2ndlook

Film Industry: American Muscle To Chinese Skeleton

Posted in China, Desert Bloc, Film Reviews, Pax Americana, Propaganda by Anuraag Sanghi on May 27, 2012

US and China gang-up to save their film industries.

Piracy by China on IP rights of Hollywood. Cartoonist Clay Bennett takes a swipe at China and Hollywood. Sourece & courtesy - claybennett.com  |  Click for source.

Piracy by China on IP rights of Hollywood. Cartoonist Clay Bennett takes a swipe at China and Hollywood. Sourece & courtesy – claybennett.com | Click for source.

Davids & Goliaths

The two biggest economies in the world, US and China have at least one ‘threat’ in common. And the threat is actually from much smaller economies.

US and China have allied to ensure that the threat is ‘managed’.

The Chinese and the US film industry have no answer for old warhorse Bollywood and the upstart Nollywood.

Between Bollywood and Nollywood, they occupy the Top-2 positions in the world film industry. Bollywood with little support from mainstream banks, and Nollywood with no support at all have left Hollywood and the Chinese trailing far behind.

Boom Time In China

Even though

Cinema in China is booming. In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan.  |  Image source & courtesy -  economist.com  |  Click for image source.

Cinema in China is booming. In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan. | Image source & courtesy – economist.com | Click for image source.

Cinema in China is booming (see chart). In 2010 box-office revenues grew by 64% to just over 10 billion yuan. More than 520 films were made—about as many as in America. Only India produces more. (via China’s film industry: Kung fu propaganda | The Economist).

What The Economist does not mention is that India alone produces as many as China and US together. And that Nollywood comes in at No.2 position.

Globalized and organized Hollywood is finding that Bollywood and Nollywood is increasing their leadership in viewer and production numbers – without the advantages that Hollywood has.

The only relief that Hollywood has, is from China.

Hollywood is already doing well in China. Blockbusters like Avatar have been hugely popular and foreign films – usually big-budget Hollywood fare – account for about half of the country’s box office takings.

For the past decade, China has only permitted 20 foreign films to be shown in cinemas. A new deal agreed last month allows a further 14 movies to be shown in cinemas, provided they are in Imax or 3D formats.

China is certainly rich in potential. Box office takings surged 29% to $2.1bn (£1.3bn) in 2011 and are expected to see similar growth in 2012. While that’s only a fraction of the $10.2bn taken at the US box office, US ticket sales are declining. (via BBC News – Hollywood plays China card as audiences dwindle at home).

In the last ten years, mainland China has promoted its domestic industry – and taken control of it. Using various front companies, the Chinese Government has bought out and put up studios that will increase production along Party lines.

Along the way, Chinese actors and directors have found traction in Hollywood. And Hollywood blockbusters have gained significant market share in China.

Where the Japanese have gone before

In turn China, with its bulging foreign exchange reserves has decided to take a stake in Hollywood. Much like the Japanese bought in Hollywood back in the 1990s. Sony into Columbia Tristar (1989) and Matsushita (in 1990, Matsushita Electric bought MCA+Universal Studios for $6.5 billion)

BEIJING — Hollywood studios, facing steep challenges in the North American movie market, are taking more interest in China.

The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Studios, a division of Disney’s Marvel Entertainment subsidiary, are producing “Iron Man 3” in China. An agreement with Chinese authorities will allow more American companies to distribute more movies and reap a greater share of the box office in China, the world’s fastest-growing economy.

But at least one billionaire businessman is betting that the American movie market is still the ticket to international success. And he is Chinese.

Wang Jianlin, a rags-to-riches tycoon, is taking over AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest movie theater chain behind Regal Entertainment. And he is promising to integrate it into a new, made in China, global brand called the Wanda Group.

Wanda is a private company in a nation dominated by state-owned enterprises. But the AMC deal is closely aligned with the Chinese government’s priorities, which include encouraging Chinese companies to “go global,” pushing an overhaul of Chinese media and entertainment properties and placing greater emphasis on consumer spending. Policy makers in Beijing also want to bolster China’s “soft power” capabilities to extend its cultural influence internationally, and the film industry is considered one of the most promising avenues for doing so.

Which raises the question: Why invest in the United States cinema market at a time of weakness, when box office receipts are sluggish and American film producers are looking to China?

Some analysts have suggested that Mr. Wang’s acquisition of AMC was political, an effort to curry favor with Chinese leaders, who are pushing their nation to enhance its influence by exporting cultural products. Others contend that Mr. Wang is eager to establish himself as China’s first global corporate chief.

But to pull off the deal, Wanda needed plenty of that: more than $3 billion in cash, including $500 million it has promised to invest in AMC in North America. In the end, much of the cash came from China’s big, state-controlled banks. (via China Tycoon Places Risky Bet on U.S. Movie Market – NYTimes.com).

Soft Power – China?

China’s expected rise as a global soft-power has been beset with unexpected difficulties and slower if not zero growth. From the time that Joseph Nye coined the term soft-power, China has been positioned, by Western media as the challenger to American (& Western) soft-power. To Western media, India, seemed like an unlikely candidate as Emerging Soft-Power, has been ranked highest among emerging economies.

But curiously, the more China tries to become a soft-power, the more incapable it finds itself. Most recently, the Chinese President, Hu Jin Tao, lamented the lack of Chinese soft-power – and cautioned the Chinese nation of the dangers from Western culture.

To add heft to China’s quest for soft-power, the Chinese film industry has been significantly supported by the Party and Chinese banks. Investments into construction of film exhibition theatres, studios, animation labs, have been liberal and copious. At the same time, severe restrictions have been on import of films – to twenty in a year, from all sources.

On left y-axis read the zero at top as 100. On the right y-axis, percenetages are based on 2005 as base year with 1 deal.

On left y-axis read the zero at top as 100. On the right y-axis, percentages are based on 2005 as base year with 1 deal.

In 2009, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television promulgated the Interim Provisions on the Qualification Access for Operating Film Enterprises, Interim Provisions on the Administration of Chinese-foreign Equity and Contractual Joint Ventures of Radio and Television Program Production and other policies in succession. In the capital operation process, Chinese film industry ushered in the market reform, mitigating the problem of capital shortage and vitalizing the market.

There has been a continuous increase in the number of Chinese home-made films since 2003. In 2009, the number hit 456, up 12.32% on a year-on-year basis. The year 2009 has been a banner year in the output of home-made films since 2006. In certain sense, the year 2009 was a critical period of development for Chinese film industry. In the very year, the gross revenue of the Chinese film market reached RMB10.67B, up 26.47% compared with RMB8.43B in 2008.

Huayi Brothers Media Group and Beijing Polybona Film Distribution Co., Ltd. (Polybona Films) are the leading private film bodies. Take Huayi Brothers Media Group as an example, under the flagship of Huayi Brothers Media Group, Huayi Brothers Pictures Co., Ltd. realized the complete industrial chain system from screenwriting, direction, filmmaking and marketing to distribution.

The films, including the Rabe’s Diary and The Message, which Huayi Brothers Media Group invested in and participated in the operation in 2009, acquired good box-office takings in succession. Furthermore, the film, such as Tangshan Earthquake and You Are the One 2, which Huayi Brothers Media Group invested in 2010, are expected to obtain the good box-office takings and worth waiting for.

On Oct. 30, 2009, Huayi Brothers Media Group listed on Shenzhen’s ChiNext Board. The rapid development of the private film bodies, including Huayi Brothers Media Group, Orange Sky Entertainment Group (International) Holdings Ltd. and Polybona Films, not only aggravated the market competition between state-owned film enterprises and private film bodies but also vitalized Chinese small-and-medium-budget film-making market.

The Chinese film-making market showed a sound development gradually. PE/VC took a wait-and-see attitude towards the Chinese film-making market in general. According to the latest China Film-making Industry Investment Research Report 2010 issued by Zero2IPO Research Center, there were 28 investment deals in Chinese film industry from 2005 to 2009, including 26 deals whose investment amount was disclosed with a total investment of US$256.00M and US$9.85M in average. There were nine investment deals in Chinese film industry in 2009, which has reached the peak since 2005. (via Investment in Chinese Film Market Strong in Words but Weak in Action – PEdaily.cn – Zero2IPO Group).

Since 2004, the number of Chinese animation production enterprises has been on the rise, with the number of enterprises engaged in the production of TV cartoons rising to 200 in 2010 from 15 in 2004. Meanwhile, a host of registered animation film production institutions have emerged, with the figure increasing to 68 in 2010 from 25 in 2008.  |  Caption & image via researchinchina.com

Since 2004, the number of Chinese animation production enterprises has been on the rise, with the number of enterprises engaged in the production of TV cartoons rising to 200 in 2010 from 15 in 2004. Meanwhile, a host of registered animation film production institutions have emerged, with the figure increasing to 68 in 2010 from 25 in 2008. | Caption & image via Global and China Animation Industry Report, 2011 – ResearchInChina.

Echoes from Japan

Interestingly, animation films in China have been a big success – unlike India. Vastly different from the traditional lines of Chinese films.

Keep in mind, that Japan is a big consumer of anime, gaming, cartoons. 

Kung Fu Panda, a 2008 American computer-animated action comedy film is enough proof of this.

“Kung Fu Panda,” the animated movie about a bear named Po with a passion for martial arts is a huge hit in China.

The film, from DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures, has already grossed more than $12 million after less than two weeks in release.

Globally, the movie has brought in $275 million (via ‘Kung Fu Panda’ is a success at the box office in China – The New York Times).

Was the success of Kung Fu Panda and its sequel, in China a flash in the pan?

Kung Fu Panda and its sequel are arguably the most successful Chinese-themed Hollywood movies to date, and the movie’s screenwriter, Glenn Berger, says Hollywood’s China infatuation is not necessarily a passing fad. (via BBC News – Hollywood plays China card as audiences dwindle at home).

