Friday, February 16, 2007

Dancing to Mr India in Prague !

October 28, 2005 | 09:58 AM
Dancing to Mr India in Prague !

This is a guest entry from Sangeeta, who describes the incredible reaction to mainstream Bollywood films in Prague.

"Why would you want to start a "Bollywood" Film
Festival in Prague?
Who would want to watch the films there…"

When we first started the Prague “Bollywood” Festival ( ) in 2003 many people questioned the
appeal that commercial Hindi films could have in the
Czech Republic, a small Central European country where
Hindi films and their stars are virtually unknown and
whose South Asian population remains small and
scattered. Well, we proved all skeptics wrong! Last
week, our festival celebrated its third year, breaking
attendance records of previous years with four
completely sold out films.

Unlike “Bollywood” events in London, Toronto, or
Sydney, our festival cannot rely on fans from the
South Asian diaspora. But, for the third year in a row,
we haven't had to. The continued success of our
festival testifies to the global appeal of Indian
cinema, and also raises the question of why there is
something so attractive about “Bollywood” for the Czech

Hindi cinema grew out of multi-linear storytelling
traditions like Nautanki and the Parsi Theater and
“Bollywood” story structures continue to abound with
digressions like comedic subplots and song & dance
sequences. It's precisely the playfulness of these
digressions that make the films appealing to Czechs,
whose own fairy tales and folk traditions rely on
similar conventions - “Bollywood's” spirit seems
curiously more familiar to the Bohemian palate than
Hollywood movies.

The digressions, direct engagement of the audience by
film characters, and the occasional illogical twist in
the story also encourage a strong sense of
participative viewership. From the beginning we urged
our reserved Czech audiences to feel free to clap,
shout, whistle, and dance during the film. This year,
the arrival of Raj Kapoor in "Shree 420", the heroic
escapades of Shahrukh Khan in "Veer Zara" and the
disappearing stunts of Anil Kapoor in "Mr. India" were
met with enthusiastic approval, and the hospital
jiggles of Sanjay Dutt in "Munnabhai M.B.B.S."
transformed theater aisles into dance floors. As a film
distributor visiting from London remarked, "the
festival is so much more than just seeing…it is about
the whole experience of engaging with the films in ways
that take us back to what films mean in villages - when
the whole village assembled to watch the mobile film
caravan when it came to town." In short, the
participative experience celebrated by our Czech
audience harks back to an "interactivity" that long
predates the current popularity of that term. I believe
that this is an invaluable aspect of “Bollywood” cinema
that we should celebrate and maintain as Indian and
other regional cinemas continue to grow and change.

High brow film artists may protest that “Bollywood's”
narrative conventions are trivial, but my experience
in Prague suggests that Hindi commercial films possess
a certain expressive depth, which resonates across
cultures. If “Bollywood” is to challenge Hollywood over
domination of the global cinema market in the 21st
century, then shouldn't we be paying more attention to
the complex question of what makes Hindi commercial
films so appealing to foreign audiences?

Sangita Shresthova
Co-Organizer Prague Bollywood Festival
PhD. Candidate World Arts and Cultures UCLA

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