Stuck on a housing estate in Semarang during the rainy season of '01, I found myself watching a lot of T.V. Via programs chosen by Maman and Taufik, my hostess's servants, I realised that "Bollywood" (or the Hindi-language film industry based in Mumbai,) was providing entertainment for many Indonesians. Every few minutes a shampoo ad would flash across the screen featuring a male celebrity with dandruff free, glossy hair. A popular Indonesian actor I thought but no, upon enquiry it turned out to be none other than Shah Rukh Khan - a Bollywood superstar. Dangdut singers clearly singing in Indonesian not Hindi but outfitted in saris and wearing bindis also made for some interesting viewing. Then of course there were the Bollywood films dubbed in Indonesian running for close to 3 hours and longer if commercial breaks were included.
Upon closer observation, I realize my first impressions were quite accurate. Bollywood is quite popular in Indonesia. The Hindi film "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" (1998) was a bigger box office success than the "Titanic" when it was screened in Indonesia and when the same film was shown on T.V. (2002), ratings " shot through the roof". In 2002 three major Bollywood stars appeared in concert at Hall C Pekan Raya, in Jakarta before an audience of approximately 2 thousand wealthy people. Tickets for the extravaganza ranged from 600 thousand to 3 million rupiah ($100 - $500 AU) and there was live coverage by INDOSIAR across the archipelago.
From a western perspective a high level of interest in the concert is amazing because Bollywood actors don't actually sing the songs. On stage and on screen they mime numbers that are sung by professional singers. Photos of the film stars, however, are used to market tapes and CDs so they glamorously appear on the soundtrack covers. Every major Indonesian CD and VCD outlet has a "filem India / Bollywood" section that caters for local tastes. Generally, Indonesian retailers were surprised that I wanted to buy Bollywood movies because one needs to understand Hindi or be able to read Indonesian subtitles to follow them. In describing the Bollywood trend, I am mindful of the fact that many Australians are not familiar with the Indian "masala movies" which have a large fan base throughout Asia. Australian audiences have seen films like "Bend It Like Beckham", "The Guru" even, "Monsoon Wedding". These all contain Bollywood motifs but are pitched at western audiences.

A good description of the "genuine article" is as follows....."To an audience reared on mainstream American products, [the] rich mixture (masala) of action, romance, comedy and drama may sometimes be hard to swallow in one sitting. A ...fight will segue into a song, a battle will be interspersed with slapstick humour and a movie that began as a whimsical romance, could end up as a full overblown tragedy. All these elements are very much present in the cinema of Bollywood, however it is not the alienating mess you might expect but rather an invigorating cinematic celebration..." (Neil Smith BBCiFilm Reviews 2001). So it is that for western audiences, the dynamics of Hindi films present an obstacle to viewing "comfort".

Indonesian audiences are obviously prepared to accept the improbabilities ofof Bollywood storylines and to enjoy the colour, rhythms and sentimentality of these films. Admittedly, a lot of the more popular ones centre on the lives of extremely wealthy Punjabi families in India and abroad. Mansions, expensive cars and designer labels abound in stories that revolve around love triangles, love at first sight and parental approval / disapproval. That many Indonesians viewers should like romance and escapist fare is not unusual. After all, it's what people the world over like to watch.

The point I wish to make is that there are many types of Bollywood movies; horror films, action-police dramas, war movies and even science fiction. However, as the popularity of "Kuch, Kuch Hota Hai" suggests it's the "family love story" type that is favoured by Indonesians (and Indians too it would seem). The darker, more intense films that do not attempt "to ingratiate themselves with the audience" do not seem to be as popular. This is not surprising when one considers the number of "soapies" that appear daily on Indonesian T.V. Melodrama is obviously appealing.

