Hollywood movies and music. I marched back to Johnny Bakshi's office and Sanim was there with Amit Khanna and I told them I was going to call my column On the Bollywood Beat. They laughed. Now I hear Amit Khanna claims to have coined "Bollywood". Now THAT is plagiarism.
About six months later it came into print. It was actually meant as a derogatory term, and later I was ashamed of it, because I saw some really good Hindi films, but the column became very popular with the stars and turned into a studio beat cum gossip column.
I cannot claim sole ownership of it, because a British author H R Keating, I am told, came out with the term Bollywood in one of his books. Cine Blitz ex-editor and owner Rita Mehta and my old colleagues insist I coined it. I feel I did too, but it was an easy word to think up -- the Bombay film industry copying Hollywood, ergo, Bollywood.
I was not proud of it. Now it just cracks me up that it's even landed in the Oxford dictionary. If you can lay your hands on CineBlitz of the 70s between 76 and 77 just calculate six months before that and you'll get the date I thought it up. Again, I cannot remember the exact year, so I cannot claim to have coined it if others are saying they did.
It's too boring to fight over it because it is an easy word to hit on, so maybe more than one person could have coined it. If you can contact Keating, he would tell you if he read the term in my column, because Cine Blitz used to be sold in England too in the 70s. If he did I coined it. If he thought it up himself, it's a question of who got it published first. I'm not interested in hunting for it.
Hope you do find out, but I reiterate, I am not proud of the word. The Hindi film industry has come out with some excellent and original films. It was mean and small minded, but I always had a weakness for alliteration. On the Bollywood Beat.
Bevinda Collaco

The second person credited with coining this term is author HRF Keating. Keating is a well known crime fiction writer; in India, Keating is best known for his Inspector Ghote stories. In fact, one of the Inspector Ghote books, ‘The Perfect Murder’ got made into a movie with the same name. The movie was made in 1988 and starred Naseeruddin Shah and Amjad Khan among others. I wrote an email to Mr. Keating; I also left a comment on his website. Mr. Keating was very prompt with his response; here is his response:

Dear Alok,

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

……………………… Yours, Harry

“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.


  1. Alok,
    I am mighty impressed at your journalistic diligence in tracing the various claimants to the Bollywood christening.
    Great stuff!
    That you got responses from all the three protagonists is also remarkble.

    I am a Hindi film buff too. But frankly, I do not care if is called Bollywood or by any other name. As long as they keep making mind-blowing stuff like Dev-D, Kameeney (to name a few of the recent movies), who cares!

    Great article, Alok.

    BTW, when is the marathon story getting posted?

  2. M-Town would not be correct because you have a vibrant Marathi film industry there which hates the Hindi film industry. Maybe you could call it Hindiwood. Or since its the Hindi films that make it to the outside world and all over the country --- INDIWOOD? Just an idea...

    Bevinda Collaco

  3. Great etymological research on "Bollywood". Such words coined as portmanteau of two are not uncommon in India. Hinglish, Brunch, "nervusiana", "frustiana", "filamchi", "chasmish" come to mind immediately, but there may be more!
    Anyhow, if you want help in killing the word, get Raj Thackeray’s help but you need to explain to him that the word does not have "Mumbai' as its root.

    Just to add how quickly words get spawned, I hear that we also have now Tollywood- there is a fight to claim this between Bengali and Telugu movie industries(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_West_Bengal and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_Andhra_Pradesh), Lollywood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lollywood), Kollywoodh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamil_cinema) and the list is endless.

    ....And just in case when you were guessing, Punjab has not been far and has not really disappointed us they also have come out with two versions for themselves- Pollywood and Punjwood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinema_of_Punjab)

    Personally, I liked the word “Chitrapat” (in line with मराठी चित्रपट http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marathi_cinema) and if we could get “Hindri Chitrapat” as a replacement for “Bollywood”, I would really like it.

  4. The overall article makes great sense to me. It’s well written and I agree with your commenters that your journalistic talents shine through. When I first heard the term “Bollywood”, I remember thinking that it seemed a bit derogatory – as though the Indian film industry was only attempting to copy the Hollywood film industry. I think it does make sense that the Hindi film industry should have its own proper identification rather than one that seems to indicate a “wannabe” status. However, when names make it into pop culture use, I think at that point trying to get people to stop using them is somewhat like trying to gather up the helium that just escaped from your daughter’s balloon.

  5. Why not you jump down into the place you are made up for - the journalism. All the desired traits - original idea, imagination, investigation, analysis, writing skills - are there in abundance in you. A great discovery for us.

    As regard to Bollywood, most of the users do not find the word derogatory. A brand value has emerged over time and no other name perhaps can replace it. Carry on... Debasish