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The West embraces Bollywood's influences more than ever

India's film and fashion industries are being championed by cultures across the globe, particularly within the West.
The Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan.
The Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan.

India's film and fashion industries are being embraced by cultures across the globe, particularly within the West: from Lady Gaga and Uma Thurman donning Indian garments, to Oprah Winfrey making a much-publicised visit to the country where she socialised with Bollywood's royal family, the Bachchans, to Arnold Schwarzenegger claiming he wants a career in the Hindi-language film industry.

"Bollywood has always been an influence in the West," says the BBC Asian Network entertainment reporter Shabnam Mahmood. "From the early days, its films were shot in Russia and all over Europe, so people were aware of Bollywood, but it wasn't as big as it is now."

It wasn't until the release of Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning film, Slumdog Millionaire, that the global audience truly took notice.

"Here was a British director taking on Indian culture. It made people aware of Bollywood music. If you ask people what song they remember from the film, it's Jai Ho - especially when girl band Pussycat Dolls adapted the song so well," Mahmood says, referring to AR Rahman's composition that topped international music charts.

Soon, other musicians from the West, like Akon and Kylie Minogue, expressed their interest to collaborate with Bollywood's talents.

"All of a sudden they wanted to know, what's that Bollywood all about?" says Mahmood.

India's fashion scene has also been influential, according to the freelance stylist and fashion editor Charlotte Kewley.

"If you look at the catwalk, Sarah Burton, who designed Kate Middleton's dress and is the head designer at Alexander McQueen and probably the single designer who's really influencing today's fashion, has taken a lot of inspiration from Bollywood with her jewellery collection of panjas," a type of Indian hand jewellery, Kewley says.

"I feel that more people are being influenced by India's fashion because Sarah Burton has incorporated it into her collection."

Kewley describes India's clothing and accessories as "glamorous and happy".

"I don't think you can be sad wearing them," she says, and adds that India's colourful culture inspires the creativity and imagination of international designers.

"It gives them a lot to play with, such as the different fabrics. Western fashion is very tailored and already glamorous. However, Bollywood gives it more scope," she says.

"I think it's great when people mix cultures - it can only be a positive thing."

Many celebrities have tried and tested the "Bollywood look", like Thurman, who dons a salwaar kameez, a traditional South Asian outfit, in her five-episode guest stint on the new television series Smash.

It may only be a matter of time until more Bollywood actors begin to make their mark in Hollywood.

"Anil Kapoor has done fantastic, starring with Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 4," says Mahmood. "He has been adopted by the West."

Kapoor, who also starred in Slumdog Millionaire, could be credited for opening the door for other Indian actors to be featured in Hollywood.

Amitabh Bachchan, India's best-known actor, will be starring in Baz Luhrmann's forthcoming F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, The Great Gatsby, alongside the actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. The film is set for release in December.

"It's great for our own people to see our role models making it into Hollywood, too," says Mahmood. "It globalises. It brings people together. Bollywood is bringing everyone together."

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Published: April 10, 2012 04:00 AM


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