Here’s to a whole new form of protectionism. The Indian film industry is reportedly so threatened by Hollywood’s big budget extravaganzas that it has taken to petitioning the ministry of information and broadcasting to ban Hollywood from dubbing its blockbusters in Indian languages. They assert that the availability of The Three Musketeers in Tamil or Telugu kills the chances of our home-grown films at the box office, because people would much rather see Orlando Bloom pull a really poor approximation of the Duke of Buckingham than watch Salman Khan play yet another version of himself. Oh, wait -- actually, they won’t.
That Indian films remain the dominant source of motion picture entertainment across the country only buttresses the absurdity of asking for a ban against making a product more accessible to larger numbers of people. It is – or should be – irrelevant that it is only the rare Hollywood release that captures the imagination of the Indian public. If Indian audiences were to start displaying a preference for the slicker (if not better) fare that emerges from Hollywood, it would be up to Indian producers, directors and screenwriters to lift their game without any assistance from the government. The government already has too much of a say in what makes it onto cinema screens across the country via the censor board; it is scarcely necessary to give them another weapon in their arsenal to protect our delicate sensibilities from the corrupting influence of the dastardly West.
A file photo of Hollywood actor Orlando Bloom (Bloomberg)
A lot of the hand-wringing has centered on Hollywood’s deeper pockets, which, in theory, gives major studios like Sony and Universal an edge in marketing their films in India. But the solution to that is to attempt to form alliances that would allow Indian filmmakers to match the marketing budgets of the major studios, or at least to compete with them on a more equal level. Most major Hollywood studios now have India operations; surely, partnering with them would take care of both the money problem and the concerns over competition? This is discounting the fact that home-grown production houses have a distinct advantage in their understanding of the Indian market, both in terms of the kind of content that appeals to the Indian moviegoer and the most effective ways to market a movie so that it gets as big an opening as possible.
Surely industry bigwigs can see what a dangerous precedent such a ban would set? The smaller regional film industries could use the same logic to insist that Hindi films not be dubbed in Bengali or Tamil to prevent competition with their local films. Besides, it is not as though international production houses would take such a ban lightly. Where would this all end?