The name Bollywood, which combines Bombay with Hollywood, has long been a controversial construct. New York Times language guru William Safire traces it to crime fiction writer H. R. F. Keating, who first used it in 1976. The culturally disparaging name suggested that the Hindi film industry was a derivative of the American film industryÃÂthe Third World clone of its infinitely more powerful, artistic, and glamorous Western counterpart. Hindi film actors and filmmakers have persistently objected to it, but Bollywood was picked up and popularized by the Indian film press. The coinage passed into popular usage (in 2001, it was included in the fifth edition of the Oxford English Dictionary) and became, over the years, a global brand. Like Yoga or the Taj Mahal, Bollywood is shorthand for India.
There are many Indias. The country is the seventh-largest globally in terms of size, with the second-largest population. It has twenty-three officially recognized languages and 2,000-odd dialects. It is home to multitudes of religions and has the third-largest Muslim population in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan. India is a nation of extremes where affluence, progress, and education are matched by poverty, backwardness, and illiteracy. Disparate centuries exist side by side. In Mumbai, the largest slum in Asia is separated only by a ten-minute car ride from a five-star hotel where Louis Vuitton bags are showcased in the lobby and meals cost several hundred dollars. Both are valid Indian realities. In his book From Midnight to the Millennium, author Shashi Tharoor asks, ÃÂWhat makes so many people one people?ÃÂ
One answer is Bollywood. Hindi films function as a global glue, binding together Indians across gender, geography, religion, and age. This includes the estimated 20 million non-resident Indians scattered across 110 countries. For them, Hindi movies are an umbilical cord to the motherland. Second- and third-generation immigrants watch Hindi movies with subtitles because they can no longer speak the language. Bollywood is a primary and sometimes solitary link to an exotic ancestral homeland that they have heard of but perhaps never visited. In cities like New York and London, they flock to nightclubs for Desi nights, where Indian DJs play Bollywood remixes. In fact, Bollywood is no longer the shabby, slightly embarrassing country cousin that the parents insist on bringing home. Hindi films are trendy. So is India.
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