Bollywood in Europe

December 10, 2006 at 10:20 pm | Posted in Bollywood, Entertainment, Globalization | 15 Comments

This post is dedicated to Neha Kumar who introduced me to Nach Baliye (see older posts). Earlier today she wrote on her blog:

Indian dances famous abroad!

Its good news for all us Indians !!

Looks like, our dances not only enthrall us, but also people from other countries… I happened to meet one such admirer (thanks to wordpress ) Want to thank you Jana, for taking so much interest in our culture and dance..

Oh they are famous indeed 🙂 To prove this, I grabbed my camera to take a picture of my shower cabin. Of course the shower itself is anything but interesting, but have a look at the pictures that I put up when I moved into this flat two years ago:

My bathroom

These are cards issued by Rapid Eye Movies, the main German/Austrian distributor for films from India – as you can tell immediately from their website: They have just launched a (German-language) magazine called “Bollywood”. They used to specialize in Far East Asian films until a while ago, until they brought Khabi khushi khabi gham (forgive me for not getting the Hs and Es right) to Germany and met with major success with it. The cards are from the official release in their tiny first run movie theatre in Cologne.

The representation of Bollywood films in Germany/Austria is lopsided though. The majority of people who watch movies regularly (on TV or in the theatre) will know Shah Rukh Khan. Did you know they even dub his films into German to be able to air them on TV? :-))) Wanted to find a bit with German synchronisation on Youtube but wasn’t successful, hence here a screenshot from a description on RTL Television:

TV program

And while Shah Rukh is pretty famous already with viewers from all walks of life (i.e. not just the Indian community in Germany, not just teenagers), only few are enlightened about anything Bollywood beyond Shah Rukh. Hmm, with the exception of Austria/Switzerland probably, as the Austrian and Swiss landscapes keep appearing in Bollywood movies 🙂

But the interest in India is ever increasing, although the stereotypical knowledge probably includes the following notions:
– More Bollywood than Hollywood films have been produced in film history.
– India has a population of more than one billion.
– India is the leading software developing nation.
– Many Indians are very well educated.
– They don’t eat beef.
– They have the A-bomb (don’t really know whether this is true, but this is what many people belive).

I even once took a course in Hindi which was offered at Cologne university: 8 of 60.000 students took the course at the time (1998). Unfortunately, we were all so eager to learn that we had finished the lecturer’s course book in nearly half the usual time – actually already reaching the point where we couldn’t take in anything new, anymore because we hadn’t really grasped the old yet. When the exams in all the other subjects came around, half of us (including me) discontinued the course. So the words I understand when watching anything Indian are the following:
– zindagi hai (that’s life)
– sirf (only?)
– ek (one)
– pyar (love)
– main bhi (me too?)
– accha (good)
– diwana hai (he’s mad)
– lekin (but)
– bahut (much/many)
– sukriya/dhanyavad (thank you)

Not enough to follow the plot, I fear;-)

Ok, that was my little excursion into what I think to know about the awareness of Bollywood and India in Europe…
Good night, you people.


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  1. Oh My God!!! 😀

    I still cant believe all this is in Austria! I am touched to say the least!!

    Thank you so much Jana 🙂

    Sukriya 😀

  2. Wow!!!

    I still cant believe you went through all the effort… 🙂

    Thank you so much again and again 🙂

  3. Your most welcome!

  4. Amazing Article..!

  5. how about these:

    kutte – dog
    pagal – mad
    main tera baap hoon – i m ur dad
    main teri maa hoon – i m ur mother

    more on requests [:P]

  6. Hi Devesh, yes, I think I’ve been able to pick these up in the past 🙂

    How about:
    Tum mera baita nahi hai. (You are not my son).

    Does that work???

