How does Bollywood Impact the Indian Diasporic Nationalism?

Nationalism and Diasporic Nationalism

Nationalism is constructed socially and this is carried out through cultural tools such as religion, music, art, books and cinema. Bollywood is an important cultural tool of Indian nationalism and therefore it plays an important role in how the nationalistic values are socially constructed in the Indian populace. The concept of “nationalism” is an idea that has evolved with time. Benedict Anderson, in his book titled Imagined Communities asserts that nationalism is a “cultural artifact”. It is a socially constructed concept and amongst the cultural tools that construct it, cinema is  important . To understand diasporic nationalism, it is important to note that within the study of what different types of nationalism exist, two major aspects of the term ‘nationalism’ emerge. It is concerned with a) how the members of the nation perceive their national identity and b) and the activities that those individuals undertake in order to achieve self-determination. The former delves into the questions of the nation as a concept and national identity, which is understood through cultural ties and common origin. The latter is a phenomenon that comprises an individual’s process of asserting their authority over the national identity. 

This can be employed to understand the implications of diasporic nationalism. Deriving from the aspects of nationalism mentioned above, we can understand the term diasporic nationalism, which Anderson terms as “long distance nationalism”. It can be defined as both the nationalistic identity of diasporic communities and the behaviour patterns of the diaspora of a country that wants to achieve authority over their nationalistic identity but cannot or do not want to leave their diasporic community. Anderson states that in order to understand the implications of any nationalism, it is important to understand how it came into being.

To understand the origin of the Indian diaspora, it can be grouped into three waves – the First, Second and Third Wave. The First Wave includes the people who migrated in the 1830s as slaves for cheap labour during colonial rule. The Second Wave consisted of transients who shifted out to the neighboring nations as craftsmen, merchants, and labourers in factories, looking for jobs and sustenance in an industrial global environment. The Third Wave of diaspora included professional and well educated elites of India, who went out looking for financial improvement in the most developed nations like the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada. The concept of diasporic nationalism is understood in this essay with respect to this Third Wave of migrants because their shift took place around the 1960s, which is also the time when Bollywood as an industry experienced rapid growth.

Indian Diaspora and Bollywood

The Indian Diasporic communities of the third wave have a ‘global’ outlook on life. They commend their diasporan character by sharing their Indian cause. The sentiment of discrimination and difficulty is at lower level when contrasted with the first and second diasporians. These third wave communities are exceptionally aware of how they contribute to the life, economy and culture of both the host country and of India. In Imagined Communities, Anderson asserts that nationalism is neither a ‘false consciousness’ nor a rigid coherent ideology. He argues that in the age of industrialization, ‘print-capitalism’ is a major source for the spread of nationalism. This also applies to the case of Indian diasporic nationalism and explains why Bollywood, the biggest cinema producing industry of India, plays an important role in constructing diasporic nationalism.

Bollywood movies about the Indian Diaspora in the third wave carefully construct the image of an ideal diasporic community. Generally the diasporic experiences are based on the “pain of adjustment, trauma of being uprooted, agony, and discrimination based on race. However, in this third wave Indian diaspora, the exclusive component is the romantic ideals of nostalgia”. Bollywood taps into this romanticism in order to inculcate a radical form of love for the nation amongst the diasporic community.  I will explain this through two movies – Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) and Namastey London (2007).  These two movies are good examples of how the image of ideal Indian diasporic communities is constructed in Bollywood through two opposite methods.

DDLJ uses a positive construction where the characters of Raj and Simran are portrayed as the ideal diasporic individuals. The ideal diaspora, even though modern in its lifestyle, is rooted in traditions of the nation. Raj may drink beer and attend western parties with his friends, but when it comes to the ‘important’ aspects of life like marriage; he will adhere to the strict cultural norms of the country. He will marry Simran only if he receives the permission from her father to do so. Similarly, Simran may wear western outfits and attend parties during her Europe trip but at home she wears the Indian attire. Additionally, she upholds conservative values by refusing to share a room with a man she is not married to, until the cold forces her to. The movie uses its characters to show what the ‘good’ diaspora should be. 

Namastey London, on the contrary, constructs diasporic nationalism by showing what the ideal diaspora should not be. It negatively constructs the ideal diaspora image. The protagonist Jasmeet, or Jazz, is devoid of any good Indian values and has entirely internalized the British identity in the way she lives. She clearly mentions in one scene that she identifies as a British. The movie demonizes her character and portrays her journey from good to bad where Arjun, a nationalist punjabi villager plays the most crucial role in influencing her to become a good person, that is, someone who complies with the conservative norms of an Indian society and respects and loves the country before anything else. 

Therefore, through movies about third wave migrants from India, Bombay cinema plays an important role in conveying what diaspora nationalism should look like in its ideal form. Now while there is a big role played by these movies in influencing the sentiments and behaviours of the diaspora communities, making them more ‘nationalistic’, it is important to understand that they play an equal role in influencing the nationalism of the residents of the country. Patricia Oberoi, in her paper titled “The diaspora comes home: Disciplining desire in DDLJ” explains this by saying that

“with DDLJ, their problems of being Indian in a foreign setting are projected as our problems of identity as well. Conversely, our problems of constituting a ’moral universe’ of family relations are seen to be their problems as well. That is, the challenge of being (and, more importantly, remaining) Indian in a globalised world is one that must be met equally by those who stay at home and those who live abroad.”

Therefore, movies which are specifically about the diaspora inculcate nationalistic values and are a separate form of cultural tool that Bollywood uses to spread nationalism.

Conclusion

Bombay Cinema has an impact on nationalism of the Indian diaspora in two ways – a) through regular films and b) through films about diaspora. The former works in similar ways as it does for residents. Due to its massive industrial size, it is Bollywood which is the Indian cinema that has the maximum reach to those living abroad. The latter happens through films which teach the diaspora how it should behave, as explained in this article. From a psychological lens, the trauma of separation from homeland and the increased need to belong to the national identity makes members of diasporic communities more susceptible to the acceptance of nationalistic narratives that are constructed in mass media such as Bollywood. 

Maleeha Fatima is a graduate student pursuing a Masters in Liberal Studies from Ashoka University, Sonipat. She is currently also a Research Associate at the Trivedi Center for Political Data.

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