Global content, Indian style

Global content, Indian style

A new year is meant to be begun with resolutions. I choose to begin mine with rebellion. One of the diktats I have adhered to, so far, in my writing is to stick to Hindi and English movies. Tamizh movies, barring maybe Endhiran which being a Rajnikanth movie is probably a language by itself, have been kept out of the fray, not because of any parochial or regional bias, but, merely because of reach and relevance. I have been mulling over this aspect and realised that the kind of pieces I write are esoteric and abstract enough that the language of the movies that are part of it hardly makes a difference to whether you get to the end of them or not. Moreover, having been lucky enough to be exposed to the joys of subtitled cinema in a multitude of languages, I have started to strongly espouse the philosophy that movies, just like music, transcend languages. In that vein, allow me to introduce to you the movie Nandalala, directed by Mysskin. Mysskin is one among several exciting new talents in Tamizh cinema, possessing a directorial style, that is as unique as it is compelling, and bearing strong influences from world cinema. I added that last part with a lot of trepidation, firstly because in the Indian film industry, inspired and influenced are just euphemistic speak for blatant copying and secondly, and more importantly, Nandalala is kind of a homage to the Japanese movie Kikujiro. Having seen the latter, the similarity of key plot points and even specific visuals is so undeniably obvious that one would want to question this whole exercise of using the very essence of a film, adding embellishments, however original and significant they may be, and then calling it “your take” or a “homage”. That, however is not the intent of this article. What really interests me is how and why Nandalala chooses to diverge from Kikujiro. And through this illustration of differences, I shall touch upon the concept of ‘Glocalisation’ adopted both in cinema and commerce.

Basic difference

The basic premise of both movies is the road trip of two disparate, mismatched characters, a man and a child, both in search of their mothers. The first major difference is in the characterisation of the man. In Kikujiro, he is immature and irresponsible and there is absolutely no attempt to provide any reasoning or justification for this. In Nandalala, he is an escapee from a mental institution, which is automatically expected to explain his mannerisms and general behaviour, making it easier for the audience to sympathise and connect with him. Both movies also vary in how they choose to handle the central theme of the maternal bond, a staple sentiment of Indian cinema. While Kikujiro underplays these moments, giving equal weight to the growing relationship between the leads and often deviating into some distracting surreal dream sequence, Nandalala remains focused on their individual quests, making that emotional turmoil the centrepiece. The most significant difference between the two movies is closure. Kikujiro ends leaving issues unresolved, questions unanswered and meetings, that the audience yearns for, unmet. Nandalala on the other hand ties up a lot of loose ends rather conveniently and finishes on a rather pleasing note. When a foreign film is adapted or remade or reinterpreted or whatever you might want to call it, there is this tendency to make it Indian audience friendly. Even Ram Gopal Varma’s Sarkar which he called a tribute to the Godfather, added a lot of elements from contemporary Indian politics which made the movie more accessible than it would have been as a straight underworld adaptation. One might argue that this is not a forced or deliberate attempt, but, rather one borne out of the director’s natural sensibilities. However, one cannot deny that most directors are willing to compromise their craft so as to not alienate the audience. Much like when a multinational corporation enters a foreign nation and adapts its offering to suit the local target audience. It is not so much a compromise as a smart move that endears them to that population. It is this glocalisation that helps them survive and outdo local competition.

The most obvious examples of this are in the food industry. If you look at Mcdonald’s or Subway, their menus in India have a great degree of localisation. In the latter case, it is an act that belies its traditional reputation, considering it heavily markets itself in the United States as a healthier, calorie-conscious meal alternative. Expanding your market and increasing your sales often times requires you to evolve your core company philosophy. Whether it is foreign food for the Indian palate or foreign films for the Indian audience, it is essential to adapt it to local tastes to gain acceptance. If you expect either to sell, it is what they want to buy and not what you want to make that really matters.

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