If you ask a 6 year old who is a 3rd generation Indian living outside India as to what they know of India, they are probably going to say Shahrukh Khan, Salman Khan or a song from a movie. This to me is an attempt to convey the new sense of Indianess—a creative expression away from cultural nationalism. For a large number of Indian Americans, British Indians and families of Indian origin around the world, bollywood cinema is the new ‘cultural merger’ that they relate and engage with— the Bollywoodized (or Tollywoodized) version of Indian films. In many cases, they are 2-3 generations removed from India.
The need for Indian space may be a reason the Indian community of immigrants started with weekend screening of popular Indian cinema way back in 80s for them to flock together and wear traditional clothes, speak in Hindi and regional languages and take part in rituals that connected them to ‘home’. There was a spurt in the number of Indian grocery stores during this period owing to this change. It is interesting to observe that these grocery stores also distributed Indian film video cassettes (also made available on rent).
While Bollywood has its role in defining the Indianess, there are different linguistic bands in diverse settings of the Indian Diaspora (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, and so on in Srilanka, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji, Norway, South Africa, etc.) that engage with different regional cinemas. The fiery expansion of Bollywood culture and media junction is also tapping into the non-Indian viewer. Take a look at the ‘reception’ of Bollywood in cultural shows staged by the second/third generation Indian youth in different parts of the world. I might be separated from someone in Kuala Lumpur by generations, regional languages and customs, but I have Amitabh Bachchan in common with them. To me, it spotlights what truly binds different generations of people of Indian origin across the globe, all 29 million or so of them. It is the culture expressed through Indian movies, songs and dances.
The reflection of such ethnic spectacle can be seen at the School and University levels in the US, UK and rest of the world. It’s customary to see a high-energy performance by gen-x Indians setting up the stage to a latest peppy Punjabi number or an equally invigorating remix!
For touching base on Indian-ness and its diverse roots, I would say Bollywood connects and it has created its very own Diaspora!