Africa's love affair with Bollywood

The Indian diaspora in Africa—many of them on the continent for generations—keep in touch with their roots through the films of Bollywood, the Hindu film industry based in Bombay.

What is odder is that many Africans also watch the films, even though they do not understand a word of the dialogue.

“There’s never any obscenity, or gratuitous violence—you can watch them with the children,” explained Issa, a 50-year-old teacher in Ouagadougou.

That crucial difference from Hollywood films makes the Indian movies popular among Africa’s large Muslim community.

Women say they love the films for their tender love stories. “Two lovers singing… pink fields, a blue sky… that makes you dream,” explained Dieneba, a 22-year-old Ouagadougou student.

“Here, you’re lucky if a man offers you a wilted flower.”

Johnny Spencer Diop, a distributor in Dakar, says the Senegalese “adore” Bollywood films because they identify with the actors.

He likens them to South American soaps which have won the hearts of Senegalese television-watchers. The Bollywood films compete head-to-head with kung-fu action movies, and admission prices are often far cheaper than for

Hollywood epics.

Entry to a Bollywood film in Senegal is around 50 cents, against close to five dollars for a Hollywood movie.

“All my spare cash goes on watching Indian films.
I don’t understand any Hindi, but I learn the songs by heart,” said Fatou, a 20-year-old yoghurt-seller in Ouagadougou, the Burkina Faso capital.

In some countries the audiences are growing, but in others they are slipping: In Ivory Coast, the cinemas that showed Bollywood films 10 years ago have become evangelistic churches, and in Sierra Leone and Ghana, Nigerian films have supplanted those from Bollywood.

In Libreville, the cinema that showed Indian films closed down three years ago, but they are fondly remembered.

“The music, the dancing, and then these tales of reincarnation, they were great,” said Tina Padonou, a 27-year-old secretary in Libreville.

“Lots of people, especially Moslem immigrants from Cameroon and Nigeria, came to watch the films with their children because the love scenes are discreet.”

Said Blaise Makassa, a Congolese computer technician in Libreville: “I didn’t like these stories about snakes and magic canes, but I loved the way the Indian women danced.”

The Bollywood Oscars—the International India Film Academy (IIFA) awards—will be presented on Saturday in South Africa, where Bollywood films are enjoying a groundswell of support among all sectors of the population.

Virtually the entire galaxy of the Hindi film industry, led by legendary star Amitabh Bachchan, the Khan trio of Shahrukh, Salman, Saif Ali, and numerous other popular actresses, producers and directors will attend the ceremony at Northgate, just north of Johannesburg.

Pat Pillay, of Ster Kinekor, a South African movie chain which pioneered the showing of Bollywood films on the mainstream cinema circuit two years ago, says audiences are growing across all sectors.

“These movies are now showing alongside the best that Hollywood has to offer at our busiest sites country-wide. Bollywood is no longer relegated to the small, independent movie-houses in the remote parts of our country,” Pillay said.

He attributed this to easy access to Bollywood films in shopping malls, an aggressive media and marketing strategy, and the use of English sub-titles.

The success of Lagaan, nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2002, and the premiere of Devdas at the Cannes Film Festival last year boosted the popularity of Indian films among non-Indians in South Africa.

Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham, (Sometimes Happy, Sometimes Sad) outgrossed “Titanic”, the Hollywood blockbuster at the time, in its first six weeks in South Africa on a per print calculation. - Sapa-AFP

Client Media Releases