Over 100,000 Indian TV and film workers went on strike in Mumbai today. They are protesting unfair wages and the prevalent practice of hiring non-union crew members. Some of the industry’s biggest stars, like Shah Rukh Khan, showed solidarity by agreeing to not cooperate with movie studios until the strike ends. Union members complain that studios and production companies have not honored an agreement which they signed nearly two years ago.
This is bad news for fans of the epic song-and-dance-filled melodramas. Most of the industry’s highly anticipated, big-budget productions were slated to hit theaters in the upcoming months. Now their releases are in doubt. Also on ice are the productions of insanely popular TV soap operas. The bottom line: if you are traveling to India and dreaming of taking part in a Bollywood film (like Sylvester Stallone) or are a connoisseur of Indian TV, hold your breath (or, rather, don’t). Surely theaters won’t be closing down or TV going off their air, but it’ll be reruns until the studios and unions make nice.
Is Indian musical cinema challenging Hollywood’s world-wide pop culture dominance? Perhaps not in most places, but the 4-hour, song-and-dance-filled melodramas have fans in some pretty unexpected parts of the world.
Shashank Bengali, the East Africa correspondent for McClatchy, has come across a growing number of young Ethiopians who have embraced Bollywood films and musical numbers even though they are also exposed to a barrage of American hip hop music and action films.
There has always been a small market in Africa for Bollywood movies. Indian immigrants in South Africa and Kenya are a ready audience for these cinematic imports. However, a recent trend shows that the movies have been embraced by non-Indian audiences throughout the continent. Bollywood had a large following in Somalia until its films were outlawed by the militant Islamic leadership.
While the popularity of Indian cinema in Africa might not be a signal of the end of Hollywood, it does show that there are other cultural forces out there besides the ones created by Spielberg and Bruckheimer. It is also welcome news for closet Bollywood fans in the US, who can now travel to Africa without having to hide their secret vice.