Colombia, a nation with a population of about 46 million, is, like many South American countries, known for its love of football.
Less well-known is its passion for Bollywood – one of India’s dominant cultural forces – which has triggered a sort of cultural invasion in a country thousands of miles away.
“Bollywood films find a suitable ground in Colombia because of the things we have in common,” says Roberto Restrepo, a Colombian documentary director and producer based in Bogotá. “For instance, we, like Indians, are not an individualistic-orientated society.
"For us, family is more important than individual interests. We share such values, and so Colombians find it appealing to see them on screen and they are usually displayed in Indian films," adds the filmmaker, whose documentary about the river Ganges, Jala – A Journey Through the Senses of Water, is due to be released soon.
With their romantic and dramatic themes, foot-tapping songs and emphasis on family values, Bollywood films have conquered the hearts of Colombians, now some of the biggest fans of Indian movies in Latin America.
Cristhian Salamanca, the president of the Bogotá-based Amigos de India (Friends of India) association, agrees.
"Movies from India get a lot of attention, he says. "Many people in Colombia are aware of the Bollywood style of storytelling." Promoting cultural exchange
Amigos de India, which has the support of the Indian embassy, aims to promote friendship between the two countries. The association, one of the biggest Spanish-speaking groups promoting Indian culture, hosts cultural activities, organises Bollywood dance shows and screens movies to raise the profile of the genre and feed the growing demand for all things Bollywood.
“We are working to bring more Indian movies to Colombia by next year,” Salamanca says.
Reflecting on the cultural influence of Indian films, Claudia Vega, the co-founder of Amigos de India, says Bollywood – filled as it often is with themes of joy and love – not only “offers an escape mechanism to a weary audience” but can also help reignite a love of family values.
“In the past five or six years, Bollywood has started to gain more and more fans in Colombia,” Vega says. “A few local channels also telecast Bollywood movies. Colombia can be a good market for Indian movies because of the family values shown in them.”
“For most Colombians, Bollywood is a magical world where there is only joy and love,” says Katherine Z Cristancho, a passionate proponent of Bollywood-style dance and a fan of the actresses Kajol and Rani Mukerji. “The themes, especially romantic dramas and musicals, have a mass following among the younger generation.”
The popularity of Indian cinema in Colombia has shot up noticeably in the past few years, despite a small Indian population in Colombia of about 250.
This is reflected in the fact that 15 Bollywood films were screened at the 2007 Bogotá Film Festival. In 2009, India was the guest of honour at the festival. In August, an exclusive premiere of The Lunchbox, starring Irrfan Khan, was organised in Bogotá by Amigos de India.
A big song and dance
Colombians love Bollywood-style dance, says Cristancho, and the genre is a hit with Colombian girls because of the “typical choreography, full of gestures and sentiments”.
Natalia Giraldo Serrano, a Colombian Bollywood dancer and teacher who goes by her professional name of Shanti Svadasi, says she gets a steady flow of students keen to learn the fusion art of Bollywood dance.
“I think Colombians really relate to Bollywood love stories, and dances and choreographies are very energetic – Latin people love energetic dances,” she says.
“Bollywood dances give Colombian girls an opportunity to enjoy their femininity with something different from belly dance.”