Brit-Asians and Bollywood

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In Playing to the World’s Biggest Audience, Michael Curtin asks why, how, and under what circumstances a city, say Mumbai, becomes a global media capital? In examining the emergence of Hong Kong as a powerful media capital, Curtin asks us to pay attention to “trajectories of creative migration” (among other variables, of course). It is quite easy to see how this has shaped Mumbai as well – for over a century now, the migration of actors, directors, music directors, playback singers, costume designers, choreographers, and a range of other creative and technical personnel to Mumbai has, without doubt, been central to the city’s status as a media capital in India. The question that interests me is, what new trajectories of creative migration are being plotted as the Bombay film industry seeks to “globalize” and reimagine itself as Bollywood?

The answer is rather easy to locate: the (first world) desi diaspora. An article in Mint focuses attention on the growing number of Brit-Asians who are turning to Bollywood as a potential career path instead of struggling to break into the European or American creative sectors (link). With the exception of the Goodness Gracious Me trio, and indie artists like Hanif Kureishi, the record of Brit-Asians succeeding in British media is rather abysmal. Little surprise, especially given that these second/third-generation desis have grown up watching Bollywood films (and perhaps singing and dancing at community/college events), that they are signing up to train at institutes such as the one Anupam Kher has set up (story here).

Fists clenched, face contorted, the woman berates her best friend with accusations: How could she steal her boyfriend and then lie about it? A waistcoat thrown over her green kameez, she paces the floor in rage. Dressed in jeans and high heels, the younger woman weakly protests her innocence.

The scene, performed by two aspiring actors, unfolds not in India’s film hub of Bollywood but in Ealing, west London, as part of the first batch of auditions at the UK arm of Actor Prepares, a school run by actor Anupam Kher. The actors are in their 20s: Pirah Palijo, 28, is a lawyer from Karachi, Pakistan, and now lives in London, while her counterpart Seetal Linbachia, 23, was born and raised in London, and works as a hairdresser in her father’s salon. The duo represent a growing number of British Asians who are looking outward and hitching their acting careers to opportunities in the rapidly expanding Indian film industry.
To be sure, this is a welcome development and one hopes that such initiatives will, if only slowly, make it easier for actors without any family connections to enter the film industry. At the same time, we do need to recognize that this particular trajectory has rather high entry costs (financial and cultural capital) and might end up overpowering other, older trajectories and life-worlds (in ways similar to transitions in the domain of casting extras or those who used to work in costume design – see this).

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