Bollywood Zombies and The Westernization of Indian Pop Culture

Go Goa Gone poster

Go Goa Gone, the first Western-style zombie flick to be made in Bollywood, was just announced last week. The trailer was released a few weeks ago and seems to be quite popular, with already over 2.5 million hits on YouTube. This may not seem like a particularly significant thing, but it’s just another example of how Indian TV and movies are taking cues from their American counterparts, effectively transforming their pop culture. What effect might this have on Indian popular culture?

People all over the world love American popular culture – even if they struggle to admit it – but some have been wondering for generations whether or not such influence represents a threat to the unique cultures of various countries. In fact, such Westernization had one writer wondering “Is India still India?” back in 2009. More recently, blogger Emily Smith gave her perspective on this issue last December:

Bollywood films have always been a huge part of Indian culture. These films traditionally feature different aspects of India, its culture, and religion. One way Indian culture is represented in these films is through the unique music numbers.  Over time, Bollywood films and music have become more modernized due to the effect of westernization. Filmmakers adopt different Western traditions in order to please foreign audiences, rather than their original Indian audience.

But Indian popular culture is not simply becoming Americanized because it’s trying to appeal to foreigners. Indian audiences are the ones being targeted; it’s just that they are demanding more Western – or at least Westernized – popular culture. For example, I started writing about how many critics have been saying that Japan is losing its culture in 2011. In Part 2 of that series, I brought up the example of Indian soap operas changing over time. As I reported back then:

[In February 2011] the first French kiss on Indian television was broadcast on the soap opera Maryada: Lekin Kab Tak?. [. . .] [The show] is increasingly focusing on its city-dwelling audience, whom are less likely to take offense to that type of public display, since they are more prone to watching Western sitcoms.

Music is also being gradually influenced, as it has been for the last few decades. According to, TV actor Ankur Nayyar has commented that “Hindi music now has guitars and many more instruments which are all western. We even have rock or soft rock music now in hindi music. The fact is that music has no boundaries. You just like it so listen to it.” But Smith suggests that this change may not be a particularly positive thing for the culture:

Bollywood music now contains more modern themes and even uses the English language, making it less relatable for Indians. Indian filmmakers must not neglect tradition and succumb to westernization in order to keep the Indian culture alive in Bollywood films and their music.

It is important for Hindi filmmakers to continue tradition because of Indian history. Indian cinema was born during the nation’s struggle against British colonialism. India’s film industry freed itself from “the shackles of foreign influence” and strived to create films that would help India define its own cultural identity (Rao 58). For many years, filmmakers continued to create classic films that were aimed to define India’s unique, independent culture. [. . .]

English does not serve much of a purpose in Bollywood music. The use of the English language in Hindi makes it difficult for Indian audiences to relate to the film. Although many Indians adopt English as a second language, Bollywood music should honor tradition and strictly use Hindi lyrics.

Although Bollywood will continue to evolve, it is important that Indian tradition is still kept. More filmmakers are interested in what will satisfy foreign audiences or younger audiences. When combining too many Western influences with classic Bollywood film and music, Indian culture and traditions are often lost. The desire for more western-like themes in Bollywood films directly affects the music. The music of Bollywood must refrain from total change because it is such an important part of Indian culture and tradition.

So what does this all mean? Is it becoming more “Americanized”? And if so, is that even a bad thing? In an attempt to separate themselves from the Hollywood award shows, and to have a more national distinction in awarding talent in popular culture, the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards Show took place this February. It basically combined the former Gemini and Genie Award Shows into a single show, recognizing talent in both TV and film, as well as digital media.

Speaking of Canada, the Times of India Awards Show – the Bollywood version of the Academy Awards – was just held in Vancouver, Canada, last weekend. It was as extravagant as you can imagine, which is convenient because you’ll have to imagine it for now, since it has not yet been broadcast in either Canada or India. What this Award Show means for Bollywood (e.g., getting new foreign fans) may come to light after it has aired. In the meantime, we must consider if things like doing award shows in English will have a detrimental effect on Indian culture.

In one extreme example from last year, one disturbed Indian man killed his wife in Italy for “dressing too Westernized.” He wanted to punish her for “going against Indian traditions,” so he strangled her to death, threw her corpse in a river, and then told the police soon after. So… was that really a better representation of the Indian tradition? I can only presume that he was watching too many Italian mob films.

But does wearing Western clothes really mean that you’re losing your Eastern culture? And for that matter, should there be a push to adopt less popular culture from abroad, as Smith has suggested with music?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. Perhaps the arguments I made regarding Japan in my earlier posts apply equally to India, though I can’t pretend to know Indian culture as well as Japan’s. But these questions may lead to some interesting insights.

What do you think?

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