Quiet Flows Buddhism

For long the Chinese needed and used Buddhist story props and ideas in Chinese films – especially made by the centurion Shaw Brothers – Run-Run and Run-Me. Based out of Hong Kong and later Singapore, the Shaw Brothers was the global face of Chinese cinema from 1950-2000. Devout Buddhists, their story-lines incorporated Japanese colonialism, Buddhist monks, great belief in the Chinese identity. Some Chinese dynasties like the Manchu, Ching and Mongol Yuan dynasty of the 14th century was a favorite target.

But in the last 10-15 years, the Buddhist monk has disappeared. Instead gangsters and underworld have become dominant themes in Chinese films.

The pre-occupation of Hollywood with death, war, violence, crime is well-known. Is that the way Chinese will ‘progress’?


Bollywood in Russia

Posted in America, Business, Feminist Issues, Film Reviews, India, Media by Anuraag Sanghi on January 29, 2012

Bollywood, as the Indian film industry has come to be known, leads the world in viewer numbers as well as production volumes. Soviet Russia was a key part of that story.

A Soviet film promotion poster featuring Raj Kapoor for Shree 420 | Image source & courtesy - timeoutmumbai.net | Click for image.

A Soviet film promotion poster featuring Raj Kapoor for Shree 420 | Image source & courtesy – timeoutmumbai.net | Click for image.

Baby steps to Big Daddy

For 2009, tickets sales for Hollywood films were numbered at 2.6 billion viewers. For Bollywood, the number was 3.6 billion.

A good 1 billion more.

More than the film-going population of USA, EU and Latin America put together. Against some 400 films that Hollywood releases each year, Bollywood releases 1200 odd films.

But it was not always like that.

Bollywood was post-colonial India’s first major export. In the 1950s, it had a huge following in the Soviet Union, India’s major ally. When leading man Raj Kapoor, a Charlie Chaplinesque tramp, and his heroine Nargis went to Moscow, they were mobbed by fans who shouted lines of songs from their movies, without understanding a word.

“Some years ago, when we started showing Bollywood movies in Toronto,” says Madeline Ziniak, vice-president of Omni-TV, “we were pleasantly surprised to find audiences in the Canadian Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Czech and Central Asian communities. We couldn’t believe it.” (via How Bollywood conquered the world… – Toronto.com).

Look back with surprise

Way back in 1954, when nearly a million Russian turned up at the Indian film festival in USSR, it seemed more like a flash in the pan.

Although Indian films caught on only after Stalin’s death in 1953, small steps to distribute them in the USSR were already being taken in the mid-1940s. Sovexportfil’m set up an office in Mumbai in 1946 to import films from India and ensure that Russian movies were shown here. The early preference was for socialist-themed movies: K Abbas’s Dharti Ke Lal was shown in Russian cinemas in 1949 and Chinnamul in 1951.

The watershed occurred in 1954, when a festival of Indian films, including Awara, was held in Soviet cities. Nearly a million people saw Indian movies within the first four days of the festival. From then, Indian movies, mostly in Hindi, were regularly distributed through theatres in the USSR. In all, 210 Indian films were shown in the USSR until 1991, of which about 190 were commercial Hindi movies.

Indian movies were embraced for a cluster of reasons. The “melodramatic genre’s explicit juxtaposition of exaggerated good and evil personages found a sympathetic audience”, she writes. The colourful characters, costumes, songs, dances and locations that typify the average Hindi film allowed viewers to indulge in “cinematic tourism”. Indian movies were “skazkas”, or fairy tales; they epitomised “byt” or personal space. Rajagopalan writes, “Byt was the realm of everyday life that remained untouched by ideology and was removed from if not opposed to the glorified realm of Soviet society.” An affinity seemed to exist between the Indian and the Soviet “dusha”, or inner world. Viewers felt that the situations depicted in Indian cinema were far closer to their own than those depicted in other foreign movies.

Over the years, Indian movies raked in the roubles. Love in Simla was the third biggest box-office hit in the USSR in 1963. In 1984, Disco Dancer had the highest audience turnout. Even as debates raged between fans and critics on the worthiness of Indian cinema, Soviet distributors knew that commercial films would guarantee financial returns.

Some explanations for this behaviour can be found in Sudha Rajagopalan’s engrossing book Leave Disco Dancer Alone! Indian Cinema and Soviet Movie-going After Stalin. Through research, interviews and questionnaires, Rajagopalan reveals the impact that Indian cinema had on the cultural life of (Soviet Russia). The book maps the period between 1954, the year after dictator Josef Stalin died, and 1991, the year the Soviet Union was disbanded.

“What inspired the book was really the fact that historians who have studied the former Soviet Union have looked at Hollywood and its reception among Soviet audiences, but it was news to many in my field that Indian films were an important feature of cultural life in the Soviet Union,” said the 37 year old historian. “So it was clearly a lacuna in historiography that needed to be filled.” (via Byt the bullet – Time Out Mumbai – parts excised for brevity. Supplied text underlined).

Most accounts of Bollywood in USSR seem to imply that Bollywood gained access to USSR because of political patronage. The official attention paid to India by the Soviet Bloc, aroused a mix of concern and envy from the West.

In fact, commercial success was the main reason. While the success of Awaara has had many tellings, Bollywood’s other successes are not known – at least in India.

After Awaara,

came the Indian saga about twin sisters, Seeta Aur Geeta (1972), a marvelous reminiscence of distant childhood. Children in Moscow courtyards tried to repeat the circus tricks of the brave heroine, Hema Malini. They copied her tightrope act and her daring manner of behaviour and speech. Indian cinema fans here still remember how one of the twins taught her wicked aunt a lesson. Songs from Indian movies were especially popular in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The fashion for disco dancing forced young Russians to view Indian cinema differently after the appearance of Disco Dancer (1982). The rags-to-riches story of an ordinary young Indian boy who manages to become a famous singer once again staggered the imagination of Soviet moviegoers. Mithun Chakraborty, the film’s star, replaced Raj Kapoor in the eyes of the new generation. Disco Dancer earned close to 60 mn roubles at a time when movie tickets cost 20-50 kopecks. The dance halls at Soviet summer resorts in the `80s resounded with the sounds of “I Am a Disco Dancer”. Some fanatics were capable of requesting the song ten times over. (via Bollywood returns to Russian screens | Russia Beyond The Headlines).

Problems in ‘paradise’

Financed and controlled by party bureaucrats of Soviet Russia, Soviet film production was seriously limited. But the demand for filmed entertainment from the paying Soviet public was greater than the domestic film production in Russia.

Unable to deal with commercial uncertainty, Soviet government resorted to imports of ready-made products. Imported films accounted for about 35% of ticket sales at the height of Brezhnev regime in 1970s.

Masha Salazkina, a writer who has covered Indo-Soviet film trade lists many co-productions with

Mithun Chakraborty and Shabana Azmi present for Mrinal Sen's film "Mrigayaa" - exhibited at the X Moscow International Film Festival.  Event date - 07/01/1977  |  Source & Credit: RIA Novosti  |  Click for source image.

Mithun Chakraborty and Shabana Azmi present for Mrinal Sen’s film “Mrigayaa” – exhibited at the X Moscow International Film Festival. Event date – 07/01/1977 | Source & Credit: RIA Novosti | Click for source image.

equal representation from each county in all functions, even up to the point of having two directors, one from each country. These coproductions were “meant to create films that would hybridize each culture’s favored motifs and narrative structures, in the hopes of creating truly popular films.” Here are all the Soviet-Indian coproductions she lists: Pardesi (Khozhdenie Za Tri Moray, 1957); Black Mountain (Chernaya Gora, 1971); Rikki Tikki Tavi (1975); Eastward, Beyond the Ganges (Voshod Nad Gangom, 1975); Alibaba and the 40 Thieves (1980); Sohni Mahiwal (Legenda O Lyubvi, 1984); Shikari (Po Zakonu Dzhunglei, 1991); and Ajooba (Chernyj Prints Adzhuba, 1991). Mere Naam Joker (1970) and Mother India (1957) are not listed because they were not full coproductions like the above films (via Minai’s Cinema Nritya Gharana: Indian Dances in Western Films about India: Part 4 (Coproductions).

Instead of large capital outlays that Hollywood and Russian films needed, Indian films earned profits for the Soviets.

Russians have been enjoying popular Indian melodrama and musicals since the first festival of Indian films in Moscow in 1954. In fact, box office statistics suggest that Indian movies were more popular than any other foreign films shown in the Soviet Union. In the period between 1954 and 1989, for example, while forty-one American and thirty-eight French movies attained “blockbuster” status (defined as selling more than 20 million tickets) in the Soviet Union, fifty Indian movies did the same. (via INDIAN FILMS IN SOVIET CINEMAS reviewed in Slavic Review).

For India, cultural exports were an unexpected feather in the cap. Even recently, till a few years ago, exports to Soviet region accounted for between 10%-15% of Bollywood’s overseas revenues.

Significantly, this was the largest source of revenues from non-Indian viewers.

Till around early the 1980s, the USSR accounted for export of up to 150-odd movies each year.

“However, after the disintegration of the country, Hollywood movies took over our market. We now send just four or five movies each year to these countries,” says a Mumbai-based distributor. With increase in interest in Indian movies in Russia in recent months, Parmeshwaran is confident of doubling exports to that country over the next one year. A major delegation of film-makers and producers from Russia is expected to visit the country in November this year. (via Entertainment industry targets new shores – Economic Times).

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood's growth is based on attracting viewers with a mix of values and vision, a huge talent pool, savvy business minds. Not imperial military might or overwhelming 'special effects', powered by raw money power  |  Image source & courtesy - tribune.com.pk  |  Click for larger source image.

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood’s growth is based on attracting viewers with a mix of values and vision, a huge talent pool, savvy business minds. Not imperial military might or overwhelming ‘special effects’, powered by raw money power | Image source & courtesy – tribune.com.pk | Click for larger source image.

With success comes envy … and imitation

After the break up of Soviet Russia, Bollywood remains a big draw in the Central Asia. All this success has also drawn its own share of backlash – like in Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc.

