China falls in love with Bollywood all over again

China falls in love with Bollywood all over again

By Chen Haoyuan and Younghyun Jeon

Beijing, April 19 (Caixin Global): Asian rivals India and China have started a new romance on the silver screen. After the run-away success of the sports biopic “Dangal,” or “Let’s Wrestle Dad!,” last year, Chinese audiences and film distributors have embraced Bollywood’s two-hour, song-and-dance filled offerings with a renewed relish.

So, what’s fueling this budding love between India — the world’s largest film producer that churns out about 2,000 movies per year — and China, which is quickly overtaking the U.S. to become the biggest box office in the world?

For many older Chinese, it is nostalgia. For the young, Bollywood is a breath of fresh air, different from the Hollywood or Japanese and Korean staples they have grown up with.

Wang Yifu, 68, recalls how he grew up watching popular Indian cinema in the late 1970s, when China finally allowed foreign productions after the end of the Cultural Revolution.

“The first movie I watched was “Awaara,” or “The Tramp,” in 1979. It was the first foreign film I watched, and I still remember the songs,” the retired real estate agent said.

“When I think about Indian films, three things come into mind. First, many people from my parents’ generation are very fond of them. They bring up some of the songs and famous quotes even today. The films are usually full of original music and great choreography and the stories are dynamic with colorful characters,” said Xiao Ou, a graduate student from Tsinghua University.

After a few years of success in the early 80s, Indian movies disappeared from Chinese cinemas, partly because Indian producers were more focused on markets in Africa, the Middle East and U.K., where there is a larger Indian diaspora, but also because the waxing and waning political ties between the two nations made it harder to do business.

A smattering of Indian films have had limited release in China since the turn of the century, but many have gone unnoticed.

Until last year, Bollywood films remained an afterthought for many Chinese moviegoers. That’s why both film distributors and critics were shocked when a gritty, low-budget Indian film crushed the sequel to the space fantasy “Guardians of the Galaxy” at the box office last summer. “Dangal,” based on a real-life story of a father, who fights gender stereotypes and corrupt sports officials to pave the way for his two daughters to become international wrestling champions, went onto become China’s highest-grossing non-Hollywood foreign movie of all time, earning $190 million.

(The featured image at the top is a still from the Salman Khan blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijan)