“Soft power” is a term coined by Joseph Nye of Harvard to describe the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion. A classic example of soft power is the Indian film industry.
Indian film industry and more popularly Bollywood enjoys a cult status in India and overseas. It is a brand in itself ever since Mother India became an international hit in 1957. From Satyajit Ray to Adoor Gopalkrishnan, Indian cinema has an enviable fan following in the country.
Time for the Indian film industry to wield its soft power
Yoga is a great example. The ancient tradition has gone places literally. From power yoga to ashtang yoga to a number of studios, schools and gurus in the west – yoga enjoys immense popularity and brand loyalty.
The Indian Government recognised its potential to mobilize interest in the practice and thus International Yoga Day was born. It has been one of the most successful campaigns so far.
Unfortunately, there have been no such efforts to create a similar campaign for the Indian film industry. Experts say that Bollywood is a major source of soft power, one that has been neglected far too long. Indian films have been popular internationally since the silent period and continue to find audiences across the globe. One recent example is that of the extraordinary success of Dangal in China.
Then why can’t Indian film industry penetrate the lucrative markets of western Europe and the Americas?
It is time for both India’s film industry and the powers that be to promote Bollywood and other regional cinema globally. Smaller countries such as South Korea and Iran find mainstream acceptance for their cinema, we produce a much greater number of films each year. This has incredible business potential both in terms of film revenue and other fringe benefits such as merchandising, cross-cultural relations and increasing investment in India.
India produces the most number of movies each year at almost 2000 films in more than 20 languages. However, our share in the global cinema revenue is negligible.
The University of Southern California has been publishing the Global Soft Power Report. India doesn’t rank on the Soft Power 30 index. Yet. our country with its rich culinary, cultural and cinematic heritage doesn’t feature on this list.
The Soft Power of Bollywood can bring immense benefits
Globalisation has blurred cultural boundaries. Bollywood can be the cinematic equivalent of curries, yoga, cricket and football.
What better cultural ambassador of India than our quintessential story-telling, our music and our dance, our colourful ethos that is best depicted through our films. This soft power can have some hard benefits in terms of revenue and cross-cultural relationships across the globe.
As production houses and investors search for lucrative shores to invest in media and entertainment, the Indian film industry has the right mix of talent, technology and innovation to attract global investment and funding. It calls for all the forces, the film associations, governments and production houses to recognise this power and leverage it for the future of our industry.