The Express Tribune (from Pakistan) reports

Indian movies are shipped to Uzbekistan from India and are translated into local languages. These movies are not just being showcased in cinemas but are also taking up airtime on local TV channels. “We watch Indian movies at home on TV and listen to Indian songs on the radio all the time,” he says.

Uzbeks are still drawn to the choreography and bright cinematography of Indian cinema. The proliferation of this infectious Bollywood glitz and glamour that continues to embed itself in the hearts of Uzbek women, men and youth is not going unnoticed by the government.

The government strictly controls the entertainment industry and has take measures to try and protect the industry.

President Karimov’s government is currently chalking out strategies to promote Uzbek movies at home over Indian movies. The government has written scripts and engaged the entertainment industry in its effort to reintroduce Uzbek youth to the country’s indigenous culture.

Today there are more than 50 private film studios in Uzbekistan that produce about 50 films a year.

The personality that seems to be embedded in the minds of most of today’s Uzbeks is that of Indian actor Mithun Chakraborty, who came to the country in 1980 to shoot Ali-Baba and the Forty Thieves. The movie, shot by an Uzbek film studio in collaboration with India, was one of the biggest international projects filmed in Uzbekistan during the Soviet era.

Obid Karimov, a local in Tashkent, says the ‘great movie’ also starred legendary Uzbek comedian Asomov and was one of the best-selling movies of all times in the Soviet Union in the 80s, and was watched by millions of viewers in USSR alone.

Although the country always embodied aspects of different cultures, what seems to be gaining popularity today are Bollywood hits.

“Bollywood is fantasy, and we love being a part of the journey, even if it’s just for a few hours,” says Obid. The Uzbek film industry, in an attempt to keep its audiences’ interest, has in fact started to elements of Indian films in their own productions. “The characters [in some recent Uzbek films] are larger than life just like in an Indian movie, but the ending is usually sad like a Russian drama,”adds Obid.

An official from the Pakistan Embassy in Uzbekistan says that the influence of Bollywood is “huge” (via Bollywood calling: The fall of Uzbekistani cinema – The Express Tribune).

In Russia (like in Pakistan), there are indications that families and women are more loyal to Bollywood films. With Bollywood busy promoting itself at Cannes, Canada and USA, stronger markets have been ignored by Bollywood.

In Brazil, a Bollywood style tele-novela, Caminho das Índias (Road to India), a TV soap opera based on Indian themes became a huge success – and stirred some controversy. Similarly in Russia, too, a prominent media group, Red Media has launched a Bollywood channel, which will air Bollywood-style content that the Russian studio will produce on its own.

President Dimitry Medvedev, , Yash Chopra, Shahrukh Khan at press conference.

President Dimitry Medvedev, , Yash Chopra, Shahrukh Khan at press conference.

Russia continues to love Indian cinema classics from the 1960s and 1970s.

These are the films most talked about on Internet forums, where fans lovingly collect photographs and stories of their idols. They constitute a retrospective of Indian cinema that is regularly shown on Russian television, especially the Domashny channel, which is aimed at women and promotes family values. For Russian fans of Indian films, there is even a special satellite channel called India TV. Russia’s love of Indian films has now spilled over into a mass passion for Indian dance. Every self-respecting sports club in Moscow teaches yoga and the art of Indian dance. Russian girls array themselves in saris for these lessons, which are more popular even than traditional European fitness classes. (via Bollywood returns to Russian screens | Russia Beyond The Headlines).

And Russian leaders too

President Dmitry Medvedev, on his visit to India, made time to meet up with some Bollywood biggies – and tried to re-ignite the old Indo-Russian fires.

Soviet directors like Bondarchuk, Tarkovsky moved to Hollywood. This move, assuming endless financing for their creative output, did not quite turn out like that. The studio system worked pretty much like Soviet bureaucracy to limit their production – as evidenced by their limited output in the West.

Within the Soviet film industry itself, there was much admiration for Hollywood and Western film genres and styles. Interestingly, Indian critics have seen Bollywood films as sub-standard – much like Bollywood sees itself, also.

But the viewers aren’t paying attention to carping critics and ‘superior’ art-film ideologues.


Nollywood – New Kid on The Global Filmi Block

Posted in America, Business, Film Reviews, Media, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on January 18, 2012
Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer maker of big Nollywood hit “Osuofia in London,”  |  Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com

Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer maker of big Nollywood hit “Osuofia in London,” | Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com

A Story From Nigeria

In 2003, an unknown Nigerian Azuka Odunukwe, landed in London, with a ‘venture’ in his mind.

His investment in the ‘venture’ was less than US$10,000. In this venture, with him, was his lawyer wife. Over the next few months, this ‘venture’ succeeded – and with his ‘partners’, he netted more than US$500,000.

This was not the usual Nigerian banking scam,  that is now so famous across the world. Popularly known as

Ulzee, a Nollywood pioneer who decided to make movies after getting a science degree. His wife, trained as a lawyer, joined him along the seemingly crazy journey. His biggest hit was “Osuofia in London,” one of the first Nollywood films to get international attention. He shot it on location in London and it cost about $6,500 to make– a jaw-dropping investment for a Nollywood picture back in 2003. But it grossed more than $650,000. (via You Think Hollywood Is Rough? Welcome to the Chaos, Excitement and Danger of Nollywood | TechCrunch).

Together, director Kingsley Ogoro, and ‘marketeer’ Azuka Odunukwe ‘Ulzee’, made the world sit up and take note of Nollywood.

Miracle’ in Nigeria

Nigerian film-makers (collectively, Nollywood) have done what Germans, French, British, Japanese, even the Chinese, have not been able to do.

Challenge – and leave Hollywood behind.

Without support from the Nigerian Government. Even with State-support, the Chinese have difficulty in sustaining a film industry. Chinese film production, across 4 production centres (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, or mainland China), cannot match Nigerian production. The entire Islamic world produces negligible footage. Based on revenues, a 2007-report, notes that,

Still from the Nollywood movie - Osuofia in London|  Image source & courtesy - ImageShack  |  Click for source image.

Still from the Nollywood movie - Osuofia in London| Image source & courtesy - ImageShack | Click for source image.

The Nigerian film industry is the third largest in the world, after Hollywood and Bollywood. Outside its native continent, Nollywood remains relatively unknown. Yet millions of African fans can’t get enough of its movies.

Unlike their international counterparts, the films coming out of Nollywood aren’t intended for the big screen. Nigerian filmmakers use a mix of quick-and-dirty digital technology, shooting their movies entirely on digital video, editing them on home computers and delivering them to the market on VHS, DVD and video compact discs, or VCDs.

Since its inception in the 1990s, the burgeoning Nigerian movie scene has bloomed into a $286 million business annually, despite the fact that films have minimal budgets (ranging from $10,000 to $25,000) and sell for just a few dollars apiece. What this industry does have is volume, with some 300 directors churning out an average of 2400 films annually. (via Nigerian Film Industry Mixes Digital Tech, Homegrown Scripts).

For media,

It is hard to avoid Nigerian films in Africa. Public buses show them, as do many restaurants and hotels. Nollywood churns out about 50 full-length features a week, making it the world’s second most prolific film industry after India’s Bollywood. The Nigerian business capital, Lagos, is said by locals to have produced more films than there are stars in the sky. The streets are flooded with camera crews shooting on location. Only the government employs more people.

Nigerian films are as popular abroad as they are at home. Ivorian rebels in the bush stop fighting when a shipment of DVDs arrives from Lagos. Zambian mothers say their children talk with accents learnt from Nigerian television. When the president of Sierra Leone asked Genevieve Nnaji, a Lagosian screen goddess, to join him on the campaign trail he attracted record crowds at rallies. Millions of Africans watch Nigerian films every day, many more than see American fare. (via Nollywood: Lights, camera, Africa | The Economist).

All this, in less than 20 years.

Nigerian film posters seen at Idumota market in Lagos, Nigeria.  |  Image source & courtesy - cbc.ca  |  Click for larger image.

Nigerian film posters seen at Idumota market in Lagos, Nigeria. | Image source & courtesy - cbc.ca | Click for larger image.

The secret ‘chutni’

Some in Western media, quick to deny credit, think that Nollywood’s success is probably linked to that ‘most of the movies are in English, allowing for the widest possible crossover appeal.’ But English language, may not be the biggest reason for Nollywood’s success. As the UN report confirms,

The survey also revealed that about 56 per cent of Nollywood films are made in local languages, while English remains a prominent language, accounting for 44 per cent, which may contribute to Nigeria’s success in exporting its films. (via Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world’s second largest film producer – UN).

However, actors in Igbo and English Nollywood films do seem to be paid more than the Yoruba language films.

For most, especially in the Yoruba movie sector, the wages are lower. Their names are considerably bigger than their bank statements.

There are Yoruba movie actors with more than 50 lead roles who remain anything but wealthy. Yemi Solade, a big name in the sector, once told this magazine that many of his colleagues may die in poverty. “The industry is not organised and there are few professionals. Everybody wants to produce, direct, and at the same time, act. As a result of this, they do what I call man-know-man, a system whereby when I work for you, you won’t pay me and vice versa. It is absolute rubbish and the industry and individuals will never grow with that. Also, I detest the idea that everybody must produce films. It is only in the Yoruba sector that you will see a generator man claiming to be a producer because he managed to get some coins from a marketer in Idumota,” he said.

According to Solade, an actor, who co-starred with Yinka Quadri in the award-winning film 150 Million, got only N15,000 for his role in the two-part flick. (via Nollywood: Sex Glamour And Fake Life | The News Nigeria).

Probably, since English films have larger markets outside Nigeria, the returns are better. Even then, there are large number of films made in Yoruba.

Why?

Nollywood viewers seem to see African stories, told differently.

Shooting past Hollywood without the world noticing, Nollywood has made it to second place with films about family, love and honor, about AIDS, prostitution and oil, and about ghosts and cannibals.

