The Bollywood Bridge: From Hollywood to Kabul via Mumbai How Bollywood is opening minds in Afghanistan, where the military and diplomatic effort are failing to do so.


While doing my Masters at the Institute of Communication Studies at The University of Leeds in 2008, there was a module I took in the second semester that really broadened the way I looked at Journalism and the Media. Having been convinced my entire life that communication was one of the most important facets, if not the most important facet of humanity, and being a student of Journalism and Literature during my Bachelors I was inclined to thinking that I probably may be prejudiced to overrating the role of the media. But this module led me to understand that even with the high regard I had always given to the subject, I had still underestimated its potential. The module was International Crisis and Crisis Management through the Media taught by Prof Phil Taylor. More than the actual topics it was the philosophy of the module that really got me thinking. The potential of the media to shape opinion is so influential that in the long term it is a major player in shaping value systems and thereby the direction humanity takes. Taylor, P (2009) points out the consequences of labelling the “War” on Terrorism a “War”, legitimising Al Qaeda as a legal organisation as opposed to a terrorist organisation. (2009. War on Terrorism. [lecture] Leeds: University of Leeds). The power given to Al Qaeda propaganda by George Bush’s selection of words “crusade”, “axis of evil”, has had devastating circumstances in the battle for the “hearts and minds” (Taylor, P 2009. War on Terrorism. [lecture] Leeds: University of Leeds). The media quickly picked up on these things and soon began portraying Bush in a light that showed him to be close minded to others’ way of life and in many ways ignorant. There was a lot of negative sentiment about Bush that was generated through the media and true enough a major reason for this was for commissioning the “war” in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. But now we have Obama who has engaged in covert war in almost a dozen countries which to a large extent has been unreported. The New York Times reported that “In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.” (Shane, S, Mazzetti, M & Worth, R 2010. Secret assault on Terrorism widens on two continents. The New York Times, August). But opinion in the international community about Obama hasn’t really been affected. Such is the potential of the media.

The role the media has played in the past in terms of International Relations whether in war or other aspects have been extensively written on. The role the media is playing at present is a matter of much debate. The questions are, How much of a role does the Media really play? What is the extent of its influence? Are there any real terms at all that make it possible to quantify the extent of this influence? If so what are they? If not, why not? In an immensely diverse world what are the factors that could possibly serve as a scale to gauge the extent of this influence and why?

One of the most interesting phenomena has been the way the Afghani people are grabbing Bollywood. BBC reported as early as November 2001, that Afghanistan was the biggest foreign market for Bollywood in the early 1990’s and that it was embracing Bollywood once again as soon as the Taliban were ousted (Srivastava, S 2001. Bollywood eyes Afghan market. BBC, November). A leading Newspaper in India the Deccan Herald reported in July last year that Kabul was embracing Hindi cinema especially among the political elite and the Afghan police (PTI, 2010. Hindustan, Bollywood popular in war torn Afghanistan. Deccan Herald, July). What is more interesting is how much Bollywood is influenced by Hollywood. Bollywood has increasingly sought to fashion itself after Hollywood remaking many successful Hollywood movies in an Indian context. This phenomenon has resulted in Bollywood acting as a bridge between American and Afghani culture. American values are introduced to Afghanistan through a culture it has a lot in common with thus making it more effective than direct American efforts to win the “hearts and minds” of the people of Afghanistan. India’s colonial past which it shares with America and its ancient past which it shares with Afghanistan make it a unique candidate to be a bridge between the two, and one struggles to think of a more vivid way this represents itself than the above mentioned phenomenon.

China and its system of measuring National Capability is another interesting issue, while in the West we use systems like J David Singer’s Composite Index of National Capability to measure National Capability, most of which list China as second if not first along with the US. These systems take into account only Hard Power. China itself uses the system of Comprehensive National Power which puts itself at number six with a score of 59.10, with the US in number one by a long way with a score of 90.62 followed by Great Britain with a score of 65.04; this system includes economic factors and Soft Power. It is worth ascertaining why the Chinese give so much credit to Soft Power and Cultural influence. Another important phenomenon is the situation in Iran with some Iranians proclaiming that it is time to undo the damage of the revolution. The Iranian government blames Western Propaganda and social websites like Facebook to be responsible for this. Can Cultural Diplomacy through heavily restricted internet still have enough power to make Iranians question the revolution? It has been a well established since the Gulf war of 1991 when General Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf entertained and charmed us through the media that everyone knew the media mattered and that it was a factor that impacted upon the situation as well. To acknowledge it as a factor is one thing but to try and ascertain its true potential and power can render it something very different.

REFERENCE LIST

Deccan Herald (2010), Hindustan, Bollywood Popular in War Torn Afghanistan. Deccan Herald, [internet] 25th July. Available at: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/83746/hindustan-bollywood-popular-war-torn.html [Accessed 19th August 2010].

Pillsbury, M (2000), China Debates the Future Security Enviroment. National Defense University Press, [internet]. Available at: http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/china/doctrine/pills2/index.html [Accessed 19th August 2010].

Shane, S, Mazzetti, M & Worth, R (2010), Secret Assault on Terrorism Widens on Two Continents. New York Times, [internet] 14th August. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/15shadowwar.html?_r=3&scp=1&sq=a%20secret%20assault&st=cse [Accessed 19th August 2010].

Srivastava, S (2001), Bollywood eyes Afghan market. BBC, [internet] 27th November. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/1679115.stm [Accessed 19th August 2010].

Taylor, P. 2009. War on Terrorism, [lecture] Leeds: University of Leeds.

WEBSITES

www.bbc.co.uk

www.deccanherald.com

www.google.co.uk

www.nytimes.com

www.timesofindia.com

www.wikipedia.org

This was a post I wrote in September 2010, almost 2 years later it is an avenue that is given a lot more thought. I thought I’d just update this post with recent developments.

Now its important to note that Bollywood isn’t just a hobby that prevents radicalisationit gives young Afghans a vision a sort of hope. Yes it is an escape considering the incredibly cheesy plots,  grandious heroes,  noble heroines and nasty looking villains,  in a dream sequence of song and color,  which would make any one used to Tarantino or the Cohen brothers cringe,  but its also a very strong culturally relevant argument for the rewards and possibilities that come with Modernism. The prospects of the developed world or the developing world may fuel some Afghans to work hard. Afghanistan could also be a potential setting to shoot movies. Bollywood usually shoots movies in the Alps, Australia, New Zealand etc, the natural beauty of Afghanistan can most certainly be exported to Bollywood.

Since my initial article, something that has to light were confidential wikileak cables sent by US diplomats in India. The cables suggest Bollywood starts could aid the International effort in Afghanistan. The cable spoke of “specific, concrete ideas for opportunities for India to use soft power in helping Afghanistan’s reconstruction.” and the US diplomats reffered to it as an area that “seemed ripe” adding “We understand Bollywood movies are wildly popular in Afghanistan, so willing Indian celebrities could be asked to travel to Afghanistan to help bring attention to social issues there. ” Lately there has been a rise in movies that preach anti-extremism. It is now a genre in Bollywood.

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