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Selling African culture Bollywood-style

March 19th, 2007 Posted in Film/Television, General, Politics, Travel

Bunty Aur Babli movie posterReading this article about Bollywood and the brand new Kenyan film commission has me thinking about the African film industry and how it can grow. As some of you might already know, for the past year I’ve been consulting with the African Film Commission in developing and promoting the African film industry. This article about the Kenyan Film Commission’s growing relationship with both Hollywood and Bollywood has got me thinking about what impact Indian film and culture has been on my own African experience and how African countries can learn from Bollywood in marketing themselves. Growing up in Liberia I cannot remember a time when Indian film and culture were not a part of our daily experience. At that time (before cable and satellite) television was scheduled for a short time daily and the second main source of programming content, besides American films, was Indian dramas. Similar to Saturday Karate flicks in the US, Bollywood movies were a much anticipated indulgence of my daily childhood TV viewing. While I never always understood the context of the movies (same as with the American imports), the general themes of love, deceit, and camaraderie were familiar to all us Africans. We even adopted some of the sayings and mannerisms we saw in the films. Now with the Bollywood industry growing exponentially and reaching into Africa for inspiration, the relationship we Africans have with one of India’s greatest exports deserves some analysis.

Similar to Hollywood, as Bollywood has grown it has come to depend on Africa for production resources and content inspiration. What makes the Bollywood-Africa relationship interesting is that the Bollywood audience couldn’t be farther removed from Africans. For the most part Bollywood films are targeted to South Asian audiences though it continues to widen. Beyond the exoticism of the films, it is hard for someone who is unfamiliar with the culture to understand certain concepts without knowing the cultural reference. And though the films have adopted a global appeal, they are innately cultural. The fact that Bollywood movies can maintain their cultural perspectives and still appeal to different culture is a perfect example of how African cultures can export content that promotes their culture. I think Kenya is getting it right in organizing and creating a structure to nurture this relationship with foreign film companies to create a brand image, promote tourism, and inject foreign money into their economy. The lesson in this article for other African governments is that there are rules and procedures which, when implemented, will allow us to re-brand ourselves and promote our cultures to the world. And without certain structures such as a government created film commission, it becomes a free-for-all and stands to be ineffective in promoting tourism. Part of what makes India one of the hottest business destinations is the country’s ability to learn the rules of global business, create/maintain structures that encourage foreign investment, and – through their film industry – promote the uniqueness of their culture. I hope other countries look at the benefits of the business model Kenya is trying to implement and realize that they too can reap the benefits of such a relationship. They just need to understand how the game is played.

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