In other words, films about Africa.

Nollywood movies with limited budgets use locations instead. |  Image source & courtesy - esquire.com  |  Read more: http://www.esquire.com/the-side/NOLLYWOOD/nollywood-part-3#ixzz1jqJhGB3y

Nollywood movies with limited budgets use locations instead. | Image source & courtesy - esquire.com | Read more: http://www.esquire.com/the-side/NOLLYWOOD/nollywood-part-3#ixzz1jqJhGB3y

The ‘Bigness’ of Nollywood

Nollywood is the apparent African iceberg, much of which is hidden out of sight. Post-colonial Africa, emerging from the shadows of its population and cultural destruction, films are the new narrative form.

But Africa’s most populous country Nigeria 18 years ago burst into production with affordable movies now shot with digital cameras that shun the more expensive classical 35mm format.

Nollywood has in recent years galloped ahead of Hollywood to be ranked second in the world in production terms after India’s Bollywood.

Nollywood “has taken over completely” from Hollywood, said Nigeria’s film producer and director Teco Benson, saying it is the latest “superpower” in the movie industry.

“It’s Africa’s new rebranding tool”.

One reason for Nollywood’s popularity lies with South Africa-based pay television MultiChoice. It has four 24-hour channels dedicated to African content, predominantly Nigeria productions. Two of the channels run movies in two of Nigeria’s main languages, Yoruba and Hausa.

But in poor neighbourhoods, shacks with old TV screens placed on dusty alleys or verandas pass for video viewing centres. Bootleg copies sell for a couple of dollars across the continent.

In central Africa, Nollywood movies are the only ones sold by market vendors as “African movies”, with the Nigerian productions dubbed into French in such countries as Cameroon and Gabon.

In Kenya, Nigerian films are also a hit – many of them broadcast on terrestrial networks – but face competition from Bollywood due to a historic large Indian population in the eastern African country.

Nollywood films are also immensely popular in Sierra Leone, to the extent of choking the growth of the country’s own movie industry, said Thomas Jones, a radio play scriptwriter.

“Nollywood has hampered the growth of the local film market because my contemporaries have just resigned themselves to watching these films from Nigeria,” he said.

More affluent South Africa on the other hand has seen a growth in its movie sector since the end of apartheid, and Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction “District 9″ was this year nominated for an Oscar.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nollywood is “very popular on television” after being dubbed into the local Lingala dialect,

even in the tiniest of African countries such as Gambia, “Nollywood is ahead of Hollywood”, said Nigerian businessman Barnabas Eset, who since 2000 has been renting out both Nollywood and Hollywood movies. (via Nigeria’s Nollywood eclipsing Hollywood in Africa – Films – Arts & Entertainment – The Independent).

Nollywood – the birth and growth

If the market was so big, and the need was so great, why were other film makers unable to exploit this opportunity. Behind Nollywood were seemingly random events and coincidences, that triggered this seminal rise.

The Nigerian film industry emerged in the late 1970s, as the nation’s economy collapsed. Public funding of movies and original television programming vanished, and crime made cinemas too dangerous to visit. European and American shows soon dominated national television. But, disturbed by the absence of black faces on Nigerian television, the country’s fledgling filmmakers began spinning vibrant tribal plays onto the screen. By the early 1990s, filming on celluloid had become too expensive and production shifted to video.

Unlike African art films, which appear on the global film circuit and are commonly financed by European investors, Nollywood films are backed by African merchants. For instance, a merchant-investor could pay a director $10,000, covering the production costs and procuring the film’s distribution rights. About two weeks later, the merchant-investor gets the film’s master tape, then sends it to one of many mass-dubbing centers in Nigeria. The movie is copied onto a Video Compact Disc, known as a VCD and widely used across the developing world. VCDs cost $1.50 to make and are usually sold to consumers at outdoor markets in Nigeria for $3, or less.

Borrowing the style and structure of American soap operas and Bollywood films, Nigerian movies had gained popularity across sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1990s, even in French-speaking countries. Soon, Nigerian expatriates were stuffing their suitcases with videotapes and VCDs on trips back to Britain and, eventually, the United States. Some of the films were passed on to relatives. Others, however, wound up in the hands of distributors, who have copied an unknown number of DVDs and sold them to stores or over the Internet. (via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

The Case of The Missing State

While Australia, Europe, Japan, China subsidize domestic film-making, Nollywood success is without the support of Nigerian State.

Government film subsidies are almost nonexistent in Nigeria, and if there are any subsidies, most people assume that the money never leaves the pockets of those at the top echelons of industry unions.

Using basic filming technology,

The (Nigerian film) industry is in dire need of investment, however; presently, it self-finances through cable deals and street sales of DVDs. Churches often finance films to spread their message and many production companies are happy to take their money, particularly as competition is getting stiffer from countries like Ghana. (via Welcome to Nollywood: Nigeria’s Film Industry Is More Prolific than Hollywood — and Faces Even More Piracy – TIME).

If piracy, funding are Hollywood’s problems, these are bigger problems for Nollywood. State supported academia and critics ignore or pan Nollywood – even as

The brash populism of such Nollywood fare sits in sharp contrast with movies from Francophone Africa. The latter, frequently backed by French funding, often secure critical success, and get an outing at Fespaco, the continent’s premier film festival held every two years in Ouagadougou.

Nollywood films rarely secure Fespaco praise. But nor is this an industry reliant on subsidies: although plagued by piracy, it remains popular, independent and accessible. In a continent with few cinemas, an ever-changing selection of video CDs are sold for a few dollars a pop on street corners. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com).

Story-telling is worth big money and Nollywood made the world sit-up and note that

Africa is a gigantic market, with 150 million people living in Nigeria alone. Nigerian films are exported to other African countries, like Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Africa, but also to the United States and England, and to Germany, where they are sold in African shops — in other words, to places where they can capitalize on the nostalgia of a large African Diaspora.

Lagos from the Okada backseat - the Nigerian motorcycle taxi.  |  Image source & courtesy - esquire.com  |  Click for larger image.

Lagos from the Okada backseat - the Nigerian motorcycle taxi. | Image source & courtesy - esquire.com | Click for larger image.

Let numbers do the talking

More than entertainment, Nollywood has given Africa reasons for satisfaction.

For post-colonial Nigeria particularly ‘next to the oil industry, Nollywood is the second-largest employer in Nigeria.’

It has its own stars and its own red carpets, even its own version of the Oscars: the African Movie Academy Awards. Hundreds of thousands of the home videos it produces are displayed on dealers’ shelves, in the form of VCDs and DVDs, and the films are also broadcast on television channels like Africa Magic. Hollywood films play almost no role at all in this country. (via Nigeria’s Silver Screen: Nollywood’s Film Industry Second only to Bollywood in Scale – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News – International.

By 2009, the UN noted that the Nigerian film industry (Nollywood) was the second largest in the world – based on number of films released.

The three cinema heavyweights were followed by eight countries that produced more than 100 films: Japan (417), China (330), France (203), Germany (174), Spain (150), Italy (116), South Korea (110) and the United Kingdom (104). (via Nigeria surpasses Hollywood as world’s second largest film producer – UN).

Ahead of Hollywood, behind only after Bollywood, as the Indian film industry has become known.

In 2006 Nigeria made 872 films (in video format, with about half of them in English), about 200 less than Bollywood and roughly 400 more than Hollywood.

Nigerian films took off in the early 1990s, helped by the availability of cheap video technology. Already massive in Africa, Nollywood is now gaining a reputation elsewhere. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com)

Rather surprising, when the larger Chinese market is having difficulties. Hong Kong, which led Chinese film-making from front is in trouble.

In the mid-90s, the Hong Kong film industry ate itself alive. In 1993, it had produced a record 238 films and its doyen director, John Woo, was about to dive, twin guns aflame, through Hollywood’s doors. Six years later, production had crashed to just 40 films a year and not even the local triad gangs could prevent their own films from being pirated: there were bootlegs VCDs on sale everywhere of Casino, a gangster pic about and financed by the notorious Macau hoodlum, “Broken Tooth” Koi. (via Back in action: the fall and rise of Hong Kong film | Film | guardian.co.uk).

German publication, Der Spiegel wrote of

Nollywood is the massive, pulsating film industry in Nigeria, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has declared the world’s second-largest film industry, after India’s Bollywood, based on the number of films produced.

Mysterious puzzle

How did Nollywood leave Hollywood behind?

Without the benefit of funding or technology, that Hollywood has? Nollywood has achieved, what ‘advanced’ economies like the British, German, French, have failed at.

Sustain a viable, domestic film industry.

Even the oil-rich Islamic world, equally, has little to show. For instance, the film industry in Iran, Turkey, Egypt has sputtered for decades – without success. Pakistani film industry has been slowly asphyxiated as the ruling elites deny their Indic roots.

As have the Japanese and the Chinese.

The surprising growth of the Nigerian industry, without State support, direction or promotion, seems to be rooted in a deeper cultural streams than the apparent coincidences. Africans want to hear different stories, told differently and Nollywood directors

make films with plotlines that reflect the rapidly changing political and cultural climate, often weaving in aspects of current events. Whether revolving around corruption, prostitution, folkloric legends, HIV/AIDS, cautionary tales, romantic comedies or even epic period pieces about slavery and civil wars, the films present an unfiltered view of African culture, intended for an African audience.

As Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima, founder of the Africa Movie Academy Awards, puts it in This Is Nollywood, “It’s not about quality at the moment.… Africa still has people living on $1 a day, and these are the people that really watch these films.” (via Nigerian Film Industry Mixes Digital Tech, Homegrown Scripts).

Drawing deeply from the well-springs of their civilization, film industries seem to die out, when cut from their inspiration.

And what are Nollywood’s inspiration?

A typical story line went something like this: poor boy meets rich girl; they fall in love; rich girl’s parents strongly disapprove of union; boy and girl fight all obstacles and true love prevails in the end. Other typical story lines included voodoo tales, historical epics, religious conflicts and economic hardship.

