20 June 2006

Indians not too keen on Black cinema

As an Indian residing in India, I have very little exposure to films made by African-American directors. In fact, I believe, most Indians (and I include myself in this lot) look at American films as ‘films from Hollywood’ – without differentiating and/or classifying American films as independent or Black or a combination of these categories. What I mean is, the Indian cinema-going audience does not view a film differently because of the colour of the director’s skin.

However, there is a point of distinction that Indians make. Indians find it difficult to relate to African-American culture: their lifestyle, mannerisms, language, and violent crime in particular. Black emotions, Black relationships… somehow don’t gel too well with the Indian audience. For instance, a film like ‘Waiting To Exhale’ by Forest Whitaker, which was a great hit in the United States, hardly made a dent in India.

For a Black film to become a big hit in India, the story has to step outside the deeper aspects/idiosyncrasies of pure Black culture. Like John Singleton’s 2003 film ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ which dealt with underground car racing. It was an instant hit with the Indian audience, particularly the teen crowd. Yet, his earlier film ‘Boyz N the Hood’ – a masterpiece and one of my favourites – was appreciated by a tiny portion of the English-film-viewing audience in India.

Would a Black film like ‘How Stella Got Her Groove Back’ (by Kevin Rodney Sullivan) appeal to Indian women? Not likely. It just won’t work. Indians are not keen on Black cinema with an all-Black cast. But strangely, a film with white characters by a Black director is quite acceptable by Indians. Take Carl Franklin’s wonderful film ‘One True Thing’. I’m not sure if the film would have had as much appeal to Indians if the story was about a Black family instead of a white one.

Mind you, this viewing behaviour is true not just for films, but for TV programmes as well. All-Black TV shows on the Indian cable have a much lower level of acceptance (if any at all) by Indians compared to shows with white actors depicting white lifestyles. I’m sure ‘Friends’ or ‘Home Improvement’ would not have been as successful in India if they had only Black actors as characters.

Why is this so? Why do Indians not relate to, nor accept, Black films and culture as eagerly as they accept the white? Who knows? Maybe we are plain old racists.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled on to you blog and all I can think to say is WHO CARES! We don't need another group of people to add to the list of people we can't please. Give me a break. Can you please tell me the purpose and value in this commentary on your people not relating to black films. I'll leave it at that.

runawaysun said...

Hello 'anonymous' and thank you for stumbling on to my blog. I appreciate your comment. But, do I detect some anger here?

"WHO CARES?" Well, I care.

I care that so many wonderful Black films lose out in the international market because so few people in the world - among them many Indians in India, with me in that group - find it difficult to relate to Black culture.

In my commentary, I wanted to bring out this hypocrisy: of people being able to connect with white Hollywood films, but not with Black films. I was questioning this 'white' thinking... this 'white' fascination that people have across the world. The Indian perspective was used only to draw an analogy.

About your comment on "list of people we can't please", maybe you can. If there are enough successful Black films which have a wide enough distribution network to reach the international audience, maybe more people will learn to appreciate Black films. And, Black culture. So, don't give up.