Adding a new recipe into a fixed menu often comes with a calculated risk. But when one introduces a dish from a cuisine that has never been served before, he would promptly be greeted with raised brows. Similarly, until September 1 2011, no one had attempted to offer the intricate tastes of an Indian movie to a widespread Hong Kong audience. If one were to even think of screening a Bollywood movie, his bubble would bust before even forming.
With Indians being the fifth largest ethnic group in Hong Kong, it has now only been a year since Indian movies started screening in the local cinemas. After China, the quota of non-local Asian films was largely taken by Taiwan, Korea and Japan, despite their sparser populations.
Sure, there were films like Bend It Like Beckham, Bride and Prejudice, and even the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, which each showed glimpses of Indians and their culture. However to see those films as representative of Indian cinema would be as erroneous as seeing a paratha as the representative of a Western omelette. Spiceless and adulterated, these familiar-yet-foreign films kept Hong Kong hungry for the true flavor an authentically Indian movie.
It then took the masterstroke of a genius – now aka idiot – to give the local audience their first taste of a full-fledged Bollywood movie. The guinea pig was intriguingly titled ‘Three Idiots’, and it was perhaps the greatest blessing-in-disguise that it didn’t come with a typically Indian title. From the very onset it was apparent that, for the very first time, the Hong Kong locals were the targeted audience of a Bollywood movie, rather than Indians. The promotional posters were made in Chinese, and the movie too was subtitled in their language. This was a real test of new waters, as most of the Indians had already seen the movie, and so couldn’t be relied for its local box office success.
What transcribed was an unprecedented run of seven months at the box office. The people of Hong Kong savored the taste of almost everything the movie offered – the colorful dresses, the songs and dances, and most importantly, the underlying message of striving more for excellence, than success. It was this very motto that is likely to have been the inspiration for EDKO, the film’s local distributors, to bring this film here. Rather than following the proven methods of success and bringing in a film from familiar a region, they risked their investments and presented what they felt was an ‘excellent’ film. Unsurprisingly, success chased them.
The locals took to the movie as a chef would to a new kitchen. The strong sense of identification and familiarity had them overwhelmed as they saw the rat race of their own lives come alive on screen. Every ingredient of commonality helped bridge several paths of differences between the two cultures, and from this success transpired another crucial message: the Hong Kong audience can welcome an Indian movie.
In the next few months there was a sudden surge of Indian movies across all Hong Kong cinemas from various distributors. Bollywood movies like ‘My Name is Khan’, ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ (‘You don’t get life a second time’), and ‘Delhi Belly’ each came to Hong Kong with their own Chinese titles and unique promotions heralded by their respective distributors. Stores like HMV also cashed in by bulking up their stock of (original) Indian audio CDs and DVDs. ‘Senorita’ and ‘Zoobi Doobi’ were songs not only heard in more clubs and Karaoke Bars, but they were also prominent in the MTR, as phone ringtones. Within the span of just one year, the local crowds of Hong Kong have had their fair bites of Bollywood, and this seems to have kept them only wanting more.
The next movie to arrive is ‘Kahaani’ (‘Story’). Expected to release in October, the success of this atypically songless Bollywood movie remains to be seen. With the ‘story’ of an expectant mother in search of her missing husband followed by a hair-raising, but inspired-from-Hollywood (‘Taking Lives’), climax, this may just be another spice that Hong Kong was yearning for. Regardless of how this movie gets digested, though, one can be rest assured that this won’t be the last Bollywood movie in Hong Kong cinemas.
Thereafter which movie is next on the distributors’ menu is anyone’s guess. It could be India’s official entrant for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2013 Oscars, ‘Barfi!’, or a popular masala like Ek Tha Tiger. Albeit unlikely, a movie like Jatt and Juliet, which was a record-smashing Punjabi movie, could also find its niche of fun-loving audience within the SAR terrains.
With the local taste buds now familiar to the varied quirks and spices of Indian movies, one looks forward to a more international fusion that would be offer at all Hong Kong cinemas. When we look back, we’ll have to thank that ‘idiot’ who dared to be different and didn’t blindly strive for success. If only we imbibed even a grain of this principle into our own lives, the flavor of our success would be of a completely different taste, and all we’d have left to say is: Aal izz Well.