  7. Hi there
    It was interesting to read your post on Bollywood and popularity of shahrukh etc in Germany and Austria. Bollywood as a brand name over the whole world is a frequently discussed topic nowadays. As lot of other things, I feel it is more hyped than anything else. Bollywood movies and stars are popular outside india only among indian/pakistani origin people and hardly among other cultures people. Ofcourse lot of people know about bollywood and it’s increasing popularity,but extremely few have heard more than handful of movie names or stars and fewer have seen more than Lagaan’s or Devdaas’s. I can say that because I live in a very multiculture environment here in east coast and my work and social circle allows me to interact with people from virtually all type of cultures. Also, when I go to watch indian movies, 95% of audience is of indian origin and Iam sure that quite a few non-indian audience comprises of gf’s and bf’s of their indian counterparts.
    Having said that, I agree that bollywood movies have local audience in certain parts of western europe as I have read about it earlier also. And Iam curious to know the reasons for that. I mean western european cinematic sensibilites seem to be more art house and neo-realism type which most of the times find even hollywood superficial and larger than life. In that context, how can they find popular bollywood fare as palatable. I mean I can understand if there is an audience for satyajit ray or adoor gopalakrishnan kind of cinema, but sizeable number of people interested in popular bollywood fare is pretty interesting.
    Since you live in that part of the world, you can probably explain this phenomenon to me.
    Take it easy

  8. Hi there,

    I can imagine that, from a US perspective, it might seem as if Western European cinematic sensibilities are indeed more arthouse. From that perspective, it might seem unlikely that Bollywood films would ever be genuinely popular (and not just “trash-hyped”) in Europe. Let me attempt to explain to their popularity in spite of these odds.

    Looking at the case for Germany (I am German, but live in Austria), the German movie charts might cast more light on that and enlighten the situation. The tastes of the majority of German viewers are just as mainstream as they are anywhere else – the fact that there is a tradition of German arthouse cinema (although some might debate that arthouse is still alive in Germany) doesn’t change that at all. The majority of Germans wouldn’t know what to make of the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, for instance.

    And speaking of the reception of Bollywood: I think that it is enjoyed both by people with mainstream tastes and people with more ‘sophisticated’ (arty, high-brow) tastes. Approximately 2 years before Bollywood became mainstream in Germany (which we can probably assume to begin with Bollywood films being broadcast on German television), there was a Bollywood film festival in Cologne. In hindsight, I would say that probably 50% came from the Indian community, the other half were all your arthouse cinéastes (to which I’d also like to count myself).

    There are several things about Bollwood cinema which “intellectuals” like me enjoy (apart from the fact that the music makes me happy – _that_ I cannot really account for, that’s just one of the magical things that reason cannot explain). I’ll detail only one for the time being (who knows whether you’ll read this 😉


    Disclaimer: The point here is not whether Bollywood films are “essentially” ironic, i.e. are also perceived of as ironic by Indian audiences. This might not be case.

    To me (and I know that friends of mine share that view) the irony of Bollywood films resides in the the way that such films appear to be conscious of the effects of cinematic language.

    For instance, imagine a scene in which a father repudiates his son (outside it’s raining, a thunderstorm has come up).

    “You are no son of mine”, the father declares (lightning! roll of thunder!).

    The son freezes. Tears begin to fill his eyes. He runs towards his father. The father doesn’t look at him while the son is crouching at his feet (lightning! roll of thunder!).

    “Father!”, the son pleads.

    “I don’t have a son anymore, ” the father says, without looking at him (lightning! roll of thunder!).

    Many Europeans would tend to view this as ironic: The representation is so much over the top that its ideological underpinnings can be nothing but obvious.

    At the same time, this is clearly no “trash production”, the obvious expenses made on set design, costume, star casting etc. clearly tell you that this was not a careless “quicky” made by a B movie director. Conspicuous production elevates the movie to a higher cultural level – a conscious, artistic, sophisticated play with the most basic of all emotions.