Furthermore, Bollywood styled "family love stories" are different to their Hollywood counterparts. There is a greater emphasis on the extended family, ritual, patriarchy and filial duty. Even "modern families" appear to be very traditional by our standards. Mothers and grandmothers play significant roles. It was interesting to see that two "celluloid" mothers, elderly actresses who played significant mother roles in their careers, were honoured at this year's Fanfare Awards which are a little like the Bollywood Oscars or Golden Globes. In a recent Bollywood thriller the vengeful spiritof a murdered girl is "talked out of" doing greater harm by her loving mother. This is a rather bizarre take on what Bollywood mothers do; they conciliate, and reconciliation rather than rebellion is the preferred way. I feel that many Indonesians may find Bollywood's rather conservative portraits of family life easier to identify with, or perhaps, more satisfactory viewing than Hollywood's emphasis on nuclear or single parent families where"dysfunction" is far less readily repaired.

Family values aside, there is one other aspect of "Kuch, Kuch Hota Hai" that Indonesian audiences would have enjoyed. It's the fact that the story unfolds from the perspective of a cute little girl. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that "Indonesians love children"; many travelers will tell you this is so. The movie "Petualangan Sherina" (2000) featuring child singing star Sherina Munaf was immensely successful in Indonesia as are the many T.V. musical programs featuring singing, dancing, ultra-cute youngsters in bright, modern outfits. One such singing sensation, Joshua, although clearly no longer a child, is still desperately clinging to his "little boy" image as he advertises Susu Indo-Milk, cough syrup and numerous other products on T.V. So it was that Bollywood's "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai" (Something Happens [in my heart]) managed to attract a huge Indonesian following with its emphasis on good family values, children, love and true to Bollywood tradition - its substantial musical interludes.

There is more than a tenuous link between the music of Bollywood and Indonesia's dangdut. Apparently, there has been a trend of taking Hindi songs, popular melodies from Bollywood movies, and putting Indonesian lyrics to them so that they are reincarnated as dangdut numbers. This is possible because the instruments and rhythms of both styles are compatible. Hindi music therefore, sounds very familiar and pleasant to many Indonesians serving to intensify the Bollywood film viewing experience for them.

Hindi movies are shown about twice a day on different channels. Along withthese very long films there is a steady supporting stream of T.V. infotainment including items such as gossip, ceremonies and new movies. Bollywood infotainment is also presented in magazines like "Tabloid Bollywood" or "Majalah Chitra" and in daily newspapers. On the radio many FM stations broadcast Hindi music, information and requests as well as Bollywood influenced dangdut. (Khan, N.S.)

I discovered Bollywood on Indonesian T.V. and really enjoy it. When I teach a unit on Indonesian media to middle and senior secondary school students, I show segments of Bollywood films (subtitled in Indonesian) and my students love watching them too. Sometimes I feel teachers present a really distorted view of Indonesian entertainment because we are so keen to instruct our students about Indonesian culture. We teach about wayang, gamelan, dance-dramas - all the traditional forms of entertainment with artistic / ceremonial overtones. Then we study some old films like "Kartini" or "Langitku Rumahku" so our teenage students might well be excused for thinking that Indonesians have rather weird, old fashioned tastes. Bollywood films are contemporary, upbeat and their entertainment value in instantly identifiable.

In emphasising cultural differences I feel we can alienate rather than attract younger language learners. There need to be points at which students can identify with the other culture; points where their interests or emotions are engaged. Via a few well chosen Bollywood clips, students quickly appreciate the fact that Indonesians enjoy watching good looking actors, who move well, in dramatic love stories which would appeal to Australian teenagers. They see western trends in their Bollywood transmutations and may realize how they have taken on a different character. (Much the same way as western trends change when interpreted by Indonesians.) The Bollywood style is very direct and larger than life so that 20 minutes worth of carefully selected footage, can make a neat, powerful statement. It's an "eye-opener" in more ways than one.


Khan, N. S. - Popularity of Hindu Movies in Indonesia . 2003 - 04

Smith, Neil - BBCi Film Review 22 Oct. 2001

NOTE: The Indonesian film hit "Ada Apa Dengan Cinta?" (2001) also has teen appeal.


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