We have seen people wearing t-shirts and sweatshirts which read the names of Ivy League colleges, American football, and basketball teams. When Starbucks first opened in India, we saw people line up and the excitement behind it. We have seen people say, their dream land is America. When the human race is under attack by the aliens, we see superheroes come forward to save the human race. What is this craze and charm around American ways? It is the American soft power. Soft power can be exerted through attraction. They sell The American Dream through Hollywood. The Photo op at the Times Square, weekends at the Long Islands, the Bahamas, vacations in Miami and Hawaii, The Disney World, The Casinos of Las Vegas, The Universal Studios, A long drive at Pacific Highway, The Ivy league colleges, NASA, Burgers, the steak, the beer and so on. Most of the people applying for American Colleges and the H1 B visas want to live this life.
What about India and how are we telling our story to the world, it’s through our film industry. We have Bollywood, Pollywood, Tollywood, Sandalwood, Kollywood, Mollywood. But let’s stick to Bollywood for now. The important question remains how is Bollywood telling India’s story to the world? By reducing us to a bunch of entertainers. Let us understand it this way, think of a Hollywood movie where our planet is being attacked by aliens who we see stepping up to save the human race it’s the American Superhero. Who do you see stepping up when there is going to be a natural disaster or bio disaster or America is being attacked. It’s the American President who is on his toes. All the important decisions being taken at The White House. This is how Hollywood is building America’s image by projecting Washington, the centre of global superpower, the custodian of human rights and dignity, the harbinger of democracy and justice.
What are Indians doing? Dancing on item numbers. When Ra One shows up he ends up dancing on an item number called “Chammak Challo.” The Krish literally ends up dancing with the alien itself. The Dabang Cop ends dancing on the item number as well. The Bollywood is not interested in taking India’s narrative forward. The Hollywood guys are in alignment with geopolitics. Not long-ago Russia used be the villain and we will get to see China in a bad guy character soon. Our Bollywood heroes are so clichéd and insensitive that they will end up falling in love with a girl from an enemy country making it a one big tragic Devdas kind of a story. I am not against falling in love but here it’s about projecting India’s soft power through cinema. Salman Khan in Ek Tha Tiger is an RAW officer and falls in love with an ISI operative. Can you even comprehend or even imagine if Ben Affleck in Argo was shown falling in love with an Iranian woman, America’s enemy no.1 in the middle east. India’s enemy being Pakistan and the biggest exporter of terrorism, rape culture, human trafficking. In Hollywood Iran is the villain and in Bollywood.
They show a cute girl from Pakistan is harassed by Indian men and sold in a brothel. While at one hand Hollywood pushes its government and the establishment’s narrative forward while at other hand Bollywood works on making Pakistani narrative win. Moreover, the stories are not just insensitive but also not appropriate to watch for the general audience and these movies are box office hits earning hundreds of crores. Number of stars and producers in Bollywood peddle the narrative coming out of Karachi and Rawalpindi and it is the fact.
American government pays incentives and other benefits to its movie makers because they push the American narrative and amplify the American soft power. Indian film industry cannot blame the government because it has failed to push the Indian narrative. Indian film stars and songs are very popular across the Middle East. My Moroccan friends use to listen to the songs from Amitabh Bachchan’s movies, but it is not enough. The fact is Indian film Industry has failed to push India’s narrative forward and amplify our soft power. Look at the kind of movies made in the United States the kind of imagination and thought is put into making movies like Memento, Inception, Interstellar, Apollo 13, Twister, The Superhero Movies, Movies on war like Saving Private Ryan and numerous movies on United States war against terrorism in the Middle East. The way they project and advertise American superior technology through movies and documentaries. They make movies and documentaries on American Brands and products, even chocolates and liquor. Apart from documentaries produced by Government channels, I don’t see one single movie and documentary which pushes Indian narrative. There has not been a single documentary on the success story of the ISRO. Not a single movie on Indian Scientists and former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Homi Jehangir Bhaba, Dr. Vikram Sarabhari, etc. The elite in Bollywood are more interested in producing masala, glorifying the 2-bit underworld criminals as humble human beings and bringing down India’s Image. With emergence of OTT platforms, they are interested in producing web series where our Brothers in uniforms are insulted and shown in bad light. They are interested in producing vulgar content and put it on OTT platforms in the name of creative freedom.
We see many people going TOM-TOM about constitutional rights. Constitutional rights come with responsibilities and duties towards our country. It is our responsibility, including the government and the citizens, to identify and promote the people and their talent who are willing to take Indian narrative forward. We need to put more money into the media. It is important for us to have global media presence. We have a strong Indian Community across the globe who is our human resources, and we should be able use our human resources to market and promote India Inc. efficiently and successfully. Joseph Nye of Harvard University Kennedy School of Government says, “soft power is the ability to receive favourable treatments through attraction rather than coercion.”
I leave readers with a question to ask themselves, have we done enough to project India’s soft power?