    Another thing one should mention here: Nobody has mastered the art of crying on screen as beautifully as Sharukh Khan 🙂

    Europeans are often perceived of as restrained, sober, inapproachable, insensitive, impolite (or at least: Germans are described that way). I personally have the suspicion that the suppression of emotions in German culture is one one the reasons why ‘we’ enjoy the openness with which the claim the Bollywood screen so much.

  9. and german speaking internet community is really large. sometimes i think there are more german bollywood resources than english ones (i know, thats not true, but it looks like)
    if only western european would realize that bollywood (and indian cinema) is much more than only shahrukh – kajol movies.

    greetings from germany

  10. […] Ein Blick einer Deutschen, die in Österreich lebt, über Bollywood auf English – ich les solche Schnipsel recht gern, insbesondere weils ja soviele Bashing Bollywood Artikel gibt. […]

  11. […] Just a brief update on the Bollywood in Europe discussion: Lallopallo was wondering whether Bollywood films’ popularity wasn’t just a fad or temporary hype. I made an attempt at a reponse: I can imagine that, from a US perspective, it might seem as if Western European cinematic sensibilities are indeed more arthouse. From that perspective, it might seem unlikely that Bollywood films would ever be genuinely popular (and not just “trash-hyped”) in Europe. Let me attempt to explain to their popularity in spite of these odds. […]

  12. Hello Anaj
    Thanks for such a detailed and perceptive analysis. It was really interesting to read your theory on why ” Individualistic and non-sentimental” Germans find Bollywood movies appealing as it serves as an outlet for their pent up emotions.
    I was talking with Melissa yesterday about our discussion. Melissa is from Germany and she is the girlfriend ( and hopefully soon to be wife) of my very dearest friend Jatinder. She was not very sure of your theory but agreed that few Germans may find bollywood movies interesting for the reasons you mentioned.
    For me, it is quite interesting to see cross cultural implications of Bollywood. Bollywood is very eastern in many ways and it connecting with hard core west in this manner is unusual. Melodrama shaking hands with Universalistic and Task oriented Germany is pretty intriguing.
    Keep us updated on these developments.
    Take it easy.

  13. Hi Lallopallo,

    Cultural identity is a very complex and practically unpredictable thing – all those stereotypes we have to describe other people (or ourselves) all seem to be true in a way, yet often seem to be hardly applicable to the individual.

    I suppose I can only apply a Western reading to Bollywood – but nevertheless I am very sure that the slight alienation which is an effect of unusal codes (all that crying, hand-wringing, praying, mum-praising – and unusual only to Westerners) plays a very important role in the appreciation of Bollywood films in the West – at least by intellectuals.

    The same people could probably hardly bear to watch any of the traditional sugar-coated German 1950s’ Heimatfilme.

  14. Wow! Quite a discussion going on here… Its really interesting 🙂

    Way to go Jana 🙂

  15. Anaj
    You are absolutely right that lot of times stereotype cultural parameters are not applicable to all individuals of a given culture. Also, there is this interesting concept of cultural paradox. Just a simple example.. US is a highly individualistic culture but tops the world in donations.. In terms of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, Indians are more collectivist, but research has proved that Indians are one of the worst in the world when it comes to working in teams for collective goals. But still, cultural values do hold lot of times and do help in defining us and explaining our behaviour. Sorry for going too ” cultural ” here …Actually, Iam quite into studying of different culures and I am always curious about different variables including history, anthropology, economy etc which shape and redefine cultural values of countries and races.
    Also, according to Aryan invasion theory, lot of Indians, especially upper North Indians, are Aryans who came from Indo-European family. Now if you might know , Germans are known to be original Aryans. There is another theory which says that Indo-European languages ,including German, originated from Sanskrit. Just one example.. Hans in Sanskrit means a bird which can fly.. Now, Luftthansa , German Airline, is made of word Hansa. Isnt that interesting! So, you guys might be connecting with your long lost brothers via Bollywood movies.
    Take it easy and have a nice vacation.

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