The average flick sold over 50,000 copies. Some even sold as many as several hundred thousand, while a few hit a million. And at $1.50 per disc, they were affordable for most Nigerians and generated astounding returns for the producers. (via Hollywood, Meet Nollywood – Forbes).

Adding to this melee is the Christian Church, saving Nigerian souls from getting corrupted

Fire-and-brimstone evangelical preachers set up keyboards and microphones in the middle of the street to save souls, only adding to the chaos.

Bollywood & Nollywood

Thoughly vastly different in form, and substance, there are some who think that Bollywood and Nollywood may have similarities. Some Nollywood viewers from West Indies, now living in America are

struck by the similar good-versus-evil themes often found in the Indian Bollywood film genre she became fond of growing up.

Borrowing the style and structure of American soap operas and Bollywood films, Nigerian movies had gained popularity across sub-Saharan Africa by the mid-1990s, even in French-speaking countries.

Many African intellectuals dismiss the movies for playing up witchcraft, which they argue perpetuates negative Western stereotypes of Africans, said Onookome Okome, an English professor at the University of Alberta and author of the forthcoming book, “Anxiety of the Local: From Traveling Theatre to Popular Video Films in Nigeria.”

Some film experts remain skeptical that the Nigerian movies will penetrate the broader U.S. market. Jonathan Haynes, a Long Island University professor and author of the book, “Nigerian Video Films,” noted the films’ heavy emphasis on the supernatural and said, “Culturally, they’re from someplace else.” (via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

“That can seem weird to Americans, especially if it’s not being cast as part of some traditional African past,” Haynes said. “It’s an acquired taste.”(via Nigeria On-Screen – washingtonpost.com).

Even Hollywood is an acquired taste, sir. Distaste comes from too much of this acquired taste. Ask me.

Looking for Nollywood roots, outside from ancient African culture, one is stuck by Nigeria’s post-colonial literary success.

Nigeria has perhaps the most distinguished literary tradition in Africa; Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ben Okri and Ken Saro-Wiwa are the best-known writers, but it is clear that Nigeria’s home video industry has no pretensions to high art. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

Looking for threads of narratives and the dominant themes, Hollywood, Bollywood and Nollywood occupy different spaces altogether.

If Hollywood’s forte is jaw-dropping spectacle and Bollywood’s is heart-warming musical slush, then Nollywood’s special draw is a genre that might be described as the voodoo horror flick: films that revolve around witchcraft and demonic possession. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

After years of consuming foreign fare, Nigerian film-makers have finely chiselled their theme – away from other global narratives of Hollywood and Bollywood.

Ultimately, it’s the way the films are crafted, rather than their juicy content that gives them universal appeal, says Fry. “The storytelling is so good. Nigerian filmmakers really know how to entertain their audiences. They’ve studied the populist genres from other countries – Bollywood musicals, low-budget horror and Brazilian soap operas, for example – and reworked these to appeal to anyone with a love of drama.”

The process is tried and tested, and the main reason Nollywood is currently in such rude health, but how long can it stay that way? It’s hard to see how an industry that prides itself on producing so much in so little time won’t start to lose its momentum in the coming years. (via Hooray for Nollywood! | Film | guardian.co.uk).

How does Nollywood do so much, in so little time – and so little money.

Necessity – The mother of invention

Film production in Nigeria, is a different story.

The market traders control Nollywood to this day. They make films for home consumption rather than for the cinema—a place few can afford, or reach easily. DVD discs sell for a dollar. Print runs can reach a million. Studios, both in the physical and the corporate sense of the term, are unknown. There are no lots, no sound stages and no trailers for the stars. There are no studios and no film lots. Market traders double as financiers

“Films are made on the run, sometimes literally,” says Emem Isong, one of Nigeria’s few female producers, during a shoot. “Some of the guys are hiding from the police.”

All scenes are shot on location and with a shoestring budget of no more than $100,000. Most of the financiers are based in a vast, chaotic market called Idumota. It is a maze within a labyrinth. Crowds push through narrow, covered alleys. The sound of honking motorbikes is drowned out by blaring television sets showing film trailers. The flickering screens light up dim stalls lined with thousands of DVDs on narrow wooden shelves. (via Nollywood: Lights, camera, Africa | The Economist).

The Alaba market for Nollywood DVDs. |  Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com  |  Click for larger source image.

The Alaba market for Nollywood DVDs. | Image source & courtesy - techcrunch.com | Click for larger source image.

The rise and rise of Nollywood

As Nollywood nailed its formula of TV screens, direct retail to the audiences, Africa-themed stories, acceptance and growth has been phenomenal.

Nigeria is home to one of the world’s youngest film industries, but it’s booming. In just 13 years it has gone from nothing to estimated earnings of US$200m (£114m) a year – making it the world’s third biggest film industry after that of America and India. The films are made on the cheap, but they are big box office.

Except that there is no box office, of course. In Nollywood, as it has inevitably been dubbed, movies are shot on video and copied straight on to tapes or DVDs and then sold on from thousands of street stalls and hole-in-the-wall shops, not just in Nigeria but across the continent, as well to the African diaspora via markets in the west.

“They sell a lot of our films in Peckham and in Dalston market [in London],” says Paul Obazele, the veteran producer.

Empty claim? How global is Nollywood.

an entrepreneur named Jason Njoku (whose) parents are Nigerian, but he grew up in the United Kingdom. Entranced with Nollywood a few years ago and bored with London, he moved here, stunning his family and friends. He started Iroko Partners to catalog this vast Nollywood inventory and give it a new global distribution life on the Web. It sounds like a recipe for a city boy to get fleeced, but so far that hasn’t been the case.

Njoku spent weeks trolling the Alaba markets introducing himself to producers and trying to explain to them how a YouTube channel could be an answer for revenues, not simply another channel for the pirates to steal their intellectual property. Once he sold a few of the bigger ones like Ulzee, word spread and more producers piled in. Just four months in to his business, Njoku has bought the online rights to 500 movies from 100 different one-man production houses. Last month his YouTube channel had 1.1 million uniques, 8 million streams, and is on pace to do more than $1 million in revenues this year from YouTube ads. (via You Think Hollywood Is Rough? Welcome to the Chaos, Excitement and Danger of Nollywood | TechCrunch).

What are Nollywood themes? How different are these stories?

So, what did I glean from titles such as Sharon Stone in Abuja, Beyonce: The President’s Daughter, Good Mother and Blood Billionaires 1 and 2? (Most titles have at least one sequel). A lot.

Good girls can lose their way in Lagos, village values trump city truths, corruption is rife, witchcraft is everywhere, and stepmothers are bad news. And every man in Lagos, as one character told his wife, has a mistress. These films were peopled by poor village women, business men in Mercedes and hardy entrepreneurs.

These were tales of love, money and betrayal. Buried within these at times fantastic stories were, I thought as the passengers around me laughed and groaned in recognition, African realities. (via Nollywood comes of age – FT.com).

What do viewers make of these films?

The movies can be read as fantasies; they allow the powerless to feel vicariously powerful. The stories tell of poor men getting rich, of errant husbands who find their penises shrinking, of love rivals who go blind or crazy and end up running naked and shrieking into the streets.

Not all Nollywood movies are about the occult, of course. Nigeria is a country of startling inequality; in Lagos, skinny fishermen in pirogues skim past the skyscrapers of Victoria Island, the palm-studded local equivalent of Manhattan, and slums sprawl under flyovers. But as is true of Bollywood, Nollywood likes to eschew the grit of everyday life for a more upbeat vision.

As well as occult movies, and gangster movies, another popular genre involves straightforwardly aspirational tales. American Dream is typical. it’s the story of a driven advertising executive who falls in love with an American woman and then jeopardises his high-flying career with increasingly desperate attempts to get a visa for America.

Nigeria’s home video industry has no pretensions to high art. What it’s all about is money. Nollywood movies were originally financed by importers of blank video tapes as a way of promoting sales of their product – and commerce remains king.

The heart of the story

Getting to know Nollywood, the usual and

first point of call in Surulere is the home of one of the most prolific and successful Nollywood directors, Lancelot ‘the Governor’ Imasuen, whose unbroken record of blockbusters includes such titles as Last Burial, August Meeting, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Games Men Play 2, and Games Women Play 2.

‘I recently had the pleasure of shooting a film in Hollywood,’ Imasuen tells me. ‘And I told them, “I want you to know that 75 per cent of your budget and timing is wasted! Sixty days to shoot a film!”‘ He looks shocked, bemused. ‘How many working hours are actually in those 60 days? It’s all razzmatazz. You see endless trucks and trailers parked on their locations. How much of this equipment is actually used in the process of making films? You see, in Nollywood, what we’ve done is to do away with all that excess; what we’ve done is to simplify the process of making films.’

With its potholed roads teeming with industrious street vendors, feral urchins, and extraordinarily brave commuters – perched calmly on the back seats of the motorbike taxis nicknamed, with morbid irony, ‘Okada’ after a now defunct airline – Surulere is the birthplace and headquarters of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry. A far cry from Beverly Hills, Surulere is home to the Nollywood elite – the top producers, directors, marketers, distributors and some of the stars of an industry that has been blazingly successful where successive administrations, guided by the expert and combined wisdom of the IMF and the World Bank, have failed: not only is it a viable industry, it is the second biggest employer in Nigeria.

Although this is hotly contested, Nollywood saw its inauspicious beginnings in Living in Bondage: a tawdry, ineptly shot, earnestly didactic ‘home video’ that unleashed itself on the world in 1992. Many commentators believe Nollywood was born after the television industry stopped making popular dramas, which were infinitely better than the first several hundred Nollywood films.

Living in Bondage, filmed in Igbo, one of Nigeria’s languages, with English subtitles, had just the right mix of all the ingredients of a great soap opera

My first point of call in Surulere is the home of one of the most prolific and successful Nollywood directors, Lancelot ‘the Governor’ Imasuen, whose unbroken record of blockbusters includes such titles as Last Burial, August Meeting, Games Men Play, Games Women Play, Games Men Play 2, and Games Women Play 2.

‘I recently had the pleasure of shooting a film in Hollywood,’ Imasuen tells me. ‘And I told them, “I want you to know that 75 per cent of your budget and timing is wasted! Sixty days to shoot a film!”‘ He looks shocked, bemused. ‘How many working hours are actually in those 60 days? It’s all razzmatazz. You see endless trucks and trailers parked on their locations. How much of this equipment is actually used in the process of making films? You see, in Nollywood, what we’ve done is to do away with all that excess; what we’ve done is to simplify the process of making films.’

Imasuen, a theatre arts graduate, is shooting from the hip. Behind the braggadocio, though, lurk the aspirations of a filmmaker and a lover of film whose aspirations are embodied in what he had just pooh-poohed. ‘I had an experience in America recently,’ he says. ‘I went to Paramount Studios and was taken on a tour. I almost fainted at the sheer scale of it, the size of the place, the sound stages, the backlots. And I thought, Is this what they’re comparing us to? But we’ll get there, I promise you. We’ll get there.’

In a career spanning 12 years, the 36-year-old director has helmed more than 150 films – an average of one a month. (And there I was thinking Woody Allen was prolific.)

With its potholed roads teeming with industrious street vendors, feral urchins, and extraordinarily brave commuters – perched calmly on the back seats of the motorbike taxis nicknamed, with morbid irony, ‘Okada’ after a now defunct airline – Surulere is the birthplace and headquarters of Nollywood, the Nigerian film industry. A far cry from Beverly Hills, Surulere is home to the Nollywood elite – the top producers, directors, marketers, distributors and some of the stars of an industry that has been blazingly successful where successive administrations, guided by the expert and combined wisdom of the IMF and the World Bank, have failed: not only is it a viable industry, it is the second biggest employer in Nigeria. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

About 30 new titles arrive weekly at Lagos’s giant open-air markets, where canvas banners with gaudy portraits of movie stars flap above the mediaeval hubbub. A new movie costs the equivalent of £1.80 to buy, and only about 27p to rent from a video club.

For the most part, Nigerians are proud of their movie industry and other African nations are envious. “I think there’s a lot of things that converge to make this possible in Nigeria,” says Femi Odugbemi, president of the Independent Television Producers’ Association. “By tradition, we’re a storytelling people. We have more than 230 languages, different cultures, all unique in themselves.”

Nigeria is an African giant – it is the continent’s most populous nation, with 133 million people. But it’s also a country that appears to be constantly on the verge of a breakdown. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | The Guardian).

Nollywood has travelled far in its 15 years of existence. Its revenues are estimated to be over $250m a year and its films – all digitally shot – have a captive audience of 600 million Africans and millions more in the diaspora, particularly in the Caribbean and even here in the UK. There are few places in south-east London, the heart of the Nigerian community in Britain, where there isn’t a Nollywood DVD stall. The cable channel BEN shows several of these films every night.

After Hollywood and Bollywood, Nollywood is the world’s third-biggest film-producing industry. It has achieved this impressive feat without subsidy or investment and – fortunately perhaps – without attracting the faintest glimmer of interest from the Nigerian government or any NGO. It has a long way to go to achieve its dream of catching up with Mumbai or Los Angeles, but it is perfectly capable of doing so. The will is there. And at the rate it’s going, soon, so will be the means. (via Welcome to Nollywood | Film | guardian.co.uk).

Reform by stealth – Indian education sector

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, Film Reviews, History, India, language, Media, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on February 13, 2010
Will he get education on his terms?

Will he get education on his terms?

Reform by stealth

In the last 18 months, there has been a synchronized campaign to effect major ‘reform’ agenda into the Indian education sector. The suggested template is similar to what has been implemented in the telecom and automobile sectors with reasonable levels of success.

The underlying assumption seemingly, is that education is yet another ‘industry’. Hence, similar templates can be ‘imported’ from other ‘industries’ into the ‘education’ industry also. After all, it had earlier been imported into the film ‘industry’ with some success. While 2ndlook has no quarrel with ‘commercialization’ of education, short term safeguards for a sensitive sector like education maybe essential. Some features of this campaign create disquiet due to significant silence on some aspects and overheated discussions on some other aspects.

Backdoor privatization and hidden subsidies

The Vedanta industrial group is setting up a University in Orissa. From a campus at the new Lavassa township, Oxford is going to start offering courses. These and other represent the quiet backdoor ‘privatization’ of Indian higher education. NIIT, which pioneered computer education in India, is opening an university at Neemrana, Rajasthan.

Large tracts of lands are being acquired by the Government, and handed over for a pittance to the private sector. Soon, India will have competition between State subsidized English education – and private sector English education, subsidized by the State.

‘Private’ colleges vs ‘world class’ universities

Over the last 30 years, various state Governments in India have allowed private engineering and medical colleges to open up – and operate on a partially commercial basis. This colleges were first called ‘capitation’ colleges. Most of these colleges were fronts for the rich and /or powerful.

A banker contact pointed out, politicians are the only people who can swing the system. Private-sector colleges, can come up if ‘contacts’ and ‘influence’ are used to corner approvals, exemptions, land, licenses, permissions – and hence also the financing for these colleges. To make education into an extortion opportunity.

Pitted against a regime of money bags and power centres, is the new paradigm of ‘international’ standard, ‘world-class’ universities. These foreign universities will come to India – and give Indian students, ‘cutting edge’ education. Faced with a choice of extortionate ‘private sector’ against glossy ‘world-class’ universities, Indians are faced with an open-and-shut case.

But the case is not so simple or uni-directional.

Typical computer teaching shops

Typical computer teaching shops

Indian software success

Indian software sector has built up a US$50 billion a year business, in less than 15 years. The Indian ramp up in software, from a software minnow to leadership status, happened in a short span of 15 years. These 50 billion dollars of software business has come out of (arguably) US pockets.

Indian private education can follow the software model. It was private sector Indian education system which sprang up in every nook and corner of the country. In millions of these ‘teaching shops’ software programmers were churned out. Without subsidy, without Government oversight, without regulation. Meeting the highest standards in the world.

How did this happen

The Y2K was predicted to be a major disaster – waiting to happen! The world waited with bated breath – for planes to crash; banks feared billion dollar frauds; army generals were afraid that defence systems would go on the blink. Indian software companies got Y2K contracts by truckloads.

The world piled on to Indian software companies – as there were few credible alternatives. The biggest of Fortune 500 companies entrusted the biggest software problem the world had, the Y2K problem, to the Indian software industry. Licked in less than 5 years time.

Come Y2k, nothing happened. The world over!

The Y2K meteor did not crash onto mother earth. It was just another day. It was the biggest triumph for the Indian software community. Done at a cost of a few billion dollars. By Indian software programmers. India did not celebrate this major success. Instead, they were hard at work, minimizing this success – as usual. (Instead they make a big deal of the 20:20 world cup).

Credit for India’s software success has many claimants – and all of them have had a role to play.

Any empty room became a computer centre!

Any empty room became a computer centre!

How did software become such a big thing

Why is it that software became such a big thing in India? How could Indian engineers ramp up so quickly and tackle such a complex problem – with such low levels of prior exposure to computers? With the lowest computer penetration, how could India become the largest exporter of software in less than 10 years.

The historical advantage of Sanskrit (a tabular, artificial, data base language) does not explain the impossible build up in less than 10 years. Of capacity, training, infrastructure, investments, recruitment, user engagement, application mapping, stress points understanding, testing, et al required to tackle such a complex exercise.

Since the entire code of the industrial world (at least, the Anglo-Saxon world) was rewritten, it was similar to implementing a global computerization programme in 10 years. The new code written by Indian programmers could have crashed a 100 times – for reasons other than Y2k.

Poor application understanding to start with.

Government intervention

The dark cloud on ‘software success story’ is dominance of two countries. Actually, US and UK account for 70%-80% of Indian software business. Indian software industry does not get multi-lingual recruits who can address the Japanese, French, Spanish, Chinese, German software business opportunities.

The huge subsidy given by the Indian Government to English language in higher education has actually hobbled the Indian software industry.

Indian education needs a 2ndlook

Indian education needs a 2ndlook

India’s ‘indigenous’ education model

The software industry education system was not a new system. It was an pre-existing model – subterranean and invisible in official stats or mainstream media.

This Indian education model was, till about a 150 years ago, unique in the world. With the highest literacy ratio in the world, and completely privately funded, it set global and historic benchmarks. This model has been buried under a mound of silence – and once in a while you get a glimpse of this.

My first glimpse of this model was through the draft of Parag Tope’s recently released book – Operation Red Lotus.

The beautiful tree

The Beautiful Tree - by Dharampal

Click on the photograph to access Sri Dharampal Gupta's book

Gandhiji, in correspondence with Sir Philip Hartog, (chairman of the Auxiliary Committee on Education), laid out the the pre-colonial scenario, which has now been buttressed by research by Dharampal, a Gandhian, in his book, Beautiful Tree, Indian Education in the 18th century.

I say without fear of my figures being challenged successfully, that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished. (Gandhiji, at Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Oct 1931 - extracted from Indian Models Of Economy Business And Management By Kanagasabapathi; Page 60).

At the grass roots level, India is struggling to recreate this system. James Tooley, an IFC-World Bank employee (for sometime), researched and wrote a book (funded by the Templeton Foundation), called The Beautiful Tree (what else did you expect?). Sreelatha Menon, a journalist reviewing Tooley’s book and research, seemingly, depends on Tooley’s own PR handouts to write an entire post in Business Standard.

Does she ever make a mention of Dharampal, whose work is the most authoritative today?

Between a rock and a hard place

Dharampal’s pioneering work, in 1983, has, not surprisingly, been ignored by the Amartya Sens and the Jean Drezes of the world – and all their avid followers in India. Kapil Sibal has been trying to further the colonial British efforts by laying out a red carpet for foreign universities – while tying up Indian institutions into-knots-into-knots-into-knots. The ‘modern’ theory about Indian education goes that all credit for Indian education should go either to the British Colonial Raj or the Christian Missionary Benevolence.

End of the road … the bankrupt model

The health care system in USA, social welfare entitlements of USA, employment benefits costs by UK, showcase projects of Japan are running countries into the ground.

India has, as yet, not gone down that path. Though, the Indian State has been trying – quite hard.

Crisis in Iceland

The major beneficiary of this policy by stealth is likely to be UK’s struggling education sector. The UK education sector significantly depends for upto 80% of its funds, from the State. UK’s universities are clearly struggling to stay afloat, hit by the ongoing economic recession and banking sector problems.  An examination of UK’s education sector will reveal problems with this approach. British students are scrambling to rework their finances affected by decreasing ability of the British state to support education. British universities have ‘threatened’ to cut various study streams to cope with decreasing funding levels. Due to current recessionary trends and a contracting European economy.

A major hit to British Universities was the crisis in Iceland. And many British universities had their money stuck in a Icelandic banks, totalling some GBP77 million. Oxford had some GBP30 million in Icelandic banks. Cambridge followed with GBP 11 million.

Iceland had also presided over the fastest expansion of a banking system anywhere in the world. Little did anyone know that the expansion once so admired would go on to saddle the country with liabilities in excess of $100 billion – liabilities that now dwarf its gross domestic product of $14 billion.

Iceland overreached itself in spectacular fashion, and the party is coming to a messy end.

Looking at the mess in Australia, with Indian students and locals, British immigration authorities clamped down on foreign student applications.

Economics forced the British authorities to backpedal, as some 3,40,000 international students support the British education system with fees totalling to some GBP 8.5 billion). From China (50,000), India (20,000) Malaysia (10,000), Nigeria (12000), Pakistan (10,000) and other countries like Turkey (some 1,600 students).

UAE red carpet welcome to Western universities

The recent expansion of US universities in the UAE is instructive – and illustrative of the pitfalls. Faced with decreasing State support, shrinking student budgets and depleted teaching populations, reactionary local populations, US and struggling British universities are seeking to diversify out of their home countries.

What better choice than India?

The collapse of Dubai’s overheated economy has left the outposts of Michigan State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) struggling to attract enough qualified students to survive.

In the last five years, many US universities have rushed to open branches in the Persian Gulf, attracted by the combination of oil wealth and the area’s strong desire for help in creating a higher-education infrastructure. Education City in Qatar has brought in Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Georgetown, Northwestern, Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth. (via US university branches in Dubai struggling – Corporate News – livemint.com).

Vested interests

Long queues for education breeds complacency

Long queues for education breeds complacency

Recently, the Government has taken another step towards ‘progress’ in Indian education sector.

The HRD ministry has decided to de-recognize as many as 44 “deemed universities”, spelling uncertainty for nearly two lakh students who are enrolled with them. The ministry’s decision amounts to an acknowlegement of irregularties in conferring the “deemed” tag to these institutions under the first UPA government in which Arjun Singh was the HRD minister.

These two lakh students (200,000) will add to the already over-burdened Indian higher education system. To see that this ‘de-recognition’ will create a ripe target for the new ‘world-class universities’ coming to India, does not need prescription lenses. With this preparation, international universities will find Indian ‘consumers’ sitting ducks – which they can pick off with their pea-shooters.

While all these policy formulations were being ‘crafted’, a well-oiled media campaign was unleashed. One such case was where Sanjeev Bikchandani (of Info Edge, which operates Naukri.com) and Jayant Sinha (of Courage Capital Management) wrote a pseudo-paper outlining ‘reform’ proposals for education in India.

Five points to perdition

These two writers feel, that Indian education ‘requires radical action in five key areas‘.

One – all Government controls must be scrapped. Two – Taxpayers must pay for scholarships. Three – private Indian and foreign universities must be allowed freely into India. Four – the tax payer (via the Government) must fund scientific and technical research. The fifth point (not clearly defined) that they probably make is that probably affirmative action should not be compulsory – but can be tied to Government funding.

Interesting.

What these two worthies pretend to address is the problem of the Indian education system. Instead, what they end up doing, is push forward the bowl in front of the Indian taxpayer – without pre-conditions. All that they are interested in, is addressing the problem of the English speaking elite. They don’t even pretend to address the problem of non-English speaking students.

Is it possibly, that the writers think it is below them, to attempt such ‘base’ ideas? Imagine addressing the problem of Maithili speaking students of Bihar or Telugu students from Rayalaseema! (Dont push me! I can be grosser still!!)

Of course, we should not expect them to talk about how nearly 800 years of violence against Indian education system must be reversed – and the Oriya student needs help more than the elitist English speaking student.

Of course, maybe I expect too much from them! Possibly my over-expectations make me fault them for not seeing the contradiction of allowing ‘foreign’ establishments to set up indoctrination and recruiting centers in India.

Blow up tax payers money

Blow up tax payer's money

Billing address

The Indian tax payer must subsidize the education of a privileged few. But the tax payer must NOT ask any questions or raise any queries or impose any agenda. The Indian tax payer must just quietly pay up and take whatever the English speaking elite dishes out.

For the last 60 years, the Indian tax payer has entrusted this English speaking elite with authority for setting the agenda in the Indian education sector – and the track record of this elite is obvious.

How many times do the writers mention Indian languages (vernacular, native, Indic, regional, etc.). Nil. How many times do they use the word exclusion, colonial, Westernized. Nil again.

Throwing money down the English education hole

Throwing money down the English education hole

But, they sprinkle their article liberally with Western examples like how, “In the US, the top 10-15 universities such as those in the Ivy League, MIT, Stanford and Chicago play a similar role.

Even though India pioneered the system of reservation for the disadvantaged, and the US followed India by nearly 20 years, with their diluted system of ‘affirmative action’, these two worthies use the term affirmative action four times – and reservations (nil times).

While a weak case can be made out for funding education in India for a limited period, the ‘freeing’ that these worthies propose is interesting. Freeing. Umm! Who is likely to benefit from the ‘freeing’ that the two worthies propose? For the English speaking elite, I suspect.

3 Idiots - Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra star, director and producer of film 'Three Idiots' at Metro theatre on October 30, 2009. (BCCL/Deepak Turbhekar) 31 Oct, 2009

3 Idiots - Aamir Khan, Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Star, director and producer of film 'Three Idiots' at Metro theatre on October 30, 2009. (BCCL/Deepak Turbhekar) 31 Oct, 2009

Idiots on idiots

At another level, there is yet another kind of ‘progress’ being made in the India education industry.

Indian educational success is being written off as rote learning. This rote learning, it is alleged hampers ‘innovation’. Critics of Indian educational practices support their argument with a thin statement like “you only have have to look at American ‘innovation’ to understand how rote learning hampers Indian students.”

Without ever looking how Indian coders rewrote the entire software of the American and UK corporates in a matter of 3-5 years during the Y2K problem. Or how Indian generics rule the world. Or how Indian pharma R&D is generating molecules for commercialization by better ‘endowed’ Western corporations. Or how Indian frugal engineering is developing world class products – at home, with Indian capital.

The most recent and egregious example of this is the Bollywood film, 3 Idiots, which encourages student laziness with delusions of genius. Behind the film is the book by the hallucinatory intellect of Chetan Anand. A supremely facile and baseless story, written without understanding either human epistemology or education.

Or the essential nature of the Indian. Indians are the most optimistic people on earth for the last 50 years of measurements. And they are also willing to work hard, very hard, to sustain and realize this optimism.

Penniless, landless, unlettered - but you gotta learn English (Landless labourers protesting against the SEZ in Raigard district. - PHOTO: MEENA MENON from The Hindu).

Penniless, landless, unlettered - but you gotta learn English (Landless labourers protesting against the SEZ in Raigard district. - PHOTO: MEENA MENON from The Hindu).

The Great Indian progress

The poor, landless labourer, remains poor and landless. Hardly any change. The only way he can get educated is, if he agrees to learn English!

The Indian State does not allow private sector into education – and denies the poor, education in the manner and medium that is useful to him. He is comfortable with.

Independent India – colonial practices

The Indian State today subsidizes English Language with billions of dollars – a policy that the British started in 1830. In the meantime, Indian language education systems have languished – and their survival is a credit to the Indian social strength.

English should immediately be deprived of all State support – and Indian language education system should be helped back on its feet. Privatization of education is the Indian way – back in history and way in the future.

The puzzle of the missing Buddhist monk

Posted in Film Reviews, politics, Religion by Anuraag Sanghi on January 3, 2010
Will it be Chinese mafia next?

Will it be Chinese mafia next?

Disappearing act

In the last 5 years, the Buddhist monk has made an unnoticed disappearing act from Chinese films. The new idiom in Chinese films is ‘Jackie Chan goes to America’.

Instead of the Buddhist monk, the new element are characters from the Chinese underworld.

Organized crime was rampant in China before the communists took over in 1949, but was largely extinguished in the decades afterward by the totalitarian Maoist state. It has flourished since reforms began in the late 1970s.

Chinese police receive small salaries but enjoy almost unchecked power over the increasingly wealthy communities they oversee. As a result, bribery is common, experts say. Without protection from law enforcement, “criminal organizations would not be able to develop on such a large scale and to such a high level,” says Pu Yongjian, a professor at the business school of Chongqing University. (via Gangster Trials Highlight China’s Crime Battle – WSJ.com).

Insight information

Way back in 1978-79, Trial Run, a novel by Dick Francis was released. Trial Run is not among the best of Dick Francis’ novels – except for one thing. It was the first book (and the only, that I read) which predicted the Russian Mafia. Some 20 years, before the mainstream media came to know about the Russian Mafia. Not one writer on Russia – not John Le Carre, no Len Deighton, nor Martin Cruz Smith (Gorky Park) come close to Dick Francis in this respect.

Characters in Dick Francis novels are credible, his heroes are people you want to meet and count among your friends. His villains are believably evil.

Trial Run by Dick Francis (First book to talk about the Russian Mafia).

Trial Run by Dick Francis (First book to talk about the Russian Mafia).

In 1978, Trial Run seemed more like Cold War propaganda.

This report about crime in China is not at the same level as Trial Run, since 2009 China is far more open and accessible than 1978 Russia was. Reading Russia right in 1978, at the height of the Brezhnev era, was something in a different league altogether. In a league with a solitary membership – and Dick Francis alone carries a membership card of that league.

Coming to China

For unraveling China, I will take the aid of Chinese cinema, to which I am exposed. From distant Indian shores, which has limited exposure to Chinese-Hong Kong movies, three different phases of Chinese films are  apparent.

Till about 2000, Chinese movies usually revolved around a Brave Chinese, his ascetic Buddhist Teacher, who spoke in riddles and feudal warlords (Chinese and /or Japanese). Kung Fu was a major element in these movies.

Brave Chinese aided by Buddhist monks fight warlords

Brave Chinese aided by Buddhist monks fight warlords

A representative of that genre was the classic 36th Chamber of Shaolin, with Chia Hui Liu (Gordon Liu) as San Te.

The most famous (and my favorite) star  was Bruce Lee. His Enter The Dragon interestingly had a villain named Han. Played superbly by Shih Kien (a character actor known for his onscreen villainy, much like India’s Ajit, Prem Chopra, Amrish Puri).

Jackie Chan and Golden Harvest continued with this genre, spoofing it unconvincingly with movies like Drunken Master (about the folk hero, Wong Fei Hung) and Iron Monkey. Then came a new breed.

But before that …

One-and-a-half Chinese is what it takes

Hong Kong film industry does not get much respect because it is 1-and-a-half people. One is the giant Shaw Brothers Studios, based out of Singapore and Hong Kong – run by brothers, Run Me Shaw and Run Run Shaw, a 102 years old man, who last heard, was running the studio through his 73-year-old wife, Mona Fong.

They recently sold a part of their archived nearly 800 films collections for re-release – to “Celestial Pictures, a pan-Asian company run by William Pfeiffer, an American who has lived in Asia for 20 years.”. Celestial Pictures, a part of Kuala Lumpur-based Astro All Asia Networks Plc, part of Tatparanandam Ananda Krishnan’s Maxis /Astro /MEASAT group, under this purchase will get access to 760 films library of Shaw Brothers archives.

Bruce Lee in 'Enter The Dragon'

Bruce Lee in 'Enter The Dragon'

The remaining half of the Chinese one-and-a-half film industry is Raymond Chow, an ex-assistant to Run Run Shaw. An ex-VOA staffer, Raymond Chow was taken as publicist, at Shaw Brothers.

Shaw and Chow sparred over a re-make of ‘One Armed Swordsman’. The Golden Harvest version was called, “Zatoichi Meets The One-Armed Swordsman”. Raymond Chow has sold his studio to a mainland-based operation, Chengtian Entertainment Group – covering film distribution, production, investment and talent management. The new company has been renamed as Orange Sky Golden Harvest Group.

The second coming

The next phase in the Chinese film industry was the more ‘modern’ themes. The first indication was the un-funny spoofs of Jacky Chan – with more of antics and contortions, than Kung Fu or any of the classical Chinese themes. In one fight sequence, Jackie Chan in The Young Master, exclaims, “You have cut-off Buddha’s head”.

Other films from this genre include The Young Master, Drunken Master, Project A, Police Story, etc. Unremarkable films that received a tepid response. All that these films did was turn off audiences from Kung Fu theme – which in hindsight, seemed to be the objective. And made Jackie Chan into a visible Chinese ‘star’.

With low rentals, these films were run and re-run in India, giving Jackie Chan much-needed visibility.

The Third Wave

The Third Wave of the modern Chinese films are now getting positively ominous. Ranging from Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon, (Jet Li takes on the French mafia) or Chow Yun-Fat in The Corrupter (exposing police-underworld nexus and corruption in the USA), or Jackie Chan in Rush Hour series or the Chinese Ric Young in The Transporter, Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4. All have two elements in common.

One is the pervasive Chinese underworld. Across Europe, in the USA. In drugs, fake currency, in smuggling boat people, the Chinese are there – everywhere. Many of these movies have Chinese stars, directed by Chinese directors or even partly funded by Chinese studios .

The second is the absence of the Buddhist monk.

Why worry

This would actually seem like a benign glossing and glamorizing of the Chinese film idiom and look. Harmless entertainment, you may say. This trend is reflected in Korea with a TV series, ‘My Wife Is a Gangster’ with heroine Shu Qi as the gangster. But there is more to this China-gangster- underworld theme.

'Big Ears' Du Yuesheng, Photo: thegeneralissimo.net

'Big Ears' Du Yuesheng, Photo: thegeneralissimo.net

Both Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek were close to the Green Gang. Some China specialists allege that both were, in fact, Green Gang members.

The Kuomintang (supported by Chinese underworld, The Green Gang, The Red Gang and The Blue Gang) was pitted against the Mao Ze Dong’s Communist Party – and both were armed and supported by Western powers. Russia deputed Borodin, who mentored Sun Yat-Sen, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Ze-Dong in the ways of Communism.

Major opium trading companies like Jardine Matheson, David Sasoon & Company and sundry traders set up The Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation for facilitating this misery. The Chinese Opium problem was finally solved by several draconian measures during Communist rule.

In many respects the prohibition on opium in China had similar results to prohibition on alcohol in the United States. In both countries prohibition encouraged the growth of vast, illicit traffic that provided the economic basis for development of organized crime in major cities and helped define the ways in which criminal organizations interacted with the world of politics. (from The Shanghai Green Gang: politics and organized crime, 1919-1937 By Brian G. Martin, page 44).

Much like zamindars were given ‘franchises’ in India to extort from the peasantry, colonial powers working on ‘concessions’, in China subverted local institutions into channels for funneling drugs into Chinese blood stream.

Virtually, every line of unskilled labour came to be ruled by native-place barons with gang connections – beggar chiefs, brothel madams, night soil hegemons, wharf contractors, and factory foremen. Immigrants from the villages in search of work quickly discovered that employment opportunities in the city were dependent upon criminal ties. (from Shanghai on Strike: The Politics of Chinese Labor, By Elizabeth J. Perry, page 50).

Wrapper of packet of opium, as sold in licensed opium shops of Singapore. Each packet contains enough opium for about six smokes.  |  Source - THE OPIUM MONOPOLY  By ELLEN N. LA MOTTE; Published January, 1920.  |

Wrapper of packet of opium, as sold in licensed opium shops of Singapore. Each packet contains enough opium for about six smokes. | Source - THE OPIUM MONOPOLY By ELLEN N. LA MOTTE; Published January, 1920. |

The Green Gang (the Qing Bang) was particularly powerful in Shanghai, its leader Du Yuesheng, was a member of the Chinese Triad and a general in the army of Chiang Kai-Shek.

The Red Gang (hong bang) was the other major group that operated in China – sharing the spoils of the opium trade.

To many Chinese, the capture of the opium trade from the ‘foreign devils’ by the native Chinese may have seemed a whole sight better. These ‘gangs’ were patronized by the

poor, underemployed and marginal elements from southeast China found security through membership in secret societies (banghui, huidang) they brought to Shanghai with them. Such associations were organized along lines of regional, ethnic and linguistic identity and were often coterminus with native place bang which recruited and deployed workers. Secret society networks from south were associated with Red Gang (hong men, hong bang) or Triad-type lodges. In Shanghai they would meet with a Northern Green Gang (qing bang) type of secret brotherhood. (from Native place, city, and nation: regional networks and identities in Shanghai … By Bryna Goodman, page 67).

Much before this, in 1853, “the Small Sword Society, (Xiaodaohui), a Triad offshoot, rebelled against the local Qing authorities and seized control of Chinese Shanghai which it held until February 1855.” So, Chinese warlords-underworld-secret societies seamlessly co-exist – and were present at every cusp of upheavals in Chinese society.

What is it this time?

The question

Is this ‘evolution’ of Chinese entertainment-sensibility, an accident or a co-incidence?

More worrying would be, if it were an artificial-synthetic-external influence. As long as Shaw Brothers were looking at the bottom-line, making money, enjoying the glamour and catering to popular Chinese tastes, things were simpler.

Shaw movies usually take anywhere from 35 days to three months to shoot and cost about $300,000. They are never filmed with a sound track. Instead, they are dubbed later in English, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish−even in their native tongue, Chinese. Run Run personally looks at all rushes. “Two reels and it’s no good, OUT!” he exclaimed. “We’re here to make money.” (from Time magazine Show Business: The Empire of Run Run Shaw, Monday, Jun. 28, 1976).

But things have changed now. Some indicator of this change can be gauged from a report in The Standard, by Timothy Kwai on Monday, December 21st, 2009.

Golden Harvest was one of the first to move into China’s film sector with the signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement in 2005. This allowed Hong Kong-owned film studios to enter the huge mainland market.

China for decades has capped the total number of imported foreign movies to twenty for any year. “Attempts to import more Indian films into China have been repeatedly scuttled by Chinese authorities. After much lobbying, India’s former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon succeeded, when he was India’s ambassador in Beijing, in getting Chinese approval to import at least four Indian movies per year into China.

Like an earlier post in Quicktake pointed out earlier, the Chinese Communist Government would be afraid of Buddhist monks – and would actually encourage Confucianism. Like the Japanese are trying to revive Shintoism for slightly different reasons. Is this direction a part of that plot – a change in the wind direction?

These gangster films are bad omen. For Chinese – and the rest of us!

All that these films did was turn off audiences from Kung Fu theme – which in hindsight, seemed to be the objective. And made Jackie Chan into a visible Chinese ‘star’.
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