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by Bryce J. Renninger
April 6, 2012 12:02 PM
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Movie Lovers We Love: Bollywood Anthropologist Tejaswini Ganti Explains Why There's No Indie Industry in India

Tejaswini Ganti
"I've always been a big fan and viewer of Hindi cinema as a child," Bollywood anthropologist Tejaswini Ganti recently told Indiewire.

We should note that "Bollywood" is a name for the contemporary Hindi film system.  According to Ganti, in her 2004 "Bollywood: A Guidebook to Popular Hindi Cinema," Bollywood is "a tongue-in-cheek term created by the English-language press in India in the late 1970s" and "has now become the dominant global term to refer to the prolific and box-office oriented Hindi language film industry located in Bombay."

India earns a reputation as the world's most prolific film-producing nation by having a film industry for most of its dozens of regional languages. Bollywood is solely used to describe the largest of those Indian-language film industries: the world of contemporary Hindi film, the world of Shah Rukh Khan and the Bachchans.

The inspiration for the Bollywood guidebook came after Ganti realized that undergraduates and older Bollywood initiates didn't have anything that would simply explain to them the ins and outs of the singing, dancing, glitz and glamor of the film industry. She is now working on a second edition, eight years after the very successful publication of the first.

But Ganti, who is, after all, an anthropologist, is currently celebrating the recent publication of her new book, "Producing Bollywood: Inside the Contemporary Hindi Film Industry" (Duke University Press).  After being convinced by the renowned anthropologist Arjun Appadurai that she should follow her passion, she studied the film industry she so loves for her dissertation work.

"Producing Bollywood" is based on her fieldwork in Mumbai (Bombay was officially renamed in 1996), talking to filmmakers -- those who have the most control over the end product of a film: directors, producers, actors, writers, distributors, exhibitors. Ganti explained to us that "Bollywood is not a category that's always existed.  It's often posited in the international media as the only mainstream challenge to Hollywood as far as global success and global impact."

The book charts how the Hindi film industry came to be Bollywood as we know it today. Ganti looks at the impact of two technological developments -- satellite television and the multiplex movie theater -- on the film industry.  Beginning in the early 90's, both India and Indian immigrants to Europe and the US had access to satellite television stations that played Hindi films all the time.  Starting in 2003,  the multiplex, which caters to middle-class audiences on-the-town, began to replace the larger single screen theaters that seated hundreds of theatergoers.

For Ganti, Bollywood came into its own when people stopped turning their noses up at what was going on in the industry. "Hindi cinema was a form looked down upon by cultural social political elites in India."  She continued, "Some people, usually journalists asked me, 'How are they going to understand what you're asking them?'

"There really is no indie industry in India."
"The filmmakers themselves wanted to earn that type of respect.  They were obsessed with gaining that kind of acceptance in elite spheres.  The film industry has undergone this process of gentrification, which enabled Bollywood to come into being."

So how does indie production fit into all of this?  "There really is no indie industry in India," Ganti confessed.  "The basic reason is there are the same structures of distribution and production available to the bigger and smaller filmmakers.

"In terms of production, the way the industry is organized would be called indie in the US.  I've spoken with directors like Dibakar Banerjee ["Love, Sex aur Dhokha" or "L.S.D."], who is a poster boy for indie cinema.  They all tell me they think of themselves as distinct form the mainstream, but to funders, they always talk about themselves as commercial.  They can't think of themselves as outside of the industry."

Ganti ended our conversation by saying, though, that perhaps the reason no one is "indie" in India is that no one is hurting for finding the money to make films:  "Raising capital is not a problem anymore.  Way more films are produced than are released theatrically.  You still have about 100 films produced every year that aren't released in the theaters."

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4 Comments

  • Ritesh | April 7, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    Indie cinema in very much alive and bubbling in India. If you look at it through the US lens, and only based on financing structure then yes you could make an inaccurate statement like there is no Indie in India. However, this researcher would have been more intellectually honest if she had attempted to find out what 'Indie' means in the Indian context and reported that back.

  • Amit Tyagi | April 6, 2012 3:00 PMReply

    There's been 'indie' cinema in India since the 1940s, too bad this lady is quite unaware of it. There's still plenty of it around, movies are being made on Canon 5ds etc, like the rest o the world's indie. Of course if 'mainstream' guys have heard of these movies, they ain't indies anymore. Again, that's the same as anywhere else in the world.
    Having said that, the lady's observations are totally relevant, those are the changes affecting Indian cinema in big big way.

  • April Wolff | April 6, 2012 2:57 PMReply

    Early realist Merchant Ivory films, before they became gauzy and sweet, and, of course, Sajiyat Ray films were as indie as you can get! Indie classics I wish would be shown on Sundance, or again in NYC theaters. Don't be too caught in the present. Though I love new good to great films.

  • Austin Dale | April 6, 2012 12:42 PMReply

    This is a really great interview.