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Research Article Open Access

When Local Meets Lucre: Commerce, Culture and Imperialism in Bollywood Cinema

Abstract

Bollywood, the most commercially successful form of Indian cinema, presents an interesting contradiction in terms. It consciously mimics some American norms but mines Indian culture for the success it enjoys among diasporic networks of South Asians. In its avowal of nationalism and cultural tradition, it presents a significant challenge to American domination of international film and culture. However, it is too simple to say that Bollywood represents an assertion of cultural independence in the face of an imperialist challenge, as Bollywood films themselves replicate patterns of cultural domination, primarily marketing Hindi-language films to an enormous community characterized by a high level of linguistic diversity. In order to move beyond the complex question of whether or not Bollywood can be seen as a symbol of resistance, this paper investigates how hybridity may explain Bollywood films’ widespread and enduring popularity, allowing viewers to accommodate the reality of exposure to different cultures. India is home to a varied and thriving film industry, spread across various regions, catering to different tastes and languages. In commercial terms, however, the most successful segment of the Indian film industry is the one referred to as Bollywood. While the name itself implies a self-conscious attempt to mimic American norms, the reality of Bollywood cinema is that its continued success within India and among diasporic networks of South Asians presents a significant challenge to American domination of international film, and more broadly, international culture. Rather than representing cultural independence in the face of an imperialist challenge, however, Bollywood demonstrates that hegemony can operate at more than one level. Bollywood films not only ape selected Hollywood tendencies in terms of production, writing and marketing, they also reproduce patterns of cultural domination, primarily marketing Hindi-language films to a diverse community whose languages include Bengali, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil, among others. It becomes difficult to reconcile this image of a monolithic entertainment industry with the notion of an indigenous culture that successfully demonstrates resistance in the face of hegemonic oppression. This paper examines whether the idea of hybridity may explain the ongoing popularity of mainstream Indian cinema with people of South Asian origin, allowing them to maintain a commitment to traditional values while acknowledging the importance of an Americanized global culture in their lives.

Faiza Hirji

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