Trivial Matters, or "darling Akshay," as he is known 'round these parts, alerted me to an article in Outlook India in which wordsmith (right, Filmi Geek?) Javed Akhtar proposes that because they so borrow and synthesize cultural elements from across the nation, and are made by a crew of people from various places and religions, Hindi films are the country's greatest common language - and constitute a culturally ecumenical state of the union in which everyone can (and does) participate.
Here is the first page of the section of the article on Hindi films (it starts in the fourth paragraph down and then continues on the next page for another paragraph). It's worth noting that the only direct quote from Akhtar is the introductory idea: "There is one more state in this country, and that is Hindi cinema." None of the explanation or expansion of this idea is attributed to him; it all comes as an excerpt from a forthcoming book The Miracle That is India by Ramachandra Guha. Does anyone know if this comes from a longer statement or larger context shared by Akhtar elsewhere?
I don't feel I know enough about recent Indian history to weigh in on this - and as a non-Indian, I don't think it's particularly important that I have an opinion. As a filmi fan with a personal and professional interest in topics of culture and identity, though, I'm definitely intrigued. My preliminary thoughts are that idea of Bollywood as the pan-Indian cultural mosaic (as my adopted homeland of Canada might say) is both a little bit brash and cheerfully tempting. Though I spend no energy seeking out or engaging with the opinions of people who actively dislike Hindi films at anything more significant than the personal taste level, even I can easily imagine people thinking "Oh no he didn't!" given, for example, the taint of corruption and immorality that some see in the film industry and some of its products and players. On the other hand, as a fan, I can imagine it being quite tempting to get to elevate your passion from entertainment, performance, and/or shared stories (and the values and ideas they comprise) to Indian Culture Itself.
In the words of one of America's greatest popular cultural ties that bind, "discuss amongst yourselves."
to post (May 11, 2007): An expanded version of this post is up at Desicritics.