Who would’ve thought one of James Cameron’s highest grossing films was so heavily borrowed from Indian mythology. No, I’m not talking about Titanic (although that Irish dance scene between Jack and Rose would have been interesting to see as a Bollywood dance) I’m talking about his latest and greatest film, Avatar.
“Wait what?” you may be thinking, that’s right throughout the whole film the Canadian director has mixed Native-American themes with ancient Hindu concepts. From the blue skin colour of the Na ‘vi characters (the colour traditionally depicting religious avatars), the plot focused on an avatar-led offensive against foreign invaders, the Na ‘vi reliance upon bows and arrows to the film’s thematic motif, ‘seeing as understanding’ all reflect the centuries-old epic battle between Indian Prince Rama and the demon Ravana. Oh James Cameron, you’re so sly.
So how much of this is stealing and how much of it is borrowing? Bollywoodisation has no doubt been absorbed into the Western world, creating an array of hybrid films (think Slum Dog Millionaire, Bride and Prejudice, Bend it like Beckham), but rather as ‘stealing’ this is often referred to as ‘co-optation’ – when one culture takes from another in order to rejuvenate it.
Media hybridisation has no doubt become increasingly popular, in fact, according to David J. Schaefer and Kavita Karan in their text, Problematizing Chindia: Hybridity and Bollywoodization of popular Indian cinema (2010) scholars are increasingly predicting that Asian film industries, India and China in particular, will wrestle the control of global film flows from Western dominance.
Moulin Rouge for example takes cultural influences from France, India (a shallow an exotic approach may I add), the US, Australia and the UK. See if you cant spot them (sorry not the best quality).
But is hybridity occurring in a good way? I myself feel fine about mixing Bollywood with Hollywood so long the traditional culture is respected and not misrepresented at an extreme level. But who benefits from this? Is it purely to meet a wider audience of globalised distribution networks or simply just to sell in Western cultures? Hmm.. makes wonder how Chinese people respond to Western films that so stereotypically depict China – think Kung Fu Panda.
Would it possibly be the same way I cringe every time an American show takes on Australia? No doubt that cultural influence cannot be contained, and even though one country cannot own a culture and some representations may be inaccurate, the film industry is still informing the world